Rum Running in New Brunswick

By Anne Marie Murphy

Memories of Carleton County

The writer conducted interviews with three people to compose this segment. All of the articles in this series are enriched by the expertise and insight of many people. I owe them all an expression of thanks, and in particular, for this segment: Bobby, Frank, Barry Grant and Gary.

"Poole's was a classy drugstore. "

So states Frank, an older resident of Woodstock who shared vivid memories of a past time. Frank, a non drinker and strong church man, was a child at the time so was unable to tell any first-hand experiences other than that of ice cream at the fountain.

"Y'see, Alan Poole had this drugstore right here in Woodstock. It had tables, and a counter, and a soda fountain – and women. See, that's where the high-class women of Woodstock went. So if you wanted to meet a woman, you'd meet her there. An' a lot of ‘em were married. It was a place to socialize ."

We envision the drug store of another era. With its gleaming fountains, its black and white tile floors, its glistening marble top counter and soft padded stools, it was a mecca for respectable women who could not be seen elsewhere. It was a place to meet and greet, a sanctuary to spoon at noon. The Woodstock women sashayed in with girlish chatter, marcelled waves, strands of pearls and linen summer dresses, a conservative length, just below the knee. They sipped sodas discreetly, sucked at straws with dental cared teeth. Tittering, giggling like a gaggle of geese, they cast seductive, flirtatious glances practiced from the silver screen at the Vogue. Poole's was the place to see and be seen in Woodstock of the late ‘20s.

But at night, a whole different scene erupted. Dance halls were the new attractions – and there were plenty. The Robin's Nest and the New Moon, just two of the new establishments springing up attracted a set of clientele, as different from the Poole's crowd, as chalk from cheese. The Murphy family spent little time in the drugstores but were familiar patrons of all the dance halls.

These women were bolder. They smoked, their hem lines teased the knee, they dangled faux pearls and wore head bands above short bobbed coifs. They laughed and flirted and chewed gum. They were bold and saucy, and newest of all – they drank.

They carried their own. Boot-legged booze was hidden in garter-flasks – a small attractive decanter of silver discreetly hidden beneath short hems and held in place with an elastic garter.

They danced to Five Foot Two and Tonight's My Night with Baby, I Cried for You and I'll See You In My Dreams. They did the Charleston and the Black Bottom and parents shook their heads. Hot and exhausted they welcomed Intermission. Intermission was the Bootleggers market. And the bootlegged booze flowed.

Bobby, another older resident of Woodstock, generously gave of his time to relate background facts of the era.

"Y'know, folks wonder where the name bootlegger come from. They claim the bootlegger fellow, he stands on a corner in the winter with a long coat on. Inside the lining of the coat is lined with pockets and that's where the bootlegger stashes his wares. See, the booze, in them days, came in from St Pierre and Miquelon." (The role of St Pierre and Miquelon was established in the second installment of this series, Rum Running in Madawaska and Victoria Counties) If either of these two islands had ever suffered a volcanic eruption or inundation from the Northumberland Strait the rum-running industry may have died a sudden death.

As it was, Bobby vividly recalls their participation.

"Shediac was a big place, back then. Masted schooners come in, bearing the booze from St Pierre and Miquelon. Ray Whetmore kept the diesel engines fine tuned. He was with Texaco and he knew a lot about engines. See, the booze was brought over the road from Shediac to Woodstock."

This was big business.

"The booze was packaged in two and a half gallon cans," Bobby recollects, reinforcing the similar testimony from a former Customs Officer, Gary Webber. "They had what was called Hand Brand Alcohol."

The galvanized cans showed the replicated human hand with the name emblazoned across the hand span.

"She was 100 per cent alcohol." Bobby states emphatically. "See, alcohol is the base of all liquors. When she come in, she was pure. After they got the booze into Woodstock, they'd take the two and half gallon can and cut it with water. After they ( the bootleggers ) made the cut, they'd bottle it." One of New Brunswick's finest authors – B.J. Grant – wrote When Rum Was King, published in 1984 by Gooselane. The book is now out-of-print and the author, deceased but his book remains a superb reference text into the rum-running trade of the early 20th century. He makes particular mention of the "exporters" of Carleton County.

With tongue in cheek, Grant devoted two entire pages to Carleton County and relays to his readers delightful tales of midnight runs and bootleggers both outside and inside the law. Grant was a stickler for detail, accuracy and documentation. In tribute to his diligence this writer would be remiss to omit a couple of tales of Carleton County.

Grant dignifies the industry of Carleton County when he refers to the people as "exporters" and the county as an "exporting county." He tells of a Woodstock resident, one H.D.Lindsay, who made the pages of the Woodstock paper and every other paper in the province when he, in a party of four, was nabbed just outside of Fredericton with 20 cases of Scotch headed for the border. At that time certain selected people came under the protection of a Liquor Carrier's Permit and the Mr. Lindsay of our story was seated comfortably under that umbrella. When his court case came up, his lawyer argued effectively that his possession of the permit made him an "exporter." An exporter was a person legally engaged in legal commerce.

The first leg of the liquor's journey was from Saint John, where it had undoubtedly come in on a ship. Two men picked it up and brought it from Saint John to Fredericton. The transfer, made at Springhill, from one car to the other was intercepted by the arrival of Canadian Law. The four were arrested. Grant often inserted his own humour as he related, "The fine quality of their cargo was attested to by the fact that the pair who brought the booze from Saint John got into it during the long drive and among the nine charges laid against the gang, two were for drunkenness."

The hammered Saint John pair were put into the Fredericton slammer where there were twin cots. Grant again adds his wit when he says the pair were long jibed about sharing, "the bridal suite."

Carleton County had a lot of colourful characters, not the least among them was Pope McKinnon from the red mud of Prince Edward Island. He was so much a part of Woodstock community that it was long forgotten from where he had originally hailed. McKinnon had a farm at Richmond Corner which was the basic headquarters for his running operation. He also had ‘quarters' in the town of Woodstock as well as owning a residence in Bangor. Despite having three properties, the Richmond farm was the base of his operations. At this point, Grant mentions a ‘Line House'.

A Line House was a building, usually a family dwelling, built directly on the international line, as its name suggests. It was not planned that way but fit perfectly into operations of the ‘20s and ‘30s. The Canadian booze went in the front door and literally was picked up by American runners at the back door, on the American side.

Grant points out that while the McKinnon farm was not directly on the line, it was close to the border. McKinnon did fall prey to the liquor inspector who raided his farm and found a large amount of booze. At that time Woodstock boasted a liquor export warehouse in town, where the hooch had been purchased. McKinnon, who claimed Bangor resident-status, when it was convenient, legally bought the stuff from the Woodstock warehouse but a caveat in his permit declared the booze had to be removed from New Brunswick. The books at the company showed that ‘'in the first nine days of September 1921, McKinnon bought three thousand dollars worth of liquor. Grant inserted the following piece of humour: "This, he (Pope McKinnon) swore was for his own use."

Bootleggers were found in the most unexpected places. Like the local drugstore. Grant, writes: "The operators of the drug stores, like all good bootleggers, charged the prevailing bootleg prices of the time and their location." For those who are disgusted to learn this, a reminder is in place: it was legal. Grant continues, "It was good business for, in addition, to their legitimate fee, there was the bootleg mark up. And on top of that, the government allowed them a healthy profit margin."

Bobby has no problem with that concept. This is reinforced by Bobby's candid viewpoint: "The government, y'know, is the biggest bootlegger."

A common well known text available to the Woodstock public features a photograph entitled, A Corner in the Central Drug Store. Again the marble-faced counters, the chrome soda fountains, the tiled floors are in evidence, a gleaming establishment doing a respectable legal business. The text supplies:" The Central Drug Store, corner of Main and Queen Street, Woodstock of which Mr. F.S. Balmain is proprietor."

"Frank," our story teller in the first installment, knew of Mr. Balmain and, it would seem, knew him well. Frank, a strong productive citizen, a church goer, recalls vividly, "I know one man, Story Balmain. He worked as a pharmacist. See, he was the mixer. He was the man, put all the medicines together. But not in Alan's drugstore. He worked for the Baird Company. Drank a lot of his own stuff, he did. Fact, he drank quite a bit." To Story's descendants this article makes no apology. By 2008 drinking is not only here to stay but is socially, and expectedly, acceptable.

Frank has viewed this man, Story Balmain, from the perspective of a small child. Frank came from a home foreign to alcohol. With the view of a child Frank continues: "I used to play on the railroad tracks. There was a fellow there, Burt Worth. He was the head man running the water works. ( in Woodstock) He built the train and the railroad parks that went all around Island park. Oh, t'was a sight! Eight, nine cars long. We'd pay five cents to ride on it. That's where they had the Woodstock Exhibition, a big white building and on the top there was an open air dance hall. One time I come upon Story Balmain. He was just lying there beside the tracks in the grass. I thought he'd been hurt or was in trouble. I was just a little fellow and being quite concerned, thinking this man needed help, I said, "Do you want me to go and get your mother?" He rared up outa there and was actually quite mad at me, that I was disturbing him."

There was silence in the kitchen as Frank reflected on a by-gone period of Woodstock history. He dropped his head, gazed at the floor and looked up. He needed a few minutes to pull himself back into the 21st century. Shortly, he raised his head, smiled, nodded sagely, "Funny. I haven't thought of them old stories for a long time now. Maybe, thought I never would again."

Next... Madawaska and Victoria Counties
Back to Introduction

©Anne Marie Murphy 2009