The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Prohibition

Rum Brings Romance Back to the Sea

April 21, 1923

By Gregory Clark

A bright young man from Montreal landed in Halifax with $5,000 cash in his pocket.

He put up at the best hotel. He banked his money at the corner bank.

And then he walked promptly down to the waterfront.

Along the miles of docks he strolled, in and out of tiny, shabby lanes, in the shadow of tall ships, and little, fat, iron ships, and tidy old sailing ships. He talked with sailors and longshoremen, ship’s officers and the masters of schooners. He spent an hour or more in each of the dim little cafes that are to be found in Water street, talking to all who would spare the time to drink a cup of coffee or a snort of contraband Negrita rum at his invitation.

The second day in Halifax he spent in the company of the hotel clerk, of the manager of the bank where his money lay, and of a merchant from whom he purchased some collars.

The third day, four gentlemen lunched with him at his hotel. These four were strangers to him and he to them. They had come to lunch in answer to his telephoned invitation “to talk important business.”

“I have five thousand dollars,” the young man from Montreal was saying “It is all I have. It represents a bungalow which was my home, and the cash surrender value of my insurance policies.

“But I will contribute also my personal services. I have here personal references that will vouch for my honesty. You can wire Montreal for confirmation of these letters.

“The chartering of a two-masted schooner will cost us $1,500 for one trip, six weeks. The wages of captain, mate and crew, with bonuses, all set us back, roughly, another $1,000.

“Whiskey can be bought to-day at St. Pierre $23.50 a case, and sold off New York at $34.50. The profit is $11 a case.

“If each of you gentlemen will kick in ten thousand dollars, we can buy nearly two thousand cases at St. Pierre; and on the second leg the voyage, three thousand cases at Nassau.

“You can figure the profits…”

Two days later, from one of the docks off Water street, a trim schooner put to sea.

Aboard her was her master, who had just banked $1,500 to his credit before sailing. Aboard her also was the bright young man from Montreal. And in a locker in her cabin was the sum of $42,000 in cash.

The smart little schooner, of a hundred and fifty tons, fled nor’east before a fair wind out Halifax, and in three days anchored in the harbor of the island of St. Pierre, one of the two in the St. Pierre-Miquelon group, off the south coast of Newfoundland, which belongs to France.

There is no prohibition in France nor in her colonial possessions.

The warehouses on the wharves of St. Pierre are crammed with hundreds of thousands of cases of whiskey, rum, wines and liquors of every sort.

Big ocean steamers bring heavy cargoes of liquor to St. Pierre from Scotland and France.

But as fast as they bring it, small steamers and schooners take it away.

The young Montrealer was rowed ashore in the dinghy. He was directed to a building abutting on the docks of St. Pierre. There to a man at a counter he made known his request for a cargo of two thousand cases of whiskey, rum and wine, to total $42,000.

With another official, be arranged for a berth one of the docks. With the French customs officers he arranged for clearance of his cargo of booze to the port of Nassau, in the Bahamas.

And that night, his cargo of two thousand cases was loaded aboard the little schooner.

In four more days the schooner entered Halifax harbor. To excise officers who promptly demanded her clearance papers and manifest, it was shown that the schooner was merely putting in to Halifax for water and to drop a member the ship’s company.

The young Montreal man was put ashore, and after a few hours in harbor, the schooner went to sea again without him.

And he took train for New York, having made complete arrangements with the master of the schooner to meet him at certain point in the Ambrose Channel off New York seven days later.

In New York it did not take the young Montrealer seven days to find a purchaser for the two thousand cases. He dined two nights at a fashionable café, made the acquaintance of the head waiter in that time, and then asked him who in New York would like to pick up two thousand cases.

He was promptly introduced to his man.

Five days later, at dusk, a small steel tug, aboard which was the young man from Montreal and the fat gentleman who was buying the cargo, drew up alongside the schooner, which, true to its master’s word, was lying just where he said it would be lying in the Ambrose Channel.

The two thousand cases were transferred from the schooner to the tug.

And $66,000 cash was paid over to the Montrealer, who stowed it in the cabin locker, and instructed the skipper to set sail for Nassau at dawn.

Nassau is seven hundred miles below New York, off the Florida Coast. But the little schooner made the voyage, in spite of bad weather, in five days.

At Nassau, the Montrealer went ashore, and within an hour had purchased three thousand cases of Scotch whiskey. The schooner drew up alongside a large tramp steamer just in from Glasgow, and the cases were shifted from the big ship to the little two-master. On the schooner’s deck, the young man paid over $65,000 cash to the agent of the owners of the whiskey.

And cleared Nassau for St. Pierre.

But the schooner didn’t go to St. Pierre. It hauled into the Ambrose Channel about eight days later, after a rough passage.

By a passing launch, the young man sent a message ashore. And that night, aboard the same steel tug, came the same fat man, and took over the three thousand cases at $35 a case – a lump sum of $105,000 cash, paid over in $1,000 bills, in the cabin of the little fishing schooner.

The next morning, the schooner set sail for Halifax, where it arrived three days later and set ashore the young man and his wad of money. But because it was cleared from Nassau to St. Pierre, the schooner could not stop, and went on to St. Pierre, where it loaded with ballast, and cleared St. Pierre in ballast for Halifax.

The young man went to his hotel and called up his four partners.

They assembled at once to hear the news.

And $105,000 was split five ways pro rata, according to the investment of each.

The last reports on this bright young man is that he and his backers have dispensed with slow schooners and have chartered a steamship of the type known as a trawler, and are making the run between St. Pierre and Nassau, with intermediate store each way of the Jersey coast.

Instead of three thousand case lots, they are carrying thirty and forty thousand case lots.

They double their money each round trip.

There will be no shortage of motor cars in their families.

They are reputed millionaires.

By the greatest of good fortune for the rum runners, there are two ports of the Atlantic coast which do not demand clearance papers.

The laws of the sea are hard and fast laws. You can’t poke your nose into every port of the world and drop anchor. There are certain little formalities to be seen to. Officers come aboard and demand your clearance papers, from your last port of call. You have to show that the cargo mentioned in those papers is intact. You have to show that you have come direct from that port. They don’t allow loitering about the high seas.

But St. Pierre and Nassau in the Bahamas, beautifully positioned, one at the north end and one at the south end of the Atlantic coast, are not strict in the matter of clearance.

If you happen to drop anchor in Nassau, cleared from St. Pierre with a cargo of whiskey, why, nobody is going to pester you with questions if that cargo of whiskey has mysteriously disappeared between the port of clearance and the port of destination.

How ideal for the rumrunners!

A veritable flood of liquor is pouring into America from Europe through these two ports.

Many Canadian ships, from little fishing schooners to yachts, are employed in the trade.

And unbelievable fortunes are being made. The only difficulty is that, like all good things, too many get wise to it, and gum it up. Too many ships are peddling their goods off the coast nowadays. With the coming of spring, their number will be increased a hundredfold, it is expected.

The result is, that instead of whiskey selling at $60 a case off New York, with a profit of nearly $40 for the rumrunner, it has dropped to a little over $30.

Too many crooks spoil the broth. There is likely to be a glut of whiskey off New York and Boston this summer. The schooners that pick it up for $20 to $25 a case at Nassau will have to sell it a little over cost. Profits will be cut. A lot of good men will be ruined and go back to fishing and those other industries of the coast.

Off Halifax and certain other smaller ports of Nova Scotia which it would be cruel to mention, I visited some of the rumrunners.

Romance has come back to the sea, and especially to canvas. For half a century canvas has been on the wane. It has been reduced to fishing and to the carriage of certain foul-smelling commodities from little islands in the sea to the mainland. Sail had fallen to a pretty low ebb. The men who could sail a ship were few in number.

Then came the rum game, and the rattiest little old schooner came into its own. You could buy a pretty decent schooner for $6,000 or $7,000 before the rumrunning came in. Now they want twice that, if you can buy at all.

Many an old retired sailor, whose wisdom was all in canvas and the handling of a ship with sails, has been dug up out of his retirement to help man a rumrunner. It has been a great comeback. I talked with one old fellow of sixty-five who had gone ashore for good because he couldn’t compete with the boys on the steamers, and there was no more call for his cunning with canvas. He lived in simple poverty in a little village outside Halifax.

Now he is the mate of a three-masted tern schooner, making regular trips over the rum route, and he is getting not only mate’s pay but double pay as a bonus every trip. He has enough money to buy a pretty cottage to go home and die ashore. He has enough, in fact, as be pointed out himself, to get married on!

There is a sort of revival of the romance of the old privateering days in the game. The coast is filled with sailing ships as never in the last quarter century. All kinds of odd craft are making the winds work.

In the little cabin of one of the schooners I visited there were three shotguns hanging in racks upon the wall.

“What for?” I asked, “Shooting gulls?”

“Not them,” replied the skipper. “Those are for the preservation of law and order on the high seas. Those weapons are for the suppression of piracy. When we are lying in ‘rum row’ off the Jersey coast, every time a strange boat comes near, we man the bulwarks with those three guns, loaded with buckshot. There have been several cases of piracy – toughs from ashore coming aboard a helpless, honest ship and looting her cargo and her cash box.

“This trip I am exchanging those old double-barrelled guns for a set of modern pump guns that throw five charges of buckshot at a pretty good lick I’m told.”

One Halifax schooner master, by hard work all last year and the year before, had worked up a very decent business. He had amassed the overwhelming capital of $80,000. It is probable he never had a thousand dollars in the bank in the old days, though he toiled hard and dangerously at the fishing off the Banks. He risked his life and his ship in the most hazardous of callings for a very uncertain reward. Now he was rolling in wealth.

He made a trip down to Nassau and sunk the whole $80,000 in a cargo and brought it to the line-up of vessels off New York.

One of the “law-breakers” from shore came out – a big power boat – and he made his deal with a couple of foreigners.

They paid him in cash – $1,000 bills – the sum of $142,000.

And the skipper sailed tremulously for home. He took ballast at St. Pierre, and came to his home port in Nova Scotia. He was filled with dreams of founding a steamship business, of building a fine mansion, and living ashore for the rest of his life. As he sailed in the harbor he stood on deck picking a nice site for his future home.

When he plunked his fabulous fortune down In front of the teller in the bank, dazed with the thrill of it, he was the proudest sailor ever home from the sea.

The teller began to count the bills.

Then be stopped and fingered them.

A started look came into his face.

“What’s this?” he exclaimed. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

The $142,000 was all in counterfeit $1,000 bills.

The skipper was flat broke.

When two foreign gents arrived in Halifax some time later looking for a schooner to break into the game, some friends of the old skipper brought them to him.

Yes, he knew the ropes. He would willingly charter his ship and hire out as master of it.

“We’re from New York,” said the strangers. “The game is too crooked down there. It is all in the hands of one big gang. There is no profits for the little dealer. It all goes in graft. So we’ve come up here to break in from the outside.

Their plan was this: they would put supercargo of their own selection on board the schooner, and he would go with the ship to St. Pierre where a five-thousand-case cargo would be bought and delivered off New York to these men personally. A date was set. Another foreigner, of the gunman type, was introduced to the skipper, and he set sail.

The run to St. Pierre is only 400 miles from Halifax and can be made in three or four days’ fair sailing. But it was a bit rough. And the old skipper rolled that schooner through the trough all the way. The result was that the landlubber supercargo was a pretty dead specimen when they made St. Pierre.

He could hardly make the purchase, he was so upset. And when it came to getting aboard again for the long run to New York, he couldn’t be persuaded.

So the old skipper advised him to take steamer from St. Pierre to Halifax, and there the schooner would call and pick him up, so sparing him the worst part of the voyage.

The gunman, out of his element, with promises that his bosses would never find out, agreed.

But at Halifax he was as fearful of the next leg of the voyage for a storm was raging at sea and the skipper was determined to set sail.

So another arrangement was made, whereby the seasick supercargo could come aboard the schooner at New York a day before his bosses were to come aboard; and all would be well.

The skipper was such an honest old man!

He made the Ambrose Channel the evening the gunman was to meet him.

Presently, with the flashlamp signals arranged on, the unfaithful supercargo came alongside in a small launch, very sick and frightened.

“Beat It!” cried the skipper. “Your bosses came out last night and found us and took the cargo off. They are sure looking for your hide.”

Without a sound, the terrified gunman fled into the dark.

That same night, with his knowledge of the game, the old skipper found a buyer for the 5,000 cases in his hold among the small craft cruising out from shore. He got his money, $35 a case, $175,000, and he made dead certain that it was real money that time.

The following night, which was the first night agreed for the rendezvous, the two foreigners came aboard, vastly excited and delighted.

“What?” exclaimed the old skipper. “Here again!”

In moment pandemonium was loose on that schooner.

“Why,” said the skipper, “your supercargo went ashore to get you last night and came off about midnight with you, in a steel tug. Wasn’t it you? You don’t mean to say it wasn’t you?”

“Did they take the booze?” screamed the owners.

“You certainly did! Now don’t try pulling any tricks on me,” cried the old skipper.

And he bundled them off his ship.

They are probably still looking for that double crossing supercargo. And he is as faithfully avoiding them.

And the old skipper has his money back.

“Anyway,” he is reported to have said, “landlubbers haven’t any business in this sea-going trade.”

There are risks in the game. For one thing, no insurance can be got on either cargo or ship. Losses, when they occur, are heavy losses.

One man I talked to is a shipowner. Rumor has it that he is not missing the opportunity to invest circumspectly in the game.

He recently chartered a small two-hundred-ton steamer for one trip of about one month’s duration for $7,000. He further obtained from the man who chartered it (an American) a bond for $40,000, the value of the little vessel, to guarantee that it would break no laws or otherwise get into trouble.

That is a good rent, eh?

The Nova Scotia people generally, who have all the liquor they want despite their prohibition law, feel that Canada is missing a great opportunity to pay off the national debt in not going heartily into the rum-running game in large way.

But the rum-runners themselves complain that too many people are in the game already.

They are talking of the “good old days”. That’s a bad sign – for them.

By the good old days they mean a year ago, when a case off New York sold for $60.

And their hearts are further steeped in gloom with the news that the United States government is making an effort to have the British and French governments put the lid on St. Pierre and Nassau by requiring strict clearance papers in and out of all ports of call.

This will mean that rum-running will become a pure smuggling game, and cargoes from Europe will have to be transferred from big ships to little ships on the high seas.

And that’s a game only mariners can play.

And only the mariners are glad.


Editor’s Notes: There are a lot of prices listed here but $1 in 1923 equals about $15.80 in 2022. So, for example:

$60 = $950

$5,000 = $79,000

$42,000 = $663,000

$142,000 = $2,243,000

Six Bottles

“And there on the bed, in a row, lay six gleaming amber bottles.”

By Gregory Clark, March 11, 1922. Illustration by E. G. Dinsmore.

This is the story of six bottles of whiskey.

Harry, the hero, was one of those upright, fearless young men who never have liquor in their possession but who find a manly pride in letting all their office acquaintances and not-too-Intimate friends assume that they had salted down a fifty year stock in 1920.

He was the kind of fellow who never took a drink except when among strangers. His friends knew he didn’t like it and that he was no gay dog. But Harry loved to toss off a drink whenever it created on strangers the impression of a man-about-town.

And on those rare occasions when he did take drink, Harry would hasten around a sort of circuit of people he wanted to impress before the smell wore off. When they, scenting the breath that Harry was careful not to conceal from them, jocularly said –

“Aha! Where do you get it?”

Harry would blush deprecatingly and say – “Oh, just a little business drink – you know.”

As if he had been dickering with those princes of finance who are popularly supposed to keep decanters on their desks.

Well, Harry got himself into a jam.

The reputation he had accumulated as a devil of a fellow with a cellar could not but work him ill.

A bunch of the executives of the sister company in the States came up on a visit to the big Canadian plant in Toronto. And Harry’s boss called him in and said:

“Now, Harry, these boys will want a little fun. But you know my house – strictly prohibition. So I was wondering if you could stage a little party up at that well-oiled bachelor apartment of yours, eh?”

And the boss winked jovially.

Now Harry should have sidestepped right there. He could have said his stock had run out; that he had been hitting it too hard; or some similar excuse that would have been quite sufficiently man-about-townish.

But to have the boss approach him thus intimately – the president! – and wink and chuckle.

It was too much for Harry.

“Certainly, sir! De-lighted! How many will there be?”

“Well,” said the boss. “There’s five of them from the other side, and a couple more of the boys from the office, and us; that’s eight. Tonight. Can you handle us?”

“Oh, sure!” said Harry. “Tickled to death, sir.”

“That’s the boy! Have dinner at the hotel with us, then, and we’ll all drive up to your flat after.”

“Right,” said Harry, man-about-town.

And he went to his own desk outside and sat down with a buzzing head to figure out how he’d get the means for the boss’s “party.”

After about ten minutes’ thought, he felt he should go out into the fresh air. He walked up one side of Yonge street and down the other, and finally decided to telephone all the people he had got a drink from the past month or two, and try them for a half-dozen bottles.

Dropping into a soda fountain, he sat down and commenced a list.

Two names he got at once. And then no more! Two! Surely there were more. He racked his brains, but all he could recall were numerous discussions of booze, but no material evidences of it.

In the pay ‘phone booth, Harry called up the two who had actually given him drinks in the near past. Both replied in the negative.

Harry then decided he would have to disclose himself to others as a man who had no cellar. It was a sore trial. He hated to abandon his pose. But he called up eight in a row, eight bright young men-about-town – and drew blanks with all.

Harry began to wonder if they were all bluffers like himself.

Then he remembered a pimply-faced lad in the shipping department who boasted a wide acquaintance with bootleggers. Hurrying to the office, Harry went back and sought this worthy out and said –

“Say, give me the address of a good bootlegger, on the q.t., will you?”

“Say, by golly, this is too bad!” said the pimply-faced one, disgustedly. “But all my friends have been pinched. This is too bad. It’s just at the moment – perhaps some other time -“

Harry looked at his watch. Three p.m. He hastened out to the street again.

It was about 5 p.m. that it began to dawn on Harry that Toronto was perhaps, after all, a prohibition city. At noon that day, Toronto had been billowing in booze, if you could believe everybody. At 5 p.m. it was as dry as a pine cone!

So he ‘phoned the boss to say that a sudden emergency would prevent him from dining with the party, but that he would be up at his apartment ready to welcome them at eight o’clock.

“Right,” said the boss.

Then Harry hurried home to the fashionable three-roomed bachelor apartment in a select apartment house to telephone to doctors.

Doctors could only produce one bottle. But one was better than none.

First he called a doctor who was also a brother-in-law. Over his limit! Next a doctor who was a member of Harry’s canoe club. Sold out! Then three doctors in a row who had attended him at various stages from infancy up. All sold out.

He called up the canoe club. Perhaps some of the boys would be hanging around. There were three, two of whom had no end of liquor ordinarily, if you could judge by the conversation, but were just out, and didn’t know where their next crock was coming from, at the moment.

Six thirty!

Harry felt himself losing weight.

Now we must pause to introduce the villain.

Harry’s telephone was on the wall in his apartment hallway.

Six feet along the hall was the dumb-waiter.

The dumb-waiter door was open.

In the bachelor flat above a lonely gentleman was getting himself a lonely supper.

He opened his door to the dumb-waiter shaft to see if the grocer had sent the sardines. And then he overheard Harry in his pathetic quest of hooch.

The lonely gentleman listened with interest. He kept on listening, as he ate a quiet repast of sardines and a bottle of milk.

Harry’s telephone bell rang.

He leaped from the chair where he sat in anguish, and answered.

It was the pimply-faced lad in the shipping room.

“Say,” he said, “I can get you some of that goods you was asking about –“

“Can you?” Harry shouted. “Good!”

“How much did you want?”

“Oh, six bottles,” said Harry.

“All right. A fellow will bring them up to you to-night.”

“Look,” said Harry. “I must have them before eight o’clock. Before eight, sure!”

“All right,” said the pimply one.

Upstairs, the lonely gentleman withdrew his head out of the dark dumb-waiter, softly closed the door, and went over to his telephone.

At eight o’clock the boss, accompanied by the five gentlemen from over the border and two of the senior men of the local office, arrived gladly and well-fed at Harry’s apartment.

And Harry was modestly beaming.

He helped them dispose of their coats, accepted their amiable, brotherly jests – even the boss’s – and then drew aside the green curtain that hid the alcove which was his bachelor bedroom.

And there on the bed in a row lay six gleaming amber bottles.

The excitement and whooping had barely died down, and the first cork had scarcely opened the musical program of the evening, when there came a loud, peremptory knock on the door.

The bottle was instantly recorked and hid in the waste basket. The curtain of the alcove was re-drawn. And Harry opened the door.

Two large, stern men were standing without.

“Excuse me!” said the foremost, stepping solemnly into the hushed, crowded little room. His companion followed.

They sniffed the air.

“Excuse me,” said the leader again. In a sepulchral voice. And he walked past the eight frozen gentlemen, pulled aside the curtain of the alcove, and stood in a dramatic posture, gazing at the five bottles on the bed.

“Bill,” he said, “take those.”

“Gentlemen,” he said, turning mournfully to the company, “there is one more bottle. Produce it!”

“But,” cried the boss, who was first to regain his voice, “what do you mean? This is a private house! Can’t a man give his friends a drink?”

“Gentlemen,” said the stranger sadly, “this Is bootleg liquor.”

“Go on!” cried several together, the boss loudly, Harry tremulously.

“Gents,” continued the severe big stranger, “this liquor was delivered to this apartment not ten minutes ago.”

All turned to Harry for denial; and there he stood, his head down, the picture of guilt and dejection.

“Come, gents,” said the stranger. “The other bottle.”

And the boss himself fished it out of the waste basket.

As the big man stood at the door, he said to Harry:

“I won’t take you along. I have your name and address. I can get you if I need you.”

And he closed the door.

The party lasted about ten minutes longer. The boss’s nerves were shaken.

“What did you want to get bootleg stuff for?” he demanded angrily of Harry. “I thought you had a supply of your own. You can’t tell where this thing’ll end now –“

He and his seven friends departed in an air of strained joviality about 8.30 p.m., and left Harry all alone, to lie on his bachelor bed and cuss.

Later in the evening, through the fog of remorse and vain regrets, Harry found time to wonder what all the racket was about on the floor above.

But the lonely gentleman in the flat above was no longer lonely. He had six friends in with him. And six bottles of amber hue stood upon his bachelor table.

Two of his guests were big men.

One of these was saying, as he gripped a glass with one hand and dabbed a handkerchief to his tearful eyes —

“But the fun of it was, we never mentioned the word ‘police’ once; did we, Bill? We just walked in and glared around. And there they stood – nine of ’em – and took it for granted!

“‘An, gents.’, I says, ‘If you please, the sixth bottle!'”


Editor’s Note: A “gay dog” is slang for a man given to self-indulgence.

Why Toronto Has No Gunmen Gangs

The policeman who ventured to investigate “Cop Killer’s Corners” went alone and took what came and gave what he could.
They found Sullivan sitting happily, if somewhat exhausted, out in the middle of the street upon the inanimate bodies of four of the toughest gangsters of the district.
The police officials beheld in the most casual gang of street corner loafers the potentialities of the criminal gang.

Strong, Well-Disciplined Police Force Beyond Reach of Politics, Has Prevented Development of Crime Peculiar to American Cities – How Toronto’s Notorious Old Gangs Were Broken Up.

By Gregory Clark, February 23, 1924.

Ask any senior police official of Toronto what he considers the one greatest performance of the police in the history of the city and he will surely reply – the elimination of the gang in Toronto.

The biggest crime problem of the American city to this day is the gang. There is not a city on the continent of the size of Toronto that does not support one or more gangs of highly organized and specialized crooks, who, employing the gun and the automobile, terrorize their communities but are immune from complete obliteration by the police because of their organization which includes political and well-paid legal protection.

Toronto has no gangs.

The first reason is the foresight of the police officials of the past thirty years. They beheld, in the most casual gang of street corner loafers, the potentialities of the criminal gang.

The second reason is the ruthless and implacable methods used by the Toronto police in pursuing the smallest crime committed by a gang, playing a lone hand against the offenders, giving no quarter, using no stool pigeons, allowing no Immunity for information received, but bending every effort to break up, scatter and subdue every gang that broke the law in the smallest degree.

For Toronto had its gangs. Plenty of them. Bome of them rose to some celebrity as house breakers and robbers. At one period, about twenty years ago, no fewer than five strong gangs, each numbering from a dozen to a score of members, were doing their utmost to survive the relentless attacks of the police. The Stanley Park gang, the Gay Cats of York street, the Gas House gang, the Ward gang, the Park Rovers of the Don and the St. Lawrence Market gang are names that will be familiar to older citizens of Toronto.

“Those gangs” said Inspector of Detectives George Guthrie, “were not gangsters as we know gangsters to-day. They were gangs of roughs whose commonest crimes were such clumsy stupid offences as robbing drunks, waylaying people on dark streets and robbing them, only occasionally breaking in and robbing stores or houses. They rarely employed guns, for the police were death on guns. To have a gun was fatal. And they had not the automobile.

“But they were the forebears of the modern gang. The gangsters of other cities at that period were no different. We destroyed the gangs. We broke up their memberships with convictions. We scattered their boozing dens and haunts. We drove them with continual pressure on little charges, if we could not secure big ones, from the slum districts where they sought to foregather.

No Political Protection Here

“The American cities failed to break up their old gangs. The modern gangs are simply the sons of those tough gangs of yesterday. The tradition of the old tough gangsters has been refined by the automobile and by the general refinement of everything, into the modern gang with its cars, its political connections, its lawyers and its funds.”

Inspector of Detectives William Wallace adds this:

“One of the biggest factors in the elimination of the gang from Toronto has been the total absence of politics in control of the police force. There has never been, in my time, collusion between the police and the gangsters. The curse of the American system is that the aldermen and government officials control the police force. Gangs control votes. And there you have the impossible situation of the police being interfered with by petty politics.

“Toronto’s police always having been under the control of a board of police commissioners beyond the reach of politics, and politics, whether it desired it or not, could not preserve the gang – a voting power -in the face of the determined assaults of the police.”

Those who may have felt in the past that Col. George T. Denison wielded a somewhat autocratic power over the policing of Toronto can now credit him with a large share in the elimination of the crime factor that is setting the rest of the American continent by the ears.

“Those old gangs – the Stanley Park, the Market gang, the Park Rovers – operated in a very haphazard manner,” said Inspector Wallace. “They had their rendezvous in certain disorderly houses and dives, where they congregated daily and nightly. Whenever any member of the gang turned a trick such as rolling a drunk or holding up a pedestrian on a dark street, the gang boozed and celebrated until the proceeds were used up. There was no pride of craft in them. If times were bad, the gangsters would even stoop to begging money on the streets after dark – a form of terrorization, because their tough appearance was enough to intimidate anybody. Being drunkards and wastrels as a class, their efforts at housebreaking and serious crime were clumsy and lacking in intelligence. Their crimes were largely the cowardly, sneaking crimes of drunken bullies.

Yet these gangs gave strong resistance to the police, who offered them no respite. If the “cops” were not busy digging out some crime, they were raiding their dens, busting up gambling meetings, even dispersing gangs on street corners, which were the most inglorious and offensive tactics of all.

The methods used by the police in those days seem primitive today. There were no end of personal combats between policemen and gangsters. They had not the police equipment they have nowadays, telephones, autos, and rapid communication. When the “cop” set out for his beat in the heart of the ward or the Stanley Park district or Cabbagetown, he never knew what was in store for him. “Cops” had to have some mettle in those days. For in the dark streets and lanes of the Stanley Park region, the gang would be lying in wait for that “cop” who was particularly active in doing his duty, and they would pounce on him and he would have to fight for his good looks if not for his life. There were instances of policemen being beaten unconscious and left lying in lanes. As it was in the dark, the constable could not always identify his enemies, and they would prove alibis and all would go unpunished. But there are also instances of constables performing tremendous feats, beating the life half out of their assailants and securing identifications that resulted in the stiffest penalties the court would impose.

One of these stories is the tale of Constable Tom Sullivan, now a detective, going down into one of the streets below King near Stanley Park and, expecting trouble, met and defeated a whole gang after a battle royal, and when the ambulance for which he sent – not the patrol wagon – arrived on the scene, they found Sullivan sitting happily if somewhat exhausted out in the middle of the street upon the inanimate bodies of four of the toughest gangsters of the district.

Those fights between police and gangs were before the days of Hydro lighted streets. And there was no way of avoiding them. The ability to fight was one of the requirements of a good constable.

Behind Burns’ ice house, in a little crooked street that was only a lane off Water street, was a corner known throughout the district by the name of “Cop Killer’s Corner.” The policeman who ventured to investigate that corner of his beat at night did so at the risk of being beaten up. Any number of the bloodiest fights have occurred at that historic corner. No concession was made by the police in the matter of sending two policemen together into the tough districts. That would have been American methods. Instead, the constable went alone and took what came and gave what he could. The Cabbagetown gang, known as the “Cop Killer’s Corner” gang, were finally disposed of by the most unrelenting attention. Whenever a constable was assaulted he made every effort to mark his enemies with some tremendous whack. Then the district was immediately combed by other police and the injured men, hidden away, were dug out and arrested, to prove where they got the marks. Those were simple remedies, but it took men to stand up to them, and gangsters are not, as a rule, men.

It is a wonder murder was not done in those old gangster days, but there is not one instance of murder in the whole history of the period.

The Stanley park gang fell before a final clean-up campaign on houses, dives and personnel. The Market gang was so broken up by arrests that it never got together again. The Park Rovers in the Don district did their best to graduate into the modern gangster type, but their first efforts at serious crime were detected, and a number of them went to Kingston on long sentences of differing lengths that broke them up.

The Ward gang and the Gay Cats of York street persisted longest. These drunk-rollers and footpads, most of whom are dead now, though they would be only in their forties’ if they had lived less brutally, fled in the face of the cleanup regime of Deputy-Chief Robert Geddes when he was Inspector of the Ward district. One of the leaders of the Gay Cats is still living and hanging around his old haunts, but he is a broken and pathetic character of no danger to anybody, his pals dead and gone, a figure to be pointed out to new constables as a sample of an order that has changed.

When Deputy-Chief Geddes went into the Ward, a giant of a man as active on his feet as a cat, he had with him a squad of giants that struck terror into the hearts of the gangsters. Some pretty strenuous methods were used in the clean-up of the Ward, for even in its present harmless condition one can imagine what a rabbit warren of dives and holes in the wall it was for the gangster. They “vagged” them – which is the charge of vagrancy which can be laid against anybody of a suspicious character – they pinched them as inmates of disorderly houses, they took them in as drunks on every opportunity, they pressed every serious charge to the bitter end, they forced dive keepers to move away, they made the district so utterly unpleasant for the gangsters in every respect, big and small, that the last stronghold of the gangs, the Ward, was rid of its toughs.

Better Lighted Streets

The relics of those five great gangs, the Gay Cats, the Stanley Park, Gas House, Ward and Park Rovers, can be counted to-day on the ten fingers of a senior officer’s hand. They are men prematurely old, broken, harmless, occasionally picked up drunk, occasionally run in at their own request to be kept for the winter in jail.

They have not flourished and passed the tradition down to the young cake-eater, motoring, dancing, gunning tough of other American cities. There is no organization, no politics, no money funds for lawyers and bail. They were nipped in the bud.

Occasionally Toronto is visited by sections of American gangs, and more rarely still some little group of the tough element in the city tries to herd together in crime. But they have no underground organization to run to for hiding or advice or money. They play a lone hand and are soon bang up against the hard wall of the law.

In the leniency of the parole system, in the leniency of some judges and the willingness of the crown, on occasions, to abate a sentence, the police see a danger of losing the ground gained in twenty-five years of ruthless opposition to the gang idea. The law making one year the absolute minimum sentence for theft of a motor car is not being strictly observed by judges and the crown. Yet that law is the best deterrent upon gangsters there is – that if, In the very beginning of their mischief, to wit, the “borrowing” of a car, in which to do their job, they are facing if caught, a sure sentence of one year, without hope of less.

The parole system, admirable as it is from a humanitarian standpoint, is regarded by most of Toronto’s senior police officers with doubt and misgivings for this reason: the young gangsters discuss the merits of a job; they weigh the costs of being caught, and the costs of being caught are discounted by the knowledge that if they are caught there is always the parole system to be remembered – the parole system which, by good conduct, after the crime, can be relied upon to get them out of prison in a few months.

The lone criminal does not always weigh and measure the chances. The gangster does. The psychology of the gang, is to be very optimistic over the parole system.

Chief Constable Samuel Dickson, referring to the passing of the gangs in Toronto, concurs in what his Inspectors of detectives said, with this thought added:

“Street lighting, daylight saving and the transformation of countless corner lots of the city into playgrounds and recreation grounds has aided us in the elimination of the gangster more than is imagined. Where the gangs used to foregather there are ball grounds for the young fellows to play in to-day. Where there were long dark evenings in which to do nothing there are long, bright evenings in which to do much that is healthy and absorbing and clean.”

In conclusion, Inspector Wallace said:

“Toronto does not realize how free it is of crime. The police news which gets into the Toronto papers from day to day would not win two lines in any American dally in cities of the same size.

There are no gangs in Toronto.”


Editor’s Notes: This story was published during the period when the public was fascinated and concerned with the rise of organized crime in the United States, mainly due to Prohibition. The premise is also unlikely, perhaps written as reassurance for the public, as there were definitely gangs in Ontario dealing in illegal liquor as well.

George Taylor Denison was a Toronto police magistrate for 43 years, from 1877 to 1920. He was still alive when this article was written, having died in 1925 at the age of 85.

Why So Many New Drug Stores?

January 19, 1924

This artwork appeared with a story by C. R. Greenaway, was yet another tongue in cheek story about how people would get around Prohibition by getting doctor’s notes that they needed “medicine” (whiskey). At the time, a drug store could be opened by anyone, and did not have to be owned or operated by a pharmacist, so bootleggers would take advantage of this.

One City Shop Selling 1,100 qts. of Whiskey Daily

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice: “What’s the matter with it?”

Nearly Everybody Around Yonge and Front Seems to Carry a Handbag.
Govt. Dispensary Sells Alcohol, Too
Far More Sick People Requiring Prescriptions on Saturday Than on Other Days.

By Gregory Clark, November 1, 1919.

Looking at the passersby at the corner of Yonge and Front streets, one would conclude that about seventy-five per cent of them were traveling salesmen. For they all carry some sort of a little hand-bag. The little square miniature suitcase is the favorite style. But the variety runs from the plain old family valise down to the homely sateen shopping bag.

The style of bag doesn’t matter, so long as it will contain one quart bottle of whiskey.

For this stream of apparent salesmen is nothing less than the eight hundred daily customers of Ontario Government Dispensary, No. 1, of 29 Front street east.

Eight hundred to a thousand customers a day is the average run on this, the leading Government liquor store in the Province. And one quart of whiskey is the average purchase. Saturday the customers average as high as 1,700 to 2,000. Thus we an arrive at the conclusion that Toronto consumes per day about one thousand one hundred quarts of liquor from this source.

The Government Dispensary on Front street is one of two in Toronto, the other being at the corner of Dundas and Dovercourt road. It is one of seven in Ontario, the others being one each in Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London and Windsor.

But the Front street shop, which is the liquor headquarters of the Province, does fifty per cent of all the business of the Province, or as much as the six other shops put together. This includes not only the large daily trade over the counter to Torontonians, but also an immense mail order trade, the liquor being shipped by express to all points in the Province.

Liquor Headquarters

But this liquor headquarters hath a mild and orderly appearance, for all its activity. The shop itself is no larger than the liquor shop of the bad old days. One wall is entirely covered with shelves full of liquor. The back of the shop is occupied by three little cages, labelled, “Censor” and “Cashier.” The main part of the room is nicely railed off with iron bars like the approach to the ticket booths at the Exhibition.

The customer on entering the shop is directed into the railed runway by a Provincial policeman, who keeps order to the shop. The runway leads to the censor’s cage.

The censors, much to the customer’s astonishment, are not fierce and skeptical old men, but demure and dainty young ladies.

The customer produces his “doctor’s prescription” for one of these fair young censors to look at. She gives it a once over and stamps it. The customer moves on to the cashier’s cage and pays the price of his liquor. Then he reaches the counter, where three busy salesmen are at work. One of these takes the customer’s prescription, skewers it on a file and hands out the quart of whiskey, gin, wine or pure alcohol, as called for.

Then the customer slips his bottle into the little hand-bag and emerges into the open with the keen expression of a stationery salesman looking for business.

It is amazing to watch the lineup of patients at Store No. 1. There are the elderly, dignified old business gentlemen and the poor draggled, old washerwomen; rakish, tilt-hatted toughs in their dancing clothes, and slim, cool-eyed young business men, who have been smoking cigarets for two years; rich, poor, old and young.

Here comes a furiously-bearded old foreigner in a frock coat.

“Vishnick!” he cries, hoarsely, to the Provincial Policeman.

Foreigners Get Alcohol

“Vishnick’s all gone,” says the young lady censor.

” Vishnick! Vishnick!” yells the old man, violently, waving his special prescription from the rabbi.

“All gone!”

“Fini” shouts one of the cashiers, who wears a returned soldier button.

“Napoo!”

And the prophetical-looking old man is ushered out, hoarsely roaring “Vishnick!”

Here comes a poor, seedy little old man with the marks of the demon on every part of his frail old form. And he assumes a jaunty and assured air that fits him ill.

He presents his prescription to the fair censor. She gives it the critical eye, apparently finds something amiss with it, and calls the Provincial Policeman over to look at it.

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice, “What’s the matter wiff it?”

The moment the Policeman turns his back to go and telephone the doctor whose prescription this purports to be, the little old man wheels, and with remarkable agility, makes a lightning exit, and returns no more.

Here come two high-cheeked sandy mustached Russians, who each secure one quart of pure alcohol.

This mystery we later discuss with Assistant Deputy Chief of Police, Robert Geddes.

“Surely,” we protest. “It is as plain as day that those Russians get that pure alcohol for no other purpose than to manufacture more liquor in illicit stills!”

“Possibly, possibly!” replied the Assistant Deputy. “But you must also take into consideration the racial peculiarities of the Russians. They take a thimbleful of this pure alcohol and hold it in their mouths till their eyes pop from their sockets and their heads are bathed in sweat. That cures all their ills. Furthermore, the Russians mix alcohol with their porridge, soup, and other foods. Very nourishing, they say.”

From the above facts, the following truths appear to arise:

That one out of every five hundred men, women, and children in Toronto require one quart of whiskey per day for the relief or cure of disease, at a doctor’s order.

That on Saturday there are twice as many sick people who require whiskey as there are on other week days.

That Russians are a peculiarly constituted people, whose ailments are better treated with pure alcohol than by whiskey or gin. There were sixty-nine quarts of pure alcohol sold last Saturday, part of it to Russians.

These things we took to Chief License Commissioner J. D. Flavelle.

With regard to the young lady censors, he said:

“They are supplied with copies of all doctors’ signatures. They can censor quite as well as any man could.”

With regard to the selling of liquor to doubtful-looking customers and of pure alcohol to foreigners, Mr. Flavelle said:

“We have no responsibilities whatever in that regard. We have simply to carry out what the doctor’s prescription calls for. The responsibility for the amount of liquor and for the sale of the liquor rests wholly upon the doctors of Ontario.”

Twice a month the Dispensary furnishes the Board of License Commissioners with a complete list of sales, showing the number of prescriptions issued by each doctor. These records are kept on file, and are open to the inspection of the Provincial Government.


Editor’s Notes: This article shows the craziness of early prohibition in Ontario. People would need doctor’s notes for purchasing alcohol for “medicinal” purposes, but obviously people were breaking the rules. Everybody knew it was nonsense, hence the mocking tone of Greg’s writing about the “patients”, and “sick people”, and how everyone wanted to hide from others that they were buying alcohol by carrying their little bags. It is also a little racist, pointing out that “foreigners” or “Russians” can buy pure alcohol, and the assumption is they are up to something illegal. I was also struck with how few stores initially existed, with the rest of the province having to rely on mail-order, not unlike the roll-out of legal cannabis in Ontario in 2019, 100 years later.

“Vishnick”, or Vishnyak is a cherry liqueur popular with Eastern European Jews at the time.

The Plebiscite at Birdseye Center

October 18, 1924

Ontario conducted it’s 5th plebiscite on Prohibition on October 23, 1924. (following ones in 1894, 1902, 1919, and 1921). Prohibition was not successful in 1894 and 1902. It was instituted nationally in 1916 during World War 1, but removed (nationally) in 1919. The 1919 referendum voted to keep it in Ontario, and the 1921 one voted to ban the import of alcohol. The 1924 referendum was whether to keep prohibition. It was approved by only 51.5%, a result that did not sit well with many and urban centers voted against it, while rural areas voted in favour of it.

Where are the Bartenders of Yesterday?

“The expression on their faces of some of the old boys, as they sipped pink pop, was more than I could stand.”

By Gregory Clark, September 15, 1923

Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.

The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.

The visitor was smiling broadly.

“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”

“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:

“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”

Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:

“What’s yours, sir?”

The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:

“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”

And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.

But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.

Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.

Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:

“What have you been doing?”

“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.

“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“

“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.

“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.

“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”

“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“

“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.

“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”

“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”

At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.

For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.

Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?

Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.

Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.

In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.

“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.

“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“

And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.

“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”

“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”

“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”

“Prohibition has hit you hard?”

“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”

Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.

A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.

One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.

But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.

“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”

“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”

“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”

Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.


Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.

Some Doctors Look Upon Whiskey as a Cure-All

January 26, 1924

This illustration by Jim accompanied an article on how Prohibition made some unscrupulous doctors money as they could give “prescriptions” for alcohol for “medicinal purposes”. The text indicated that one doctor issued 2005 prescriptions in one month. This abuse resulted in limits on how many prescriptions doctors could issue.

Business and Industry Now Chief Prohibition Forces

March 29, 1924

These illustrations were included in an article on Prohibition. In Ontario, it began as what was called “Local Option“, where individual towns could choose to be “dry”. It was introduced across the province in 1916 during World War One. After the war, a coalition of United Farmers and Labour kept prohibition going. After the 1923 election of Conservative Howard Ferguson (pictured as the “referee”), he moved cautiously since public opinion was still split. The illustration below shows the sides. Only after another referendum in 1924 and election in 1926 did prohibition get repealed.

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