SLOW BOAT ON RUM ROW
Volume 21 Number 4
Slow Boat on Rum Row tells us a good deal about how liquor was illegally "exported" from Canada by rum-running ships, was offloaded onto smaller craft and (presumably) then made its way across the Canadian/U.S. border "under cover" in order to avoid being impounded by U.S. customs authorities in the decade of U.S. Prohibition.
We never find out just where this traffic in contraband got into the state of Washington, but we learn much about the vessels used for trans-shipment (many the size of a largish fish boat, fish packer or fast motor yacht) and about the polyglot ships used to supply these smuggler-ships. The crew were largely kept in the dark about the magnitude of the operation, and their motto, "Don't never tell nothin' to nobody nohow," says much about their position as expendable cogs in a rather organized trade.
Fraser Miles, who wrote this nostalgic book from jottings in his diary, was unusual and unlike the majority of the men in the trade, as he was prudent, far-seeing and goal-oriented. Indeed, Miles saved his pay (generous for the hard years of the late 1920s and early 1930s) and later went to university for training as an engineer.
This book is written in simple language, and it begins long before the Prohibition days, when Miles was growing up in Mission, near the Fraser Valley. With boyhood friends, he adventured, hunted, scouted for logs, salvaged useful objects from the Fraser when the river was in spate, and generally learned a great deal about boat maintenance and seamanship from hands-on trial-and-error experiences. This portion of the book is nostalgic, and it illustrates the life of boys long before the computer era, the magnetic pull of the malls and the video game machines and loud music, so much a part of the routine for boys today.
Useful appendix material gives information about the size, ownership and years of operation of many of the boats "in the trade," and there are charts of the number of ships involved (from 4 in 1992 to 190 in 1932), interesting data on radio bearings, and a few stories about ships that ran into trouble with the law. The book is illustrated with many black-and-white photographs of the author with friends and fellow crew members, as well as profile pictures of ships in the trade.
Readers who have an interest in the trade in "firewater" or in a dramatic period in west-coast marine history will not want to miss this book.
Adele Case teaches English at Eritannia Secondary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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