________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


The Rumrunners: Dodging the Law During Prohibition. (Great Canadian Stories).

Frank W. Anderson.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2004. 117 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-894864-40-9.

Subject Headings:
Smuggling-Alberta-History-20th century. Prohibition-Alberta-History-20th century.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

* /4


While British Columbia adopted a modified version of Prohibition on July 1, 1917, liquor was still not difficult to obtain. Besides, Montana was still wide open. A moderate amount of rumrunning between Montana and Utah, and the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, sprang into being, but it was not serious. Import liquor was still readily available, and the steady flow of prescription medicine kept the temperature of the drinkers at tolerable levels.

There was a steady upsurge in the sale of patent medicines and food flavouring extracts, such as vanilla, following July 1, 1917. All of these contained more than the 2.5 percent alcohol allowed by the Act, and by August 23, the government was compelled to pass an order forbidding the sale of these without a prescription from a doctor. Grocers were forbidden to carry them in stock, and they could only be obtained from a druggist who had a license to handle liquor.


The title, The Rumrunners, is misleading in that it implies that the book is about prohibition and violations of prohibition laws in Canada, when, in fact, it is only about prohibition in Alberta. This could have been cleared up by adding "in Alberta" to the title after prohibition. The book has no introduction. It is, therefore, difficult to tell what it is about. The reader gradually learns more, but the rumrunners of the title don't appear until Chapter 5 in a book with only 10 chapters. The lack of an introduction is a major weakness. It could have provided some background to the topic such as why prohibition began in Alberta and what led up to it. Did prohibition exist elsewhere?        

     For the most part, The Rumrunners is an unsatisfying book containing a mass of small details about the trade in illegal liquor in Alberta from 1916 to 1924. These soon become boring. It lacks the excitement one expects to see in such a story. Dry and factual best describe it. A few tales of bribery, police and customs corruption, and on occasion, humour, do provide some interest. So too, does the description of prohibition character, Emilio Picariello. He is the only person readers will remember. There is more information about this colourful man than any other person mentioned. This is more satisfying than reading a few bare facts about people most readers will never have heard of before. Tales of other such colourful characters would have been welcome.

     The Rumrunners has functional black and white illustrations throughout. Most are photographs, some a full two pages in size. There are a number of other assorted illustrations as well, including two cartoons. They are an asset. One unusual illustration shows a swastika on the floor of a saloon in a photo of a flapper demonstrating how "bootlegging" was done. Because of the later significance of this cross, it would nice to know where the photograph was taken and why a swastika was used.

     There is no index, glossary, or other teaching aid. A glossary would have been helpful for words like plebiscite and victuallers and for the term, ultra vires. There is a brief "Note on Sources" which is of no value. It gives no sources because of the confidential nature of most of the material included in this book, the author can only thank those old-timers who reminisced with him and suggested slyly: "Why don't you go down to see__________." The Note on Sources does suggest that The Rumrunners is an oral history since no printed sources are mentioned. Given the fact that the details in the book took place over 80 years ago, one wonders how many "old-timers" still survive and how accurate are their memories after so many years.

     Given its shortcomings, The Rumrunners is not suitable for classroom use and will not likely be of interest to students as a source of recreational reading. This is a pity because alcohol and its consumption could become an important part of a curriculum.

     Author Anderson, according to a note in the book, "has authored or published well over 100 books in this field." The publisher refers to him as a Canadian historian, but also says that he has a MSW degree. This suggests that he was trained as a social worker who later turned to history. Except for the words mentioned above, the book will be easily understood by the intended readership.

Not recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who is living in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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