HALF A TON OF RUM SEIZED IN CANNING (March 20/98)

Half a ton of rum was seized, as this heading proclaims, but rest assured that the peaceful little village of Canning has not undergone some sort of metamorphosis.

The rum seizure made the front page of an old Valley newspaper, the Western Chronicle, away back in 1916. The story of the seizure, a momentous event for the times, occupied the entire front page of the issue; there were two-inch headlines and vicious, slanderous prose that, if printed today about a similar occurrence, would have resulted in a truckload of litigation.

The story of the rum seizure is interesting for several reasons. In the early days of this century “politicking” was greased with black rum. In the late summer of 1916 an election was in progress and since some well-known local politicians were suspected of being involved in the rum-running, the Western Chronicle blatantly informed readers who they were. The story appeared the day after the seizure and the newspaper named the man who supposedly did the rum-running and his party affiliations.

It was all dirty pool, of course, and par for the way politics were played in that period. The Western Chronicle was simply showing its colours, in other words its own party affiliations. Newspapers could do that at one time, at least when it came to politics, and apparently publishers was able to get away with it.

As I prepare this column I have a copy of the Western Chronicle front page at my elbow (compliments of Leon Barron) and I find myself reading it again and again. I’m astonished and amused in turn. The headline proclaims that the “half a ton of rum” was seized at the home of one Leslie E. …. Well, never mind the last name since his relatives are probably still living here and everything in the story was based on speculation and circumstantial evidence. No charges had been laid when the story appeared, yet a leading citizen of Canning was named as the culprit, called a hypocrite and a scoundrel.

“The seizure of over half a ton of liquor, the fleeing from the country of the president of the Liberal Conservative Association, hotly pursued by provincial constable, the violation of oaths are events that have livened up the Kings County political campaign that seemed to be passing quietly,” read the lead paragraph of the Western Chronicle story.

This was mild compared to the remainder of the report. For example, “The awful disclosures have come as a horrible black eye to those who have been heeding the high sounding purity utterances of the Conservative candidates, both of whom have within a few days pledged themselves to enforce the liquor laws.” “The rottenness of the whole Tory campaign has been revealed,” is another example. As is, “The seizure of the liquor at Canning …. and other points clearly show the deep dyed hypocrises (sic) of the whole Conservative outfit.”

As the story unfolds we learn that a shipload of rum had come up the Habitant River to Canning on a night tide. When it was being unloaded and carted to the home of the Liberal Conservative Association president, a group of what the Western Chronicle described as “young manly Liberals” happened upon the scene. Acting heroically, the manly Liberal lads blockaded the house where the rum was being stored and sent for the County Constables.

The rum, the newspaper said in a parting shot, had been destined for “the carrying on of Tory corruption” in the area.

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