Like most people of my generation, we had fathers and grandfathers who lived through prohibition in Kings County. From them we heard tales about rum running on the Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin, about bootlegging and North Mountain stills, about the lively cat and mouse games that often left the provincial police force red-faced and embarrassed and gave people a few things to laugh about
Many a tale of those times have been told and re-told around the kitchen table but few have been written down. Oral histories they remain but there are some exceptions. The late Alex Middleton (1915-1999) provided one of them. Middleton came here from Scotland in 1929, his family eventually settling in Steam Mill. In 1985 he decided to write a book (as yet unpublished) about growing up on a farm, so his descendants would have a record of what life was like in his time.
While prohibition ended about the time Middleton arrived here, he heard the stories and he recorded some of them in his book. During prohibition, rum running was a way of life for some people. It was often easy for rum runners to elude the police, Middleton writes, relating the time the police got a tip that a cargo of hard stuff was due to be unloaded at Scotts Bay on a certain day. “Of course the police all headed there in hope of a major haul at high tide. There was a boat out there all right, but it didn’t come in; it just stayed offshore long enough to hold the police there while the real load was unloaded in Canning. Such actions were very common and it was almost impossible to catch anyone with the goods.”
Bootlegging was a little more difficult, Middleton says, since there was a “greater risk of squealers,” people who would turn you in without a second thought. “The bootlegger that was most prosperous (i.e. successful) was the one that had his own trusted customers and refused to sell to anyone else.
“They had many elaborate ruses to protect themselves. I heard of one bootlegger in Canning that grew that grew a lot of vegetables to sell. He planted booze in the garden after dark; when his customers wanted a pint they had to buy vegetables for camouflage and go into the garden to pick them.
“Another very prominent bootlegger in Aldershot fooled the police for years; they raided him countless time without discovering where he hid his booze. Years later, after the county had gone ‘wet,’ one of the police approached this man and asked him about the hideout. The cop was sitting at it right then; it was one of those old-fashioned dining room tables with five legs, and every one of them hollow and could hold four pint bottles of rum.”
As well as bootleggers who worked out of their homes, Middleton says that during prohibition there were many moonshine stills on the North Mountain, and out in isolated communities a lot of beer was made and sold during prohibition.