Imagine life on the East Coast of Canada in the 1920’s. Now imagine the coastal coves and inlets scattered throughout the waterways in the region. Its no wonder fishing was a big industry. Living life as an East Coast Fisherman was a tough job with great risk! To make a decent living you had to catch a lot of fish and then sell it all at a reasonable price; to the local processor. It was the processor that controlled your income! He’s the guy that made all the money! If you walked away with $100 a month you were doing well. All in all, it was a hardscrabble life for all involved.
Now during these early years; legislation in the United States and Canada passed the law prohibiting the sale and consumption of all liquor. Societie’s members were divided in their faith to comply. Liquor was to become a very a hot commodity! It was all about supply and demand! A void to be filled by none other than the fishermen and the Black Market. Enter the Rum Runners of Atlantic Canada.
St. Pierre & Miquelon
So; now lets say you are a Canadian Distiller. During prohibition you can no longer export liquor to the United States but you can’t sell in Canada either. So to survive as a business; your only solution is to export your spirits to another country. In the North Atlantic region; there are two small islands just off the coast of Newfoundland, that were controlled by France. St Pierre and Miquelon. Now in St. Pierre; fishing was the only game in town and in the 1920’s the catches were way down. Fishing the area was usually profitable. France kept possession of this Island just for the fishing rights alone. One day; boats start showing up on the Island and they were wanting to buy liquor. Go figure! It was a sign of the times! Well a local guy; named Mr. Julien Moraze, soon figured it all out. Right away he built several warehouses portside and filled them with liquor bought mainly from Canadian Distilleries. Right then; there is a huge demand for liquor and St. Pierre is in the right place to satisfy it. All Julien had to do is figure out a way to transport it without getting caught by the American or Canadian authorities.
Fishing in Atlantic Canada
Now lets step back to the local fishermen in Atlantic Canada making a living fishing and owns his own boat. One day your buddy tells you about the underground market running liquor from the French Islands. He says he is going to St. Pierre to buy the liquor and plans to sell it locally. He ventures out, loads up his boat and sells all that he can handle. Word soon spreads of his progress and the money at hand. Bingo! All of a sudden it seems like all the fishing boats were in on this deal. By God; in St. Pierre, Julien is grinning from ear to ear. He no longer has a transportation problem and doesn’t have to worry about gettung caught by the authorities. He ends up with a very profitable business! Of what he exports; 90% ends up going to the American Markets, in New York and Boston. The other 10% seems to end up in Atlantic Canada. Soon enough though; like most dealings in the underground world, the Mob and Al Capone eventually take over distribution and sales in the American Market. By this time Julien had made all the money he would ever need!
Let’s focus on Atlantic Canada. It would become prime smuggling territory. The peak years for Rum Running in Atlantic Canada were between 1923 and 1933. This became a way of life for many East Coasters. Is this part of your heritage? Are these your people! The laws prohibited the liquor but the provinces did not have the money nor the manpower to enforce the laws. Why not turn a blind eye, catch someone every now and then and levy fines. This became a whole new source of revenue for the provinces. The liquor market was so big that many of the local law enforcers were on the take themselves. Rum running was a booming business! It is said that at one time or another; 90% of the Lunenberg fishing fleet was involved in Rum Running. You can be assured that most ports had the same ratio. Most fisherman could make $500 a month running rum compared to about $100 fishing. Sure, you had to work a lot of nights but what the Hell, you had a family to feed. Many of the younger people got involved as Deckhands. The money was good but the sense of adventure was incredible.
As with anything; thinking changes and prohibition would come to and end. Many Atlantic Provinces repealed Prohibition by 1930. The United States repealed it by 1933. The governments soon took over the sales and distribution of all liquor because of the revenue it generated. Prince Edward Island did not repeal until 1948, It has been said that there were more Moonshiners per capita on the Island than anyplace else in the country.
You know; fortunes were made by a lot of people involved in Rum Running in Atlantic Canada. In my mind, the most money must have been made by good old Julien Moraze; back in St. Pierre. He was smart! He saw a great opportunity of the times and capitalized on that with minimal risks for himself!. Everything was done above board cause once he sold the liquor his hands were clean. No one seems to know what became of Julien who played a pivitol role in the start up years of Rum Running in Atlantic Canada. I like to think he sailed off to the Carribean and to a place called Margaritaville! I’m sure he lived out the rest of his life exactly the way he wanted to! And with fond memories of the small island in the Atlantic he called home!