Bootleggers

  The history of any district would not be complete if one did not mention the ‘Bootlegger’ (one who illegally sold homemade whisky to our early residents).

         During the prohibition days of the early 1920s, whiskey was not available at liquor outlets.  You either had to make your own or acquire it from a bootlegger.  The business of making "home brew" or moonshine as it was called, flourished during the days of prohibition.  Someone in every district was involved in this illegal trade.  Usually, in some out of the way spot, the bootlegger set up his equipment or "still".  He then prepared the ingredients which consisted of a quantity of warm water, sugar, sprouted wheat or rye which was first softened by boiling, potatoes or rotten fruit which was dumped into the mash for flavoring, and the essential ingredient, yeast. The concoction was left in a warm place to facilitate fermen­tation for a number of days. When the mash ceased bubbling, it was ready to cook, usually in a cream can.  Later the liquid was strained and then heated to the required temperature.  The liquid then changed into steam which was then passed through a series of coils of copper pipe that led into a con­tainer filled with ice or cold water, where it reverted back into a liquid "home brew" by condensation.  Next it was filtered by passing through charcoal, where it was pur­ified and made fit to drink.

         Now you have a fair idea of how to make it, but don't try it unless you have a lot of money you want to part with.  The fine for making a large amount of home brew-can be as high as $10,000 (maximum) to $500 (minimum) and usually with a jail sentence thrown in as well.

         The early bootleggers were proud of their trade but in no way could they advertise their product.  The making of home brew was ille­gal so it had to be treated as a confi­dential industry.  During the early years there were only a few police and they had a large area to patrol.  Surprisingly, they still made many arrests.  Usually the “still” was seized and the bootlegger was given a fine if it was his first offence.  If he was caught making it a second time, he was usually sent on a long holi­day, to a place called Fort Saskat­chewan.

           The bootlegger's "still" was al­ways located a long ways away from his buildings. The reason for this was because the mash always had a very distinct, strong odor to it, and its location could always be traced if the wind was from the wrong direc­tion.

         Moonshine or home brew was al­ways considered to be a potent drink, good if properly made but a deadly one if improperly brewed.  Many a person died or went com­pletely blind because he sampled a poor batch.  Home brew was readily available at all town and country dances as well as other social func­tions, as long as the bootlegger knew who he was selling it to.

         I can recall one incident that took place in Elk Point about 1933 which is worth relating. At that time we had a bootlegger in town that acted as an agent for an out-of-town supplier.  This bootlegger always cached his home brew in the general area where Tags Confectionery is now located. At that time this area was a solid mass of tall willows. One day another boy and I stumbled on to his cache of home brew, and for the fun of it we moved it to a new location about 150 yards away.  No doubt we had the poor bootlegger going in circles trying to locate his 30 or more bottles which he had hidden. We were sure that he sus­pected us of doing it, however we felt reasonably safe.  We knew he wasn't going to report us to the RCMP for running off with his ca­che.  Bootleggers always hid their supply away from their buildings. They had enemies like anyone else who would quickly inform the police if they had the chance.

         Occasionally, the bootlegger would bring a supply of his home ­brew to town, usually during the night when he thought it was safe. He always used every precaution.  He knew he was operating an illegal trade and one mistake was all it took to put him out of business.

         The making of home brew was a small, thriving industry that origin­ated during the early years and con­tinued into the 1930s. During the second World War of 1939-1945, whiskey was rationed and the mak­ing of home brew was revived, however once the war ended and rationing ceased, it again declined.

         The making of home brew today is pretty much a lost art but at one time it was considered a pretty important trade in every district.