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Rum Runners of Canada: Canada's Role in Prohibition

A look at British Columbia’s role during and after Prohibition in Washington State.

July 31, 2011

By: Houria Rollosson & Erin White, Special to KCTS 9

Constitutional prohibition is sometimes referred to as "The Noble Experiment." But for Canada, constitutional prohibition in the United States might be better referred to as "The Lucrative Experiment."

As distilleries in America grinded to a halt, Canada’s alcohol production exploded, as did their sales export tax.

The fact was, in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, Americans wanted alcohol-- strong alcohol, and lots of it. And no matter how illegal or dangerous it was, bootleggers and rum runners were determined to satisfy the demand.

At that time, British Columbia simply became the perfect neighbor for Washington state.

Liquor distilled in British Columbia made it to the thirsty in the Pacific Northwest through Puget Sound. With its expansive and various beaches, Puget Sound was the stage of restless races between coast guards and rum runners.

Roy Olmstead was the major figure of this underground economy in the Pacific Northwest. As an ex-Seattle police officer, he had learned the tricks and common mistakes of bootleggers. He then perfected the trade from British Columbia to Washington state and became the king of King County bootleggers.

Prohibition did not stop alcohol or crime. Instead, it raised a new type of creative and highly organized criminal enabled by corrupt police officers and administrators.

Fortunes were made and Canada got its share. As prohibition ended, the legacy of this "Lucrative Experiment" endured with the success of Hiram Walker and Seagram’s, two of the biggest liquor companies in North America.

Related Links:
History of Roy Olmstead, King of King County Bootleggers
Who was Hiram Walker?
History of the Seagram Plant

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