Sunday, December 5, 2010

Windsor: A Big Player During Prohibition

On January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was put into effect, banning the selling, manufacturing and transporting of alcohol. So began the time of prohibition. After 13 controversial years of underground smuggling, heightened criminal activity and social unrest, the 21st Amendment was passed, repealing prohibition on December 5, 1933. In honor of that day, Chicago bars and pubs all over the city have been putting on repeal parties reminiscent of the jazzy speakeasies of the twenties and thirties. I had the pleasure of attending one of these parties on Friday night at a neighborhood joint called Faith & Whiskey. I never realized that the name had such a strong link to the prohibition era, and I received a very interesting history lesson that night.

Back when prohibition went into effect, the mafia began bootlegging, or rum-running, and started a profitable black market with illegal alcohol sales. Gangs would smuggle alcohol from Cuba, Mexico, France and Canada, creating high port and border traffic in a number

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of cities. Windsor, Canada was one of those cities. Home of the Windsor Distillery and Canadian Club Whiskey, Windsor had product that was in high demand from the thirsty Americans. One notorious gangster took full advantage of Windsor’s proximity to Detroit and the bootlegger-friendly environment of the Detroit River. Al Capone, owner and operator of all 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago, took control of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel and a large majority of the alcohol transportation through it. Through masterful strategies, Al Capone and Windsor’s Purple Gang successfully smuggled beer and whiskey across the border. One of their methods was using Bedford United Church, known then as Sandwich Methodist Church, as a way to signal across the River. If the lights in the bell tower were lit, it was clear sailing and they could go ahead with the transfer either through the tunnel or in boats. If the lights were out, it was not safe, and they would have to wait until a later night. Faith and whiskey.

Today, visitors to Windsor can visit this church as well as other prohibition related attractions around the city. They can take a tour of the Canadian Club Brand Centre to learn about the production of whiskey and get a tasting. Windsor is a truly special city, and apart from the rum-running history, it has a plethora of fun and exciting attractions. Visit the official tourism site to learn more about it.

In honor of the repeal of prohibition, let us raise a glass….

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting posting, good to learn more about the days of prohibition. Also, great pic of the Detroit skyline from the Windsor side, thanks for the Detroit/Windsor love!

    Love your posts, keep doing what you're doing!