Vessels Owned and Operated as Rum Runners on Canada’s Pacific Coast

compiled by John M. MacFarlane 2013


The rum runner schooner mothership Malahat (Photograph from an unknown source.)

The term "rum–running" is more commonly applied to smuggling alcohol over water; "bootlegging" is applied to smuggling alcohol over land. Rum running is frequently viewed with a sentimentality that overlooks the fact that laws were being broken, and that the activity sometimes involved extreme violence and murder. The fact that prohibition was later repealed does not diminish the serious nature of the smuggling or the efforts to interdict it. In the early days alcohol was illegal in Canada as well as in the United States. Later as prohibition was lifted in Canada it was only the smuggling of alcohol into the United States that was illegal.

On October 1, 1917, prohibition came into effect in the province of British Columbia. Between the years of 1920–1925 five provinces voted to repeal prohibition. Alberta and Saskatchewan repealed in 1924, and Prince Edward Island was last to repeal in 1948. Prohibition in the United States made the manufacture and sale of alcohol illegal. Drinking alcohol was legal. The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on January 16, 1919 prohibited the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States". The Volstead Act was passed on October 28, 1919, to enforce the law.

Mike McCammon (British Columbia Nautical History Facebook Group 10/02/2018) notes that "Rum running by ships was the more popular way to smuggle alcohol in and out of Canada – especially out. Most of the Canadian provinces repealed prohibition before the United States did in 1933. This allowed the black market to continue to thrive. Even during the prohibition era, in places like Ontario it was perfectly legal to export alcohol so Canadian authorities had little power to stop the flow of alcohol into the US. The US government actually contacted Parliament and asked them to help, but they didn’t have much luck. The government, under Prime Minister W.L. MacKenzie King, refused to clamp down on Canadian businesses and instead chose to make things more difficult for the rum-runners. For example, Canada Customs contacted US authorities when suspicious boats were cleared. That being said, many ships simply evaded capture by dropping off their cargo at secret points rather than reporting to US Customs. Parliament eventually came around and passed a law in 1930 that made it illegal to transport alcohol via ship to an American destination."

It is impossible to catalogue the definitive list of vessels involved in the trade. Many vessel owners and operators made opportunistic (sometimes one–shot) rum running voyages. This list is the result of ‘best efforts’ and is based on ‘popular knowledge’ and may be amended in the future as more information is discovered.

Note to Reader: Vessel names containing Roman numerals in parentheses (e.g. Floater (II)) indicates more than one vessel in the database with the same name. The numerals in parentheses are NOT part of the vessel name but are used to distinguish one vessel from another in the database.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2013) Vessels Owned and Operated as Rum Runners on Canada’s Pacific Coast. 2013.

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