Those were the days!

It’s around 80 years now since that celebrated Chicago businessman, Al Capone, allegedly was enhancing the fortunes of Nestor Falls.
Others were pre-occupied with U.S. prohibition activities in and around Fort Frances—purely as good neighbours while promoting prosperity north of the border in the bargain.
Incredibly good times had found our Atlantis and the colourful stories emerging were not all lies, as I learned while befriending a number of veterans of the whiskey trade here whom I knew as honest citizens decades later. Honesty thrives on success!
There was one elderly but vigorous lady whose husband reputedly played the violin so well, he had entertained the crowned heads of Europe in his prime. They became tenants of my parents after moving into town from the Foley mine at Mine Centre.
One day, she wanted to view the scene of her illegal career on the lower riverbank just west of here.
She once had occupied a cabin there with a false inside wall, which she kept packed full with whiskey bottles. She said the “revenuers” or police of the day could not tell the wall was hollow, pound on it all they wanted.
That was her “store.”
There were hijackers to be on guard against, but she was ready for them with her rifle. One day, knowing they had been snooping around, she took her gun downtown and went into the popular Belluz butcher shop to leave the message that she’d be ready for the hijackers.
They never came around again!
She was good with that gun, too, having cleared her garden of deer late one night and put six deer “in sealers” before daybreak! Everyone canned their meat, there being no deep freezes in her day.
She lies buried here now under homemade headstones my father created for the friendly couple, who probably never “imbibed” at all themselves.
The booze was flowing well everywhere here and some of her neighbours did well enough with it to build new homes and barns.
Downtown, CN boxcars would bring in the “goods” to fill barges going up the lake, ostensibly to Cuba. My old friend, Louis Camirand, had learned this before he became chief of our town police.
Various businessmen along Scott Street also seem to have been satisfying the Americans’ thirsts.
The unsuccessful story of the barges has been told and retold, of how the valuable cargoes sank accidentally or were hijacked before they got to Cuba.
The Canada Customs papers were all in order but tragedy always occurred. The immense cost of those loads seems to have been completely “lost.”
The head of a large Irish family told me that prohibition was working well for him, though, whenever he jumped into his rowboat on the upper river. Along would come someone with a case or two that required rowing over to the American shore, where the unloading would be looked after in the darkness with hardly a word spoken on either side.
This might be night after night, too.
As all good things come to an end, so prohibition went down the drain, too, eventually. It’s said many friendships were created over the border in those days, and it doesn’t take much to get the few survivors discussing those days again, maybe just a brew or two sometimes . . . .
But say, it appears that smoking will someday soon also be breaking the law.
When that happens, remember the over-the-border incidents down east, around Cornwall, when the cigarette tax got too high. There was plenty of lawlessness similar to the U.S. history of prohibition.
It may prove healthier to stamp out tobacco, as long as something worse doesn’t pop up. But the Americans lesson on whiskey suppression need never be repeated for cigarettes—because what is forbidden will always stay in strong demand.
• • •
The closest the lovable Queen Mum came to Fort Frances, I believe, was a train stop at Redditt, north of Kenora, because she toured Canada on the main CNR line.
Hundreds of folks here went north more than 200 miles to cheer her, and also made it for her royal visits to Winnipeg.

Posted in Uncategorized