The History of Long and Brier Islands

Rum Running & Prohibition

by | Dec 21, 2021 | Brier Island, churches, Long Island, people | 0 comments

Rum Running has always be going on here around our Islands. Ever since the early settlers arrived and even before confederation, Nova Scotians and Americans have transported rum back and forth from one country to the other, trying to avoid duties and taxes. I have written some stories about that and published here on this blog. What I am writing about here is prohibation and the rum-running that went along with that.

When the early churches were formed, the churches recognized that alcohol was causing a lot of problems in our villages on the Islands. So they looked to the Temperance movement for help.

Westport was the first to organize. Westport organized, forming the Tyro Division No 145 Westport on Jan 27th 1858.

Western Star Division No: 161 Freeportwas chartered February 4th 1860 in the nom de plume of Rev. Henry Achilles and 18 other residents of Long Island and was instituted February 21st 1860 by County Deputy Randall, Isaiah Thurber, Worthy Patriarch. Isaiah Thurber was also commissioned Deputy Grand Worthy Patriarch.

The temperance society was first organized under the encouragement of church: Rev. Henry Achilles, pastor of the church at the time encouraged the formation of the group. The constituent members numbered twenty-one.

They original met in the vestry near the Hill Top Cemetery at the top of Crocker’s Hill. They met there until the new Temperance Hall was built in 1885. The Sons of Temperance were instrumental in moving the Vestry from Hill Top Cemetery to its new location at the rear of the new Church at the bottom of Crocker’s Hill.

For fifty years after its organization in 1860 the Western Star Division No: 161 of the sons of Temperance was the most powerful force for the betterment of the life of Freeport. This society in its day was able not only to break the vicious hold which intemperance had on the village, but also to serve other ends. It was a social and educational force which has never been equaled in the subsequent life of the town.

On Saturday evenings old and young of both sexes gathered from far and wide (for decades the people in Central Grove attended until they built their own Temperance Hall) and worthwhile programs of songs, recitations. readings, debates and dramatics were presented. It was in fact, a school which taught poise and self-confidence and self-expression together with the rudiments of public responsibility and good citizenship.

In view of the fact of upwards of two hundred and fifty, and at times nearly three hundred members attended these sessions.

Tiverton was next, July 1877. Followed by Central Grove, Feb. 21st 1890.

The temperance movement was an international social and political campaign of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol.

This led to the legal prohibition of alcohol in many parts of Canada. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol.

Pledge to the Temperance Society

In 1915 and 1916, all provinces but Quebec prohibited the sale of alcohol as a patriotic measure during the First World War. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s in favour of allowing governments to control alcohol sales. Temperance societies were later criticized for distorting economic activity, and for encouraging drinking and organized crime.

The rum-running or prohibition days lasted from 1920 to 1930 here in Nova Scotia. It all began 100 or more years ago, when pressure was imposed on both the Canadian and the United States government to pass laws with the intent of keeping everyone stone sober. Temperance societies and women’s groups were very vocal and straightforward on this subject: “No boozing in any form will be tolerated.”

 Eventually in the United States, the Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, came into force in January of 1920.

In our country, we had to complicate things with a complex Canadian system of federal, provincial and municipal laws. These laws were preaching prohibition across the land, while at the same time, distilleries were allowed to produce a large amount of whiskey, as long as it was all exported. Talk about a double standard.

Prohibition was supposed to solve all the problems of too much alcohol being available. This, needless to say, was not the case, as liquor went out the back door just as much as before. There were reports of gross inefficiency in the Department of Customs and Excise and of corruption at all levels of law enforcement.

In other words, “men could be bought,” to quote some, and it did not matter if these men were serving on patrol boats, or holding high office inside the courtrooms. Not all officials could be bought, some did their jobs with dedication and honesty, and it would not be fair to pass judgment on all, or any, of them.

At first, in fishing boats, liquor would be hidden in fish holds, along with their regular catches of cod. Officers of the law were expected to turn a blind eye to this practice, they mostly did. It was not until 1922 that vessels carrying liquor alone started appearing just off our Nova Scotia coast. The era of rum-running was now in full swing in Canada, and lasted for 13 years in some provinces.

From Prohibition’s inception, people found ways to keep drinking. There were a number of loopholes to exploit: pharmacists could prescribe whiskey for medicinal purposes, such that many pharmacies became fronts for bootlegging operations; industry was permitted to use alcohol for production purposes, much of which was diverted for drinking instead; religious congregations were allowed to purchase alcohol, leading to an uptick in church enrollment; and many people learned to make liquor in their own homes. Criminals invented new ways of supplying Americans with what they wanted, as well: bootleggers smuggled alcohol into the country or else distilled their own; speakeasies proliferated in the back rooms of seemingly upstanding establishments; and organized crime syndicates formed in order to coordinate the activities within the black-market alcohol industry. The only people who were really curtailed in their ability to drink were members of the working class who were unable to afford the price hike that followed illegalization.

Digby Courier; Nov. 17th 1922

With the turn of the century other attractions made their advent in the life of the town and The Sons of Temperance began to slowly die. This continued until in 1923 the interest become so low that the meeting was given up.

Digby Courier: Feb. 16th 1923

I have been researching and looking for information to tell this story of rum-running, here on Long and Brier Island and found it very difficult. Because it was illegal to transport rum to another country, not much is written about our Islands involvement. Once in a while you come across little tidbits quite by accident. Our forefathers have said, so or so was involved in rum-running but they didn’t give much detail.

In the mid 50’s I had heard of someone finding a couple cans of rum in the tree-line on the north shore of Long Island. I always associated this with pirates, I don’t know why. Do any of our Island readers remember this?

Here is a story of an Islander that was shot by pirates when they were trying to steal his rum.

Arthur Moore was born on March 20, 1888 on Brier Island, Digby Co, Nova Scotia, Canada, to Sarah Elizabeth (Bates) Moore, age 33, and James Almond “Allen” Moore, age 28.

He married Ethel Permilla (Porter) Moore on October 18, 1909, in Parrsboro, Cumberland Co, Nova Scotia. They had six children in 13 years and lived in Westport and Cumberland, Nova Scotia.

Berwick Register, August 22, 1923


Gloucester, Mass., Aug. 20. – In a battle with rum pirates on board his schooner, the J. Scott Hankinsen, out of Nova Scotia, Captain Arthur Moore, of Weymouth, N.S., was shot and probably fatally injured today.

Harry Hamm, cook of the vessel, was shot in several places. Both were brought to hospital here by fishermen who sighted the schooner’s distress signals after the shooting.

According to the story told by the crew of the schooner, the vessel was laying-to off Rockport, about 4.30 this afternoon, when two men approached in a motor boat and boarded her. The schooner’s cargo consisted of 3,000 cases of whisky.


Two men entered the cabin and at once opened fire with revolvers on the captain and cook. Although shot through the stomach at the first volley, Captain Moore returned the fire, wounding one of his assailants. The cook was shot in the neck, shoulder and both legs.

The pirates, discouraged by the skipper’s resistance, left without any plunder and headed off shore in their boat. Sometime later two fishermen who were passing in a motor boat saw the schooner flying distress signals and took off the two wounded men, who were landed at Rockport, and brought to a hospital here.

Late tonight physicians said Moore would probably die of his wounds.

Captain Arthur Moore made it through that episode but died on June 26, 1937, in Martinique, at the age of 49, most likely from lead poisoning he sustained years earlier when he was shot by pirates.

Digby Courier; Feb. 26th 1926

Digby Courier; Oct. 22nd 1926

Digby Courier; April 15th 1927

Digby Courier; Oct.29th 1926

Digby Courier; June 17th 1927

Digby Courier; Sept. 23rd 1927

Digby Courier; June 1st 1928

Wilfred Clifford tells of rum-running

Wilfred Clifford: Rum-Running Story

         This is an account of a Tiverton fishermen who during an interview tells of a rum-running schooner that came ashore on our Island, and was a complete wreck.

This interview was done by Cindy Graham in November of 2000. The interview was done as part of the municipality of Digby County collecting our history from the older generation with a project called the Elder Transcripts. The interview is available on their website.

 In his interview Wilfred tells of how he had heard of a rum-running three-masted schooner, that had come ashore on the St. Mary’s Bay side of Long Island.

So he, Bernard Robbins and Herbert Cossaboom had gone down the old road, along the shore looking for this vessel. They finally found the wreck at the caves about midway down the Long Island shore.

“The Caves” is a formation of basalt rock cliff, that extends to about 150 feet above the water’s edge. there is only one place where you can lower yourself down to get to the beach level and that is where the vessel had come ashore in 1929.

Place where the three masted vessel came ashore

(only place to get down over the cliff)

         Clifford said that the three-masted vessel had been down to the West Indies for a load of salt, it had also picked up rum to bring back to Nova Scotia. Once back in the Bay of Fundy they began peddling out the rum to smaller boats with the help of thick fog, so no one would see.

They thought they heard the surf on the shore and to avoid running on shore they hoisted their sails and headed to the northeast. But somehow the crew on the three-masted vessel had become disoriented with loading the smaller boats they headed to the northeast instead of the southwest and soon ran in the rocks at the caves.

         Wilfred had said from the beginning of the story that this happened near the end of the prohibation. I had remembered a ship that I had already written about maybe 10 or 12 years previous about a wreck in 1929, that had come ashore at “the caves” on Long Island. This vessel was a three master and I always wondered when I had seen a picture of the vessel, being towed to Whites Cove on the French Shore, why were the masts out of the vessel?  It was not wrecked because of the sea damage, it was wrecked because it was breached with rocks and was leaking. Clifford had said in his interview that the crew had chopped the mast down to save the rigging and sails as they thought it was going to sink after running ashore.

“ Rose Anne Belliveau “ Vessel that came ashore at “The Caves” Long Island Jan. 19th 1929

Digby Courier; Sept. 13th 1929

Nova Scotia voted against prohibition on October 31, 1929 and The Liquor Control Act in 1930 brought an end to prohibition. Government control won a decisive victory in the plebiscite, 87,647 to 58,082. It received a majority in every county but six. Only the rural counties of Annapolis, Colchester, Hants, Kings, Queens and Shelburne voted in favour of continuing prohibition.

This result opened the door to sales of alcohol in a government monopoly of liquor outlets and created the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission on May 1, 1930. But the rum-running years continued well after World War 11, although liquor smuggling was not as frequent. The first liquor stores in Nova Scotia were opened on August 18, 1930, with three in Halifax and one in Dartmouth.

On December 5, 1933 prohibition came to an end in the United States.

Rum-running didn’t really stop at this time.

The Tiny Tattler had issues with rum-running as late as 1936

One issue that the Tiny Tattler showed incredible leadership on even in the face of threats was on the impropriety of illegal liquor trading and bootlegging in the area. Prohibition had officially ended in Nova Scotia in 1930 as a result of a 1929 plebiscite. Liquor sales became legal only in government controlled stores, and the profits of the Nova Scotia Liquor Control Commission were originally applied first of all to the costs of the newly established rural police. Even with these changes, however, many areas remained dry and the temperance movement and spirit lingered inrural Nova Scotia. The Tattler had reported that a cargo of rum had been brought on the Island in July of 1936, and the police had done nothing. By 1937, the temperance movement appeared to be regaining some of its former popularity. For instance, on Tuesday, 19 October of that year, a public temperance meeting was held at the Little River Baptist Church (Digby County) and the “Rising Tide” Division of the Sons of Temperance was re-organized with men, women, and youth participating. Similar revivals were attempted in other communities.

Following an article on 4 August 1938, the Tattler ran an editorial on 29 September that stated that rum running on Long Island was in full swing and “must be stopped.” “Let the Mounties come in plain clothes to some of our dances and plenty of arrests could be made. Islanders are asking for ACTION.

On the following week, the Tattler’s headline read, “Stop Press, EXTRA, Editors’ Lives are Threatened.” Ivan and Rupert had received a threat of death if they published “one more word” about illegal liquor on the Island. In the 13 October issue, readers learned about the impending visit of the King and Queen to Canada later in the year and on the second page that two arrests had been made by the RCMP on charges of possessing illegal liquor. The editors urged the police to arrest the “promoters.”

Mar. 03, 2020

A Prohibition-era law that has for decades required “dry” Nova Scotia communities to hold plebiscites on whether to change their liquor rules is coming to an end.

Nova Scotia’s Liberal government announced the change to its Liquor Control Act on Tuesday, making it the last jurisdiction in the country to end the unusual ritual.

The law had called for votes when a business wanted to make or serve alcohol in a dry town, or the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. sought to open an outlet in communities where the sale is restricted.

There are about 100 communities – mostly in rural areas and some too small to support a bar – where the dry laws remained in place since the 1920s.

As of Jan. 1 2021, municipal governments can quickly end this status if a brewery or liquor store wants to set up.

Nova Scotia has been the only province that restricted where liquor can be sold or produced through provincial legislation. Other provinces have long relied on municipal zoning or bylaws to impose restrictions.

The list of communities that were considered dry has been based on an old map in a government office in Halifax that is supposed to show which ones are still locked in Prohibition.


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