Last of the Speakeasies?

Big news from a little place. One of the last vestiges of the prohibition-era speakeasies of the first half of the last century has left the scene in Canada’s smallest province. 
CBC PEI reports

In 1900 Prince Edward Island became the first province to ban alcohol. It was the last to end prohibition almost 50 years later. However, there continued to be dozens of bootleggers around the province…

It seems Charlottetown’s bootleggers have raised the white flag, choosing to close their illegal establishments in the face of tough new legislation passed by the Binns government. The bootleggers run illegal bars in homes. The houses are gutted, a bar is put in, and the people who run them resell liquor and beer. They don’t have liquor licences, and don’t conform to any provincial or municipal laws. They’ve been raided, railed against and reviled. But mostly, they’ve been tolerated, selling booze for much cheaper prices than legal lounges and nightclubs. That’s until this past weekend, when the doors of the known bootlegging establishments in Charlottetown were suddenly locked.

The writing has been on the wall for these illegal bars – one of which is illustrated as shown on the CBC PEI website – for a few years since a man died at a table and was not detected as being dead for some time. It is interesting to note, however, that on the main street of Ogdensburg, NY, one of the last holdouts of British North America in what is now the eastern USA, these sorts of small home-sized bars do operate under license as one might also see in St. John’s Newfoundland. With any luck they will become similarly licensed in PEI but that may destroy some of the attraction to their customers who took advantage of after-hours drinking and unregulated low pricing.

Of somewhat finer interest is the use of “bootlegger” in PEI for an illegal bar. Growing up in Nova Scotia it meant an illegal retailer only.

2 thoughts on “Last of the Speakeasies?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Rusty – December 23, 2004 10:40 AM
    When Peter & Rex mentioned the term “Bootlegger” on the National Road Show from PEI on Tuesday Nite, I thought they were talking about CDs.

    Alan – March 1, 2005 9:52 AM
    A post-bootlegger boom is now being reported. Interesting to note that the Bobby MacMillan being quoted is also a sitting member of the province’s legislature for the the governing party so would be a fairly positive spokesman for the legitimization of this sector of the local market.

    Alan – March 30, 2005 3:51 PM
    Just a note somewhat on topic from a Veterans Affairs Canada site:

    The Airmen in Charlottetown, would visit the Orchid Restaurant, located across from Ed’s Taxi, where they would ask for a pot of cold tea. This was code for a pot of cold beer. PEI was under prohibition, sale of alcohol was illegal at this time.

    …and another…

    …”I can remember walking off the platform and an Air Force fella ahead of me, he was a Welshman, and there was one man shaking his hand saying ‘Welcome to Charlottetown’. And the Welshman says ‘Hi Mate, thanks a lot’ he says ‘What time do the pubs close?’ Now that was a shocker because we had no idea that Prince Edward Island was one hundred percent prohibition. There was no place you could get a drink of beer unless you went to the bootleggers. Of which there were plenty at that time.”

    Rikimae – April 24, 2005 2:51 AM
    The Bootleggers in Charlottetown have been closed now since December.. and I am one of a few who miss them.. I don’t go to regular bars because they can be a bit too rowdy.. and that can be fairly dangerous to someone like myself, who has low vision.. everyone knows you at a bootleggers.. you are all friends.. sometimes as close as family… now they are gone.. there are seniors who have nowhere to go in town for socializing.. seeing that the seniors social centre is not even in town anymore, it’s on the outskirts… it’s a shame that the govt of this province couldn’t have come up with a compromise for these places.. so that they could stay open legally… oh well.. too late for that now.. the bar I went to was made into apartments…

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