Of Rectitude and Recreation (Part I)

 Ford Moynes Explains R & R, Ontario-style

When you read enough about the history of liquor in Ontario, you realize that despite our decorous image (always a Janus face to some extent), plenty of shenanigans took place. Bootlegging has been fairly well documented at the organized level, where legal distillers found ways to supply the illicit U.S. market often in hand with crime syndicates.

This article by Craig Pearson in the Windsor Star in 2014 discussed how whisky legally made in Windsor and supposedly consigned to legal markets outside Canada found its way to Detroit with the help of gangster Al Capone.

But small-scale moonshining occurred a-plenty in Ontario in the 1920s, to supply local wants during the liquor ban (1916-1927). This has been much less documented, in part for obvious reasons. Also, when the public tone in Ontario finally permitted discussion of such issues, most who remembered the bad old days, offenders and others, had died.

Still, there are nuggets if you look. Ford Moynes (pictured) was an old-time country newspaperman in Lindsay, Ontario. Writing easy-going but lightly ironic pieces in the local press, the Kawarthas-based scribe occasionally discussed our bibulous history, including the darker corners.

An article in 1968 chronicled the memories of a 1920s moonshiner in Gooderham, ON, in Haliburton County. I wonder if it could have appeared in the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail at the time, so strong was the image of Toronto the Good then.

I must allow the possibility, if only because Moynes was a correspondent for both said newspapers, according biographical information in the Kawartha Lakes Public Library archive.

The ex-moonshiner supplied an avid need for alcohol around Gooderham and in Lindsay, for parties, and other usual human purposes. (Moynes explains the irony of the town’s name). And the women drank as much as the men, a facet of the public vs. private reality Moynes reveals.

The whisky was considered good quality, made in copper stills, initially from a variety of grains until wheat was settled on as best.

Some was delivered in kegs but clearly none of it was aged long. One wonders how good it was even after two or three runs in the still. Usually such whisky has a “fresh dough” taste, if not the marked chemical tang of “white dog”.

Be that as it may, it sold like the proverbial wildfire. Moynes’ interlocutor was never arrested but after a close call with liquor inspectors, finally gave up the moonshining. He made lots of money, but claims not to have hung on to it: easy come, easy go, as he put it. Or was that a gambit to keep in good graces of Moynes readers who knew who he was?

Moynes had more to tell of Ontario’s 1920s relationship to booze. One story concerned a legal distillery and no, not Wiser’s, Corby, Seagram, Hiram Walker, or Gooderham & Worts.  There is even a Scottish connection. More soon.

For our Part II, see here.

(Source of both images is the Kawartha Lakes Public Library Digital Archive).



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.