Vancouver History: Prohibition

Comments 6 by Rebecca Bollwitt

Given that I’m a media partner for the Canada Cup of Beer this Saturday, I thought it would be fun to delve into some local history when it comes to the spirited beverages.

On October 1, 1917 prohibition began in Canada but (and it was already well underway in the US).

Rum runners in BC would sail up and down the coast, often with tens of thousands of cases tucked in away on lumber ships. One of such ships being the infamous Malahat, known as the Queen of Rum Row.

Rum Running of liquor from Canada or from Canadian ships to American boats off the US coast was a profitable business. Unlike the activities on the Atlantic, the Pacific Rum Running trade was much smaller and thus immune from Mafia interests. [Vancouver Maritime Museum]

BC’s prohibition ended in 1920 but from that point on (and until recent years) the sale of liquor would only take place in Government controlled stores – leading to the birth of a good ‘ol Cold Beer n Wine shops.

The first English-Canadian province to repeal Prohibition, BC became the source of much of the liquor smuggled illegally into the US before it too finally repealed its legislation in 1933. [KnowBC]

Some of the key players during the prohibition era actually helped form this city and even Granville Street as we know it, like the Reifel brothers and their father.

Henry Reifel began a brewery at Main and 16th on Brewery Creek. In 1908 Canadian Brewing and Malting on 11th and Yew later amalgamated several companies into Vancouver Breweries [see: more on Henry Reifel’s brewing]. Henry sold his brewing interests on retirement (in 1933) and donated property for the original Vancouver Art Gallery on Georgia. [Vancouver History].

His son George Conrad Reifel (brewmaster) sailed his liquor down the coast and with his brother Harry (Henry) Frederick built and owned the Commodore Block on Granville (in 1929) and the Vogue and Studio theatres in the 1940s.

The Reifel family donated much of their land to the city, including farmland in Delta known now as the George C Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Even the Reifel family home now serves as the regional headquarters of the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Update: After reading this post, Steve from Ubertor and Reachd passed along this article from The Vancouver Sun. It involves the beautiful home on SW Marine – Casa Mia – which is up for sale and was always my sister’s dream home when we were kids (and I’m sure it still would be now). The reason this all fits together is that it was built for George Reifel in 1932.

Update: In 2011, the mansion is either still up for sale, or up for sale again [VancouverSun]

6 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Chris MathiesonThursday, July 3rd, 2008 — 6:55pm PDT

    Of course, if you want to know more about this stuff, you should come on my “Sins of the City” walking tour… gambling dens, opium houses, brothels… and of course, lots and lots about prohibition.

    Long after prohibition, we had some incredibly stringent liquor laws in BC… no standing while drinking, no unescorted women in bars, bars closed for dinner every evening. Of course, you could break all those rules, if you knew where to go…

    Chris Mathieson
    Vancouver Police Museum

  2. – BC Blog Link Explosion AgainFriday, July 4th, 2008 — 11:04am PDT

    […] continues her Vancouver History blogging with an entry on Prohibition in Vancouver – “Rum runners in BC would sail up and down the coast, often with tens of thousands of cases […]

  3. RaulTuesday, July 8th, 2008 — 10:24am PDT

    @ Chris – I’d love to do the tour of the Vancouver Police Museum! Only problem seems to be that it’s not open on weekends, or is it?

  4. Chris MathiesonTuesday, July 8th, 2008 — 11:22pm PDT

    Museum is open Mon-Sat 9-5. The museum itself is self-guided… of course, who needs a guide when you’re exploring Vancouver’s old city morgue. 😉

    The Sins walking tour is what we guide instead… it leaves the museum and explores Gastown, Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.

    Additional questions, ping me at [email protected].

  5. Vancouver Book of Everything » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittWednesday, November 12th, 2008 — 4:58pm PST

    […] Everything else is top notch info, from Gassy Jack to the Malahat. […]

  6. Vancouver History: Vogue Theatre » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittWednesday, January 27th, 2010 — 9:55am PST

    […] owned by the Reifel brothers, the Vogue was sold to a development company in 1987 and would lay vacant and silent until 1992 […]

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