Mobsters and Rumrunners of Canada: Crossing the Line


208 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-894864-11-5
DDC 364.1'33




Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


During the Prohibition Era (1920–33), Canadians were involved in
conveying alcohol to the United States. This book, a partly
fictionalized rendering of historical events, documents the activities
of a number of colourful bootleggers, while also examining the links
between such notorious mobsters as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz and
liquor distributors north of the border—and presents it all in a
fast-paced, consistently engaging narrative style.

Steinke’s accounts of the more sensational aspects of Canadian
rum-running include bloody turf battles, high-profile allegiances
between mobsters and “respectable” folk, and sophisticated smuggling
networks. The high stakes of the bootlegging business, as well as the
carnage it exacted on criminals and the law-abiding alike, emerge
clearly. “In 1920,” for example, “the Bronfmans obtained a license
for a bonded liquor warehouse in Yorkton, about 60 miles north of
Bienfait. It’s said that the millions of dollars they made selling
booze to American gangsters spearheaded their mighty Seagram’s empire
in the years to come.”

The stories are told with an “insider’s” grasp of the details of
the trade, which makes for some engrossing—and sometimes
gross—accounts. For example, bootleggers occasionally used iodine in
making their brew, and “[i]f iodine was in short supply, the local
undertaker would supply embalming fluid to give the hooch an even
greater kick.” Particularly memorable are the chapters on the
extraordinary criminal career of Rocco Perri, “Canada’s Al
Capone,” and on the use of a leper colony by rumrunners as a hideout.

In sum, Mobsters and Rumrunners of Canada is an accessible,
informative, and entertaining survey of a vivid portion of our
nation’s history.


Steinke, Gord., “Mobsters and Rumrunners of Canada: Crossing the Line,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,