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The sweet aromas of sugar and rum wafted in the streets until 1916, when Alberta held its province-wide prohibition vote. The vote saw 58,528 Albertans in favour of criminalizing booze making Alberta a ‘dry’ province.

The seven-year alcohol ban lasted until 1923, and left ‘wet’ voters with a veritable thirst for contraband.

As a result, black-market booze began filtering into Crowsnest Pass courtesy of rum runners (slang for people who transported alcoholic beverages to areas where drinking it is forbidden by law).

Despite the ban, liquor consumption was alive and well in The Pass. This was largely due to miners’ desire for a ritual of a stiff drink after a long and physically challenging day working in the mines.

The demand for liquor was so great that some residents sought prescriptions from their doctors, who prescribed liquor as medicine.

The profits of rum running might seem glamourous, but the reality of smuggling alcohol into Crowsnest Pass was extremely dangerous. If rum runners weren’t competing with each other for their share of the business, they were running into trouble with the law.

In an historic standoff, Emilio Picarriello, the ‘Bottle King’ of The Pass, killed officer (Alberta Provincial Police) Stephen Lawson for investigating his black market booze. The young Florence Costanzo, another of Crowsnest’s infamous characters was also involved in the crime. Both Picarriello and Costanzo were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Emilio Picarriello, Photo: Glenbow Museum

The history of rum running in The Pass is remembered with a parade and festival each July during Rum Runner days, and the beverage is served up at local licensed restaurants.

Those thirsty for learning more about the history of rum running in The Pass can visit The Rum Runner restaurant or the Crowsnest Museum and Archives in downtown Coleman.

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Photo: Glenbow Museum


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