Bienfait- Rum Running Prohibition Days

Bienfait, Saskatchewan, Canada

Aka- Rum Runners

In Canada, the temperance movement began in 1915.
Prohibition was declared in the United States in 1919

Info below from the 1955 History of Bienfait
Border smuggling was very prevalent in 1920. The main item smuggled was Liquor but small amounts of wheat, wool, and livestock were also smuggled at intervals. Different classes were either directly or indirectly involved the majority of the smugglers being men who wanted to make some easy money on the side-line.

The chief effect of this activity was annoyance to residents of the area. Many times an innocent resident was called up in the middle of the night and asked to pull a smuggler's wagon out of the mud or he may be asked to hide the cache of liquor in his cellar. This leads to the discomfort of the party who was running the risk of being implicated in an affair not of his choice. Police officers patrolled the border country and any suspicious vehicle was stopped and searched. Many times the officers gave chase and even resorted to gunfire. However contempt of prohibition, fear of reprisals and exposure of friends, acquaintances or kin seemed to favor the smugglers, much to the disadvantage of the law enforcement officers.

The common set-up for smuggling was a Canadian and an American working together, with the tip-off persons in some in-between stations.

Methods of conveying the liquor across the border varied from the use of compartment fuel tanks to filling tire tubes with whisky and air to get pressure. Once the destination was reached, the whisky was drained from the tires and placed in bottles or metal containers. Large caches of liquor were hidden in cisterns, grain bins, hay and straw stacks and under piles of gravel. Cars, trucks and wagons were used to transport smuggled goods across the border, however on certain occasions smuggled goods were carried on foot or on horseback.

Smuggling was a profitable proposition, but very few seemed to have actually benefited, for it was “easy come, easy go”. If the smuggler was caught by the law the resulting fines and loss of any cargo wiped out the profits of his career. The risks were great and many included rivalry with different groups and the danger of being caught by the patrol officers. In our immediate district two men were wounded in a gun battle with American and Canadian law officers near Portal.

Another man, Paul Matoff was murdered. (night of Oct 4, 1922 by a 12 gauge shotgun). A shipment of liquor was scheduled to be transferred from the CPR station in Bienfait to a truck owned by Lee Leander Dellage. He met the liquor company agent, Paul Mattoff, in the CPR station a few hours after the train arrived with the large shipment from Quebec to complete a transaction, which involved $6,000. During this time a hold-up was staged and Mattoff was shot to death in the back by a sawed-off shotgun, in the hand of an unknown person.

There were 2 “Boozoriums”, or Liquor Warehouses, or “Export House” located in Bienfait, during this period:

  • Bronfman's Boozorium, which was in what became Alex Ronyk's Pool Hall on Main St.
  • and a fellow by the name of Albert C. Rodgers (alt-Rogers) owned one as well. (see below)

A Albert Rogers owned the Bienfait Hotel in 1911, I now believe these are the same person. Wallace W. Lynd was Mr. Rodgers lawyer, and records his name as Rodgers, so he should know how it was spelled. I tried to research him and very little was found, that worried me a lot, there is usually a reason they can't be found. See below for the slim pickins I did find.

I did find another article dated Mar 1923, commented on a civil case, the National Insurance Co vs Al Rogers. It goes on to say he had a car stolen from him, and was making a claim for it. It also states he was linked up with the illicit Liquor traffic.

Also an article May 1922, says an A. Rogers lived on a farm, near Bienfait. There was a shooting on the road to the farm, and questions were asked about illicit liquor sales there, during the trial.

Some books record there were actually 3 in Beinfeit but haven't pinned the 3rd one down yet. There were 2* in Estevan, 1 each in Oxbow, Carnduff, Carievale, and Gainsborough.

Company in Gainsborough was called Liquor Exporters, Limited, owned by the Regina Wine and Spirits Company, owned by the Bronfmans.

2 companies in Estevan were charged by Police, Aug. 1920, for each selling illegal liquor to undercover police.
Southern Export Company, fined $1600.00, defended by P.M. Anderson KC.,
and Beaver Wine Company, fined $1,000.00, defended by W. H. McEwen, both lawyers from Regina.
J. Martin was the Prosecutor from Weyburn.

Harry Bronfman was one of the owners of the Southern Export Company, surprise, surprise!

Oct 5, 1920 at 7pm, an American car was caught loaded with $1,000 of liquor. at the Southern Export Co.
They arrested the person in charge of the car.
It was alleged Harry Bronfman paid a $100 fine for the guy arrested, for carrying a concealed weapon.
The customs officers were informed and the car was seized and stored overnight in Nesbitt's garage.
the liquor was seized by the police. The town police were notified and told to watch the garage until morning.
You guessed it, the car magically disappeared! The town police supposedly guarded the wrong garage!
Now reading other articles on rum running, it appears some of the police were on the take, and were as crooked as the gangsters.
I think this bunch should have been checked out!

All of the Bronfmans dealings appeared to be legal based on the laws of the day.
Here is a great story from a Yorkton history book, on how they did business.
They didn't do the physical bootlegging, but contributed to it.
It's like saying the guy growing or making illicit drugs in Columbia is OK, but the guy selling them here is real bad!

The Regina Wine and Spirits Company, owned by the Bronfmans got it's alcohol from the Prairie Drug Company, owned by the Bronfmans.
The Drug company, made no drugs! only alcohol.
It was located on NW corner of Halifax St. at 6th Ave..
Moses Chechik was an employee of the Drug Company.
He was a brother of Meyer Chechik, who also had something to do with this “Drug” Co..
a guy by the name of Pelham Rodrigues was treasurer.
Other names mentioned to do with this Company:
A. E. Gorman
F. A. Masterman
Harry Rabinovitch
A. Robbins
The Prairie Drug Company was no longer operating in 1927
Land and building owned by the company was sold in a Sheriff's auction sale Apr 9, 1924.
They bought the lots and one story brick warehouse, in May 1920, for $15,000.00.
they were known as “Wholesale Druggists”
at this time it was legal for druggists to dispense liquor for medicinal purposes.

The Regina Wine and Spirits Company was equipped with bottling equipment, caps, strips etc, used to bottle liquor.
Zisu Natanson was Secretary and Stock Holder of the Regina Wine and Spirits Company
He lived at 1326 15th Ave in Regina.
When the police raided his house the basement was full of Liquor and bottling equipment.

Another company involved, the Regina Vinegar Company. owned by Zisu Natanson, of Regina, and Sam Diamond of Calgary.
There was illegal removal of proof alcohol from this company, before it was made into vinegar. allegedly a 2 way tap was in place and used while the customs man would turn his back during the transfer. How handy!!

Harry Rabinovitch was from Winnipeg, Jan 14, 1920, when a carload of 1600 cases of whiskey
valued at $216,000.00 was robbed at St Paul MN. The car was on its way from St Louis to Winnipeg.
Police surprised the robbers.
From the arrest Harry was charged with conspiracy, as he was alleged to have the liquor stolen in the states,
and sold down there where the price was higher. He plead not guilty.
Oct 26, 1923 his house at 2322 St John st in Regina was raided and a large quantity of liquor was seized
along with a quantity of bottles, corks and labels.
He actually was acquitted in his first trial, then his case was appealed. I'm sure he was innocent!

Dominion Distributors Limited in Yorkton, was owned by 5 men.
Harry and Sam Bronfman, Harry Rabinovitch, Zisu Natanson, and Meyer Chechik.
names sound familiar? All a big coincidence, right?

Meyer Chechik even took his other partners to court.
Seems he wasn't getting his fair share of their “legal” partnership?

Meyer Chechik
b- ca 1877 in Minsk, Belarus
d- 1947 in Vancouver BC (not in BC archives?)
wife- Baska “Bertha” Chechik
Merchant in Winnipeg ca 1923-26

Zisu Natanson- Merchant in Regina 1924-25
involved in incorporation of a Hebrew School in Regina
He was a member of the Board of Trustees for the school
He was a Co-Owner of the Regina Junk Co.

And this all went on for years!!!
Alleged Crooked Police, Alleged Crooked lawyers, Alleged Crooked Customs Officers,
Alleged Crooked Liquor Inspectors, Alleged Crooked Politicians, Alleged Crooked farmers, etc etc.
Millions of dollars changed hands.
the men involved paid minimal fines, minimal jail time, if any,
and most, if not all were considered respectable citizens in Winnipeg, and Montreal.
Even today the family surnames are considered members of high society!
Who says crime doesn't pay!

Doing this type of research I found names of folks I thought were clean as the driven snow.
Farmers names I thought were totally honest, and wouldn't be caught dead involved in this racket.
What a surprise to me!
In respect for some of their descendants, I will not go into details, but if you look at the old newspaper archives,
you will be surprised who was charged, some more than once! All the farmers along the border were susceptible to this.
Easy money, for little work, compared to farming. Do you think the drug trade today is done the same way? scary thought!

Rumours abound that Al Capone and other gangsters from Chicago spent time in Bienfait.
They would travel up on the Soo line to Moose Jaw , (Chicago of the north) and make stops at places like Bienfait securing deals.
Ironic the big gangster hangout in Moose Jaw was within an hour from the RCMP training headquarters in Regina.

Alphonse (Al) (Scarface) Capone
b- Jan 17, 1899
d- Jan 25, 1947
Died of Cardiac Arrest
Buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery, in a Chicago suburb.
referred to himself as the “Big Fellow”

Arthur S. Flegenheimer
(aka: Dutch Schultz, Arthur Schultz, George Schultz, Joseph Harmon, and Charles Harmon)
spent a week in Gordon White's King Edward Hotel in Bienfait, in early August, 1922.
It's reported he met with Paul Matoff on Aug 7, 1922. He was sent to Bienfait by Capone, travelling on the Soo Line from Chicago.
“Beer Baron of the Bronx”
born Aug 6, 1902 in the Bronx, NY (headstone says 1901?)
Dutch Schultz killed in the Palace Chop House, Newark, New York, Thursday, October 24, 1935
murdered by Charles (The Bug) Workman, on a mob hit ordered by Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
He ran a $20,000,000.00 a year gambling racket per one article,
Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey claimed $100,000,000.00 per year. in 1935 dollars!
He got off on income tax evasion, using Capone's trick of being extremely generous to those around him at the time of trouble.
Before his case in Malone NY in 1935 it is reported he bought free meals, drinks etc etc,
so that the jurors from the town said “not Guilty”. Then even the Judge declared this was a stupid decision.
The old saying, “Money talks, BS walks!” fits this guy, and others.
Killed with 3 of his henchmen.
Leo Frank, of Newark,
Otto “Abbaddabba” Berman, age 46 of NYC.
Bernard “Lu Lu” Rosenkratz, of 312- 168th st. NYC
instead of Leo Frank, one source says Abe“Misfit” Landau was there.
but Police reports in the newspaper at the time, says Frank?

Dutch Schultz was for sure in Bienfait, as Ken John knew him, as well as other people that were well respected and known in the town.
There is no doubt in my mind he was there, from these reports. He met Matoff to set up the Bronfman connection, for Capone.
Have seen some books report Capone came to Bienfait, and met the Bronfman's at White's Hotel.
After Bienfait he made his way to Moose Jaw, via the train.
I think Sam and Harry Bronfman tried to have as little direct physical contact
with Capone and Shultz for fear of being associated with the “criminal element”
This job they left to their brother in law, Paul Matoff.
Now did Capone actually make this trip?
Can't say other than the odd book, and the tourist thing in the tunnels of Moose Jaw, that he actually did.
If there were some first hand accounts from old timers, saying they had a beer with him in White's Hotel, then maybe I will believe it 100%.
Lots of first hand reports on visits by Dutch Shultz in Bienfait, and “Diamond Jim” Brady in Moose Jaw,
and only one 1 story I have read with a bit of credibility, is a lady reported her dad was a barber in Moose Jaw,
and was called into the tunnels to give Capone a haircut. Not much to base all this on, but that is about it, other than rumours, and stories.
Was he ever in Moose Jaw, Bienfait, or even in Saskatchewan??? Makes a good story if nothing else.
Register from the old King Edward Hotel would be only solid evidence left.

“Doc” Riley was another name from this era
found a Mickey Riley shot to death in front of Capone's headquarters
but he belonged to another tough Chicago gang.
A Bart Riley was Capone's attorney

Meyer Lansky (Suchowljansky)
b- Aug 28, 1902 in Grodno, Russia
d- January 16, 1983.
Meyer was half of the Bugs (Siegel) and Meyer Gang, friend of Lucky Luciano, one of few non-Sicilian 'Mafia'
and one of few who died of natural causes. (Lung cancer). The government was never able to convict him.
Buried in Mount Nebo Cemetery, Miami, Florida, USA

Albert Craig Rogers (alt Rodgers)
b- ca 1869 in Wisconsin, USA
d- May 11, 1948 in Estevan?, buried in Estevan City Cemetery
1880- in Vicetory, Vernon, Wisconsin, USA 1906 living in Bienfait with his wife, and many boarders, such as Albert Watt. shown immigrated in 1905.
1910 in USA census, Portal Township, Burke Co, ND, USA, shown as a farmer.
1916- Immigrated in 1908?, naturalized in 1913, per 1916 census, shown as hotel keeper in Bienfait.
1920- back shown as a farmer in Burke, ND
Then in July 1923 he is shown as a bondsman in Estevan, and he with Maurice J. Hawkinson of Bienfait,
each paid a $10,000 suretie for Lee Dellage when he was charged with the murder of Paul Matoff.
His bail was set at $40,000 Lee Dellage paid $20,000 himself, plus article says his neighbours paid $10,000
Strange an Albert C. Rogers from Noonan ND died during WWI in 1918?
father- George M. Rogers, b- ca 1844, in Vermont or NH, USA
mother- Anna Rogers, nee Craig, b- Mar 1, 1849, in Errol, Perthshire, Scotland
daughter of Peter Craig and Margrete Constable

Albert married Violet Pearl Rogers, nee ?
b- 1876 (ca 1880?) in ON, Canada
d- Dec 15, 1943 in Estevan?, Buried in Estevan City Cemetery.
sister- Minnie Rogers,
b- abt 1867 in Wisconsin, USA

brother- Archibald (Archie) Roy Rogers,
b-Nov 29, 1877 in Genoa, Vernon, Wisconsin, USA
d- Apr 1, 1918 in Seattle WA

Lee Leander Dellage- 1922

Paul Matoff- 1922

Eddie Norris Gang


  • Last modified: 2017/10/21 13:19
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