Pro­hi­bi­tion boss busted for booze

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - JOHN MACKIE [email protected]­

Walter C. Findlay seemed like the per­fect guy to en­force the “dry laws” when Pro­hi­bi­tion came into ef­fect in B.C. in 1917.

Findlay was the sec­re­tary of the Peo­ple’s Pro­hi­bi­tion Move­ment, one of the most prom­i­nent or­ga­ni­za­tions fight­ing to rid the prov­ince of al­co­hol. When B.C. at­tor­ney gen­eral J.W. Far­ris asked “the Pro­hi­bi­tion peo­ple” who should be com­mis­sioner of the Pro­hi­bi­tion act, they rec­om­mended Findlay. So he got the job. Imag­ine the shock, then, when the masses picked up their news­pa­pers on Dec. 12, 1918, and found Findlay was in the hoosegow for im­port­ing whiskey.

“Pro­hi­bi­tion Com­mis­sioner Findlay Ar­rested Last Night,” said the ban­ner head­line in the Van­cou­ver Daily Sun. “Charged with Il­le­gally Im­port­ing Liquor Into the Prov­ince — Car of Rye Whiskey Miss­ing.”

It was a juicy scan­dal. Findlay was ar­rested at the Blaine border cross­ing at mid­night on Dec. 11 af­ter he tried to skip the coun­try.

His down­fall came af­ter a box­car full of booze ar­rived in Van­cou­ver. The CPR had over­charged $42, and sent a re­fund to the pro­vin­cial trea­sury. But the gov­ern­ment didn’t know any­thing about the ship­ment, which had been sent to a ware­house leased by Findlay.

Findlay was in charge of a gov­ern­ment liquor store and ware­house that had been set up to sell booze for “medic­i­nal” pur­poses. Ship­ments were sup­posed to be ad­dressed to the gov­ern­ment liquor store, but in this case, 700 cases of Good­er­ham and Worts whiskey were ad­dressed to Findlay.

The Sun smelled some­thing fishy. It noted that dur­ing the re­cent Span­ish flu epi­demic, “boot­leg ” whiskey was sell­ing for $8 to $10 a bot­tle, but now whiskey “car­ry­ing a well known brand” could be pur­chased on the black mar­ket for $2 a bot­tle. “That a whiskey ring has been op­er­at­ing and that car­loads of whiskey brought in from the east, os­ten­si­bly for ship­ment to the Ori­ent, have been de­flected to the lo­cal mar­ket, seems ev­i­dent from the facts,” said the Sun.

On Dec. 16, Findlay pleaded guilty to il­le­gally im­port­ing liquor, and was fined $1,000. He then moved to Port­land, Ore.

But pub­lic out­rage led to a royal com­mis­sion be­ing ap­pointed to find out what was go­ing on. Findlay was talked into com­ing back to Canada, which he would re­gret.

The case dom­i­nated Van­cou­ver’s front pages for months, but the most lurid story was in the Toronto Tele­gram, which claimed to have the in­side scoop. On Jan. 16, 1919, the Van­cou­ver World ran parts of the Tele­gram story, which al­leged a vast con­spir­acy among evil­do­ers mak­ing a for­tune off il­licit booze.

“There were meet­ings in Shaugh­nessy Heights, as well as in Chi­na­town and the un­der­world, all in­tent upon avoid­ing the con­se­quences of fur­ther dis­clo­sures,” said the Tele­gram story.

“Through those mys­te­ri­ous chan­nels which op­er­ate in such cases Findlay was as­sured of sup­port. ‘Keep your mouth shut and all will be well’ was the word which he re­ceived, and the in­trigue and whis­per­ing reached ev­ery phase of Van­cou­ver life.”

Findlay re­fused to talk to the royal com­mis­sion, but the Tele­gram claimed he had spilled the beans to friends from his church.

“Findlay says he thinks he brought in about 25 (rail) cars of liquor il­le­gally, and the profit of each was about $10,000 to the ring (of his as­so­ciates),” said the story. “Findlay says he got about $2,000 as his share.”

The booze came from East­ern Canada. Bizarrely, dis­tillers were al­lowed to man­u­fac­ture al­co­hol in On­tario, even though the prov­ince had brought in Pro­hi­bi­tion in 1916.

“It was a ver­i­ta­ble car­ni­val of crime, sur­rounded by oceans of il­licit liquor,” said the Tele­gram.

“From On­tario and Que­bec came the ship­ments. Those ad­dressed to the Pro­hi­bi­tion com­mis­sioner did not have to be cam­ou­flaged, but more came in con­cealed as oil, can goods, cider, vine­gar and ev­ery con­ceiv­able form.”

Findlay was charged with the theft of 75 cases of gov­ern­ment liquor that had gone miss­ing. The case was dis­missed at a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing, but the at­tor­ney gen­eral brought the charge a sec­ond time and Findlay was found guilty. On June 10, 1919, he was sen­tenced to two years in jail.

Af­ter do­ing his time, Findlay moved back to Port­land, where he died on Nov. 27, 1946, at the age of 55.

The front page of the Dec. 12, 1918 Van­cou­ver Sun in­cludes a story about Walter C. Findlay — the man in charge of Pro­hi­bi­tion in Bri­tish Columbia — be­ing ar­rested for im­port­ing 700 cases of Good­er­ham and Worts whiskey.

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