New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Prohibition in Saint John in the 1920’s, an Exposé

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From the Blog at

Following is a description of criminal behaviour and corruption, mostly in Saint John, N.B., during Prohibition. I have condensed and edited it from an original work, and given it a new title.

The problem with this work is that it exposes the people involved in these shenanigans based largely on hearsay evidence. It is therefore not surprising that it is anonymous and does not even indicate the name or location of the publisher/printer. It also does not indicate a year of publication, though it speaks of Prohibition in the present tense. It also mentions Premier Walter E. Foster, though that is not much help since Foster’s premiership (1917 to 1923) was entirely within the prohibition era in New Brunswick (1917 to 1927). The best we can say is that it was written sometime between 1917 and 1927.

Several reputable organizations were involved in making the original work publicly available, but I remain uneasy and have therefore changed the names of all of the principal characters, except for some who were not implicated in any wrongdoing.

Cars Like This, Running Booze in the 1920’s

North Vancouver Museum & Archives, via the McCord Museum


Prohibition in Saint John in the 1920’s, an Exposé

There is no locality in which the prohibitory law is administered as crookedly as in New Brunswick. It is thoroughly rotten!

Cameron was the Chief Inspector under the prohibitory law and is said to have been worth about $50,000 following his term. He is also said to have had an interest in a drug company, which was presided over by Martin Alexander, but Alexander and Cameron quarreled and warfare resulted. It was then that Alexander displayed his Douglas Avenue hand and Cameron resigned at the invitation of the premier, Hon. W.E. Foster.

Michael McQuestion came out from Scotland, settled in St. John, and became a cook with the 115th Regiment. McQuestion went into a delirium tremens from the prohibition booze, and ran amok with a bread knife at the barracks. He was disarmed and placed in solitary confinement and when the d.t.’s had worn off, was liberated.

McQuestion was then discharged from the military and joined the St. John police force. He was relieved of duty there for similar reasons, and went to a shipyard in St. John where he was a watchman for a few weeks. Following this he became a dominion policeman, and after a few months of this he became a booze hound. For three years he was a booze hound, and, although he was open in his seeking of graft and in bootlegging himself, he was retained in the service by Cameron for the very simple reason that he knew too much.

McQuestion would be staggering on the street under the influence of liquor and met with many mishaps when drunk. On one occasion he was confined to his home by illness. He was ill, but it was due to drinking. On another occasion he fell while drunk and sprained an ankle. Another time he was driving in a carriage at Moosepath Park and fell out of the carriage and damaged his collarbone.

McQuestion was driving during his three years as inspector at the unfortunate men who carried bottles of poisonous mixtures labeled as gin and whiskey. There were instances in which he was accused of placing in the clothing of helpless drunks, bottles containing liquor and the men would be fined $200. The inspector would bring the drunk to the police station and then pretending it was his first search, would frisk the drunk and find the bottle, while the fact was that McQuestion had been drinking from it himself and had placed it on the drunk.

Many men were fined $200 who should have been fined only $8. Their wives would be compelled to beg, borrow or steal the amount of the fine. Other families would mortgage their lives for a year before the debt was paid. McQuestion drove for three years at the men who drink the stuff the poison peddlers sell for five and six dollars. In the last year of his service as a booze hound, he did not arrest more than three actual leggers.

McQuestion would prey on the railroad station and when he saw men get off the trains under the influence he would arrest them and conduct a search. At the outset of prohibition there were many men traveling from New England who did not know of the prohibitory law being in force in New Brunswick. These men would fall easy victims to the inspector. Men going home to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia for vacations in the summer and at Christmas period, would fall into the clutches of McQuestion when they changed trains at St. John. There were cases of men en route to their families with several hundred dollars in savings from Upper Canada and the United States who would be jugged by McQuestion and fined $200. In many instances they would have only a few dollars left, and in other cases the men would not have $200 and they would remain in jail for months before they were liberated.

There was one man from Boston who was en route to Moncton to spend Christmas with his parents. He brought a bottle with him and had a few drinks. When he landed in St. John and changed trains the ever present McQuestion was in the offing and arrested him. A bottle of whiskey was found and he was fined $200. Instead of being with his family he was forced to spend the Yuletide in jail. He had $100, but was not willing to pay this out and be stranded.

McQuestion was in the Hotel Edward, King Square, St. John, one night, which was his usual hangout. A friend entered and after a whispered consultation McQuestion disappeared and returned with a bottle of the so-called whiskey, which he passed over for five dollars. On another occasion he bought a bottle for a woman at the same hotel.

McQuestion was the guest of bootleggers on many the wild ride to Fredericton for horse races. One time, they were in a car owned by Mack Smith and they all got drunk. The other members of the party were forced to tote McQuestion into a hotel and drop him on his bed.

McQuestion was as raw as beef on the hoof in his actions, but he held his position until Cameron was removed as Chief Inspector. Six months previous, Cameron announced McQuestion had resigned. But McQuestion was angry over this announcement and there was the fear he would open up and tell all he knew. So McQuestion was retained and among other places visited Woodstock where he arrested Councilor Nathan Andrews for carrying a bundle of newspapers and an alarm clock. There was an altercation and McQuestion landed a punch and blackened Andrews’ eye.

Andrews was placed in the Woodstock police station when a hostile crowd gathered outside of the Carlisle Hotel at which McQuestion was receiving his three meals and room at the expense of the province. The crowd included the mayor and chief of police as well as the town manager, who invited McQuestion to appear in front of the hotel and explain himself. McQuestion remained inside and was likely under his bed shaking like a jelly dancer.

After inviting McQuestion to appear and receiving no response, the crowd started to hurl ground fruit and County Cavan Confetti [stones]. Some of the missiles went through the windows of the hotel, and the manager objected. After some argument the crowd dispersed, and McQuestion accuses the mayor and town manager and chief of police of shouting “Bring him out till we lynch him” and “Murder him, boys.” The morning tram carried McQuestion out of Woodstock just as a citizen heaved a street peach. The thing about street peaches is they are all stone.

When Cameron resigned he announced McQuestion was no longer an inspector, and McQuestion is reported to have sent to Scotland his wife and children in preparation for the return of himself. He made it known his wife had inherited a legacy. But it was he who had the legacy, and the legacy was from leggers. It is reported McQuestion sent to his wife $5,000 in one year which is quite fair for a man receiving $1,500 salary It is also stated he has had about $5,000 in banks in St. John, the money deposited since he became a booze hound.

Bootleggers openly state that they bribed McQuestion, or rather that he held them up for bribes which the bootlegger could not avoid lest they be arrested. Consequently few of them failed to come forth with the amounts asked.

Jacobs came from England a few years ago and settled in Moncton, where he was a booze hound. He was transferred to St. John for about a year and was then transferred to St. Stephen in the waning days of the Cameron administration. It is said that Jacobs frustrated an attempt by Inspectors McQuestion and David Adams to double cross him in the collection of graft from bootleggers.

One day Jacobs discovered a dive on Long Wharf directed by two Bulgarians, on which he had not been collecting. He seized a bottle of the so-called whiskey that stood on the shelf of the soft beer store and told the Bulgarian partner to appear in the police court in the morning. After the raid the partner went out and informed his associates of the unexpected episode. Steve Patterson, who is now serving three years in the penitentiary for theft, then tried to rustle up McQuestion and Adams but found they were both in McAdam and were expected back soon after noon. He waited for them at the station and on their arrival explained the situation as related to him by his partner. According to Patterson, McQuestion told him “That’s all right. I’ll fix that all right.” That afternoon, evidently, McQuestion and Adams slipped Jacobs the graft and in turn Jacobs substituted a harmless liquid in the bottle for the prohibition whiskey. The result was there was no evidence against the accused and the case was dropped.

At the beer shop on Main Street opposite Long Wharf, a man is said to have asked one of the owners: “How do you get away with it,” and the reply was “We don’t pay Jacobs $300 a month for nothing.”

Jacobs, like McQuestion, was especially efficacious in hoisting drunks who had bottles on their persons. Like McQuestion, he sought the unfortunates who drank the stuff the bootleggers made and sold. Meanwhile the leggers escaped except for the odd case when one of them was in arrears in slipping graft, or when one had fallen out of favor with the more senior leggers.

After Jacobs went to St. Stephen, there were dozens of cars crossed daily from St. Stephen and Milltown to Calais and Milltown in Maine. Bootleggers went from St. John to St. Stephen in cars and via the railroad openly carrying booze. It was not long after Jacobs was removed that the first seizure was made at St. Stephen of booze from St. John, and bootleggers James Michaelson and Thomas Roberts were arrested. The fines were easily paid and the business resumed.

After being removed, Jacobs started talking of what would happen if he were not looked after, and he was consequently appointed to the customs service. This was at the instance of ex-Inspector Cameron and with the intervention of Francis White, after White had promised the job to James Porter. Porter was a veteran with a shattered spine and a wife to support, and received the munificent sum of $15. monthly veterans’ pension.

At all events, Jacobs with the pull of Cameron landed the job the Canadian should have had. Porter was incapacitated, a St. John man and honest, and yet he was double crossed in favor of a booze hound who was fired from the staff of inspectors. This is fine treatment to mete out to a man who had his spine almost torn asunder in the service of his country. This was a rank injustice to all of the veterans in St. John and staggered most of the residents of the city.

Tom Malcolm had a feud with Francis Grant, because Grant had been buying what booze he did not produce himself from an unapproved source. Malcolm then bought off former Inspector Cecil Curtis who, in turn, asked his employee Jack Burtt to get three convictions against Grant in order to get him a two year jail sentence. Burtt failed in this task.

Now, Burtt had been sleuthing about for evidence about bootleggers and had produced a number of reports, amounting to about fifty handwritten sheets, for Curtis. The proof that Curtis had been bought off by Malcolm is shown by the disappearance of these reports from Curtis and their reappearance in the possession of Malcolm. The reports dealt primarily with the Malcolm’s activities including his manufacture of poisonous stuff on the Golden Grove Road. They also described his activities on Ashburn Lake Road, where a still named the little red house was also the shipping place for much of what was produced at a cost of about fifteen cents a bottle and sold at five or six dollars a bottle.

Suddenly, the reports were in the possession of Malcolm, a fact of which only a few of the leading bootleggers were aware. The story was soon published in the St. John Globe, causing an uproar in the prohibition office and a sensation among Globe readers. No sooner was there a call for an investigation when the reports mysteriously returned to Curtis, except for a select few.

When asked for an explanation as to how the reports came into the possession of Malcolm, one bootlegger winked and said, “Them reports was found on the street. They dropped outa Curtis’ pocket as he was gettin’ on a street car.” Another bootlegger said “The reports were found in Mary O’Reilly’s.” Another bootlegger said that the reports were found in John Glynn’s stable on Dorchester Street. Mary O’Reilly’s dive is a house of prostitution on Golden Grove Road.

Robert Walker of St. John was visited by Chief Inspector Curtis and was asked if he was the man who had advertised to sell or trade a farm. Walker replied in the affirmative and Curtis stated that he wanted to dispose of a house and lot in East St. John and would consider trading them for the farm owned by Walker. Walker says that Curtis wanted to close the deal at once but Walker demurred and asked time to think it over. Walker says he investigated and found the house and lot Curtis claimed to own mortgaged to within a few hundred dollars of its value.

Since he came to St. John from England about ten years ago Curtis has been a city policeman, a C.P.R. policeman in St. John, Montreal and McAdam and then an Inspector. Why did he quit the C.P.R. to take a temporary job as an Inspector at a salary of not much more than what he was getting?

On the Manawagonish road one night in a decrepit Chevrolet that was as battered as an octogenarian after a brawl, Curtis was told to block the road as a big car resembling Tom Malcolm’s came speeding from the city. Curtis ignored this and the car sped by loaded with booze en route to a storage place on Manawagonish Road. Another car was spotted and Curtis, who persisted in handling the wheel, refused again to block the road. Consequently, the second car, which was also one of Malcolm’s sped by unmolested. The Chevrolet could not make more than fifteen miles per hour comparted to forty for the other two cars, and there was no way of overtaking them. Curtis remained at the wheel and stopped near Five Fathom Hole, where a barn was searched and of course nothing found.

David Adams, Michael McQuestion and John Murray were in a house in St. John one night. All were been drunk, when Murray became peeved with Adams over the affection of a woman and resolved to get Adams. Murray then asked Adams to get him a bottle of whiskey. This Adams did and after partaking of the contents with Adams and McQuestion, Murray secreted the bottle on his person and the following day preferred a charge against Adams.

The result was the Adams’ dismissal, whereupon he campaigned for six months to have an investigation into what had actually happened. There was no investigation, however, because Cameron protected Murray. There is no doubt that Adams and McQuestion and Jacobs were hand in glove, but Adams was not as much in the good graces of Cameron as the other two worthies and consequently was out of luck.

For Murray and Jacobs the objective was always to arrest the drinkers and leave the sellers alone.

Oh, prohibition, what sins are committed in thy name. Men of the type of McQuestion. Adams, Jacobs and Murray as prohibition Inspectors! McQuestion and Jacobs were not the only inspectors seeking the money. But I will state right here McQuestion was the big scream in the money making business. He has enough now to rest on for the balance of his life.


Written by johnwood1946

May 24, 2017 at 7:54 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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