(The following information is a general guide on The Rum Runners Tour. Adjustments can be made to accommodate bus arrival times to Windsor. As well times may be affected by weather and/or traffic conditions.)
It’s 10:00 A.M. and your bus has just arrived in downtown Windsor when there’s a knock on the bus door. Your bus driver opens the door and a gentleman dressed in a suit and hat reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties quickly enters the bus. He thanks the driver for allowing him on board, as he is being pursued by the local police for something he didn’t do. This is Benny da Weasel and after a quick introduction, he is about to welcome everyone to Windsor with a taste of some fine Canadian whiskey made right here in town. Suddenly a commotion outside catches his attention. It’s a newspaper vendor hawking his papers and when Benny invites him on board the bus to find out what all the commotion is we discover that the big news in the headlines is “U.S. Government Ratifies Prohibition”. Benny quickly recaps his bottle and apologizes for not being able to give away any of his liquor which it seems may now be a precious commodity, but he announces with a great sense of pride that he knows where we can get some and instructs the driver to head for the waterfront. The newspaper vendor whose name is Yorkie distributes to each passenger a souvenir copy of a newspaper with actual photos, editorial and advertising reminiscent of the 1920’s. This newspaper will help guide you along for the next few hours as you have been taken back to that period in history known as “The Roaring Twenties” and your Rumrunners tour has officially started.
Your bus will travel along the riverfront making several stops as Benny and Yorkie begin to tell the secrets of the bootleggers and the ingenious methods they used to smuggle liquor across the river in the dark of night and over the windswept ice in the dead of winter. They’ll tell of the bootleggers hideouts and divulge the location of the Speakeasies and Blind Pigs where the Purple Gang and Al Capone made their deals. Benny will tell of the crooked cops and customs agents who were on the take. Along the way though Benny may have to sneak away as one of the local police officers boards the bus. Don’t worry though because the officer knows as much as Benny does and he will continue to tell you the story of the Rumrunners. You’ll get a close-up look of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Canada to the United States and be told of the unique ways of transporting illegal liquor across it. The officer will take you to the waterfront of Old Sandwich Town and the hidden coves where the bootleggers loaded up their boats and waited for the signal to speed across the river. The bus will arrive at Bedford United Church, which in the time of the Rumrunners was known as Sandwich Methodist Church. The officer will help everyone exit the bus and you will be greeted and ushered into the church by a member of the Women’s Temperance Movement. Grab a seat and hang on tight for you are about to meet the gun toting, fire and brimstone preaching reverend known as “The Fighting Parson”. Reverend Leslie Spracklin along with the help of the temperance woman will tell the story of “The fighting Parson” and how he fought the bootleggers and owners of the blind pigs and speakeasies with fists and guns. After this raucous presentation you will have a few moments to view some of the church artefacts as well as the photo of Reverend Spraklin, hanging on the wall.
When you board your bus, you discover that Benny da Weasel has returned and is accompanied by an old friend referred to as “King Canada”. Together they will take you into two contrasting areas of the city. One known as Ford City, a tough industrial neighbourhood was home to numerous blind pigs and bootleggers and only a few blocks away the upscale neighbourhood of Walkerville, dominated by mansions built with rumrunner’s money. You’ll see Willistead Manor, a thirty six room mansion built by the Walker Family, the grand Tudor Mansion built by Harry Low who went from being a toolmaker to a millionaire in a short period of time and hear the story of the famous Cooper Court. The “King” will tell the stories of these giants of the rumrunners as well as his own dealings with Al Capone and the Purple Gang.
Along the way you will stop at one of the areas original roadhouses, where you will be greeted by the legendary Bertha Thomas, who operated one of the more popular speakeasies. She served Hollywood movie stars as well as some of the most notorious gangsters. While you enjoy a delicious lunch, Bertha will tell the story of the Speakeasies and how they managed to operate right under the nose of the law. She will explain why many were built along the waterfront and tell tales of the secret tunnels to the river and passage ways to hidden rooms where even local politicians revelled in the illegal gambling and drinking. Of course, music was a big part of the Speakeasies and our resident piano player “Fingers” will tickle the ivories with tunes from that era. Feel free to sing along and if you’re really brave we’ll teach you the steps to the Charleston.
Your final stop on the tour is The Canadian Club Brand Heritage Centre. For the next hour you’ll here the story of Canadian Club Whiskey and how the Hiram Walker Family built their empire. As you tour their original offices you will have the opportunity to view a wonderful art collection as well as beautiful antiques and discover the secret speakeasy hidden below. Before you leave, Benny da Weasel will make one final appearance as he fulfills his promise to provide you with that taste of the best Canadian Whiskey. You will be invited to take part in a taste testing of several Canadian Club Whiskeys, after which you will have the opportunity to shop for souvenirs. Benny will say his final goodbyes as you board your bus and head home. We hope you will have had an enjoyable and informative day.
Thank you for taking The Rumrunners Tour.