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Roaring 20's Redux


A good economy, low unemployment, major problems going to be solved, health care to be up-funded, the world at peace, everyone has money, food, shelter, and there is lots of hope for better days for us all. Here in Portage la Prairie things are looking good, new industry that will set us on the map, the causeway goes ahead, and we are on a count down to a Municipal election. These are the Best of Times and we are living it! Lets have a little understanding of what the world of your grandparents was like from 1920 to 1929!

When I was apprenticing in the Funeral Business in Chicago, the funeral home I was attached to had a long association with a man who came to epitomize life in America during the Twenties-Alfonse Capone. The Ragos, who were the owners of the funeral home, had a lot in common with Capone. They had immigrated from the same village as the Capones and the Italians were very clannish.. The two families had lived side by side in the Italian ghetto in southwest Chicago. The Ragos built a million dollar funeral dynasty while old “Scarface” Capone built a lucrative empire based on his criminal activities supplying Americans and Canadians with booze during the Prohibition years.

At Capone’s death, the Rago Funeral Home sent a hearse down to the Florida Keys to transport Al back to Chicago for a huge and colourful gangster land funeral. Crowds of Chicagoans stood all the way down Northwestern Avenue to Fullerton Street to file past Capone’s body laid out in the funeral home. It was time to thank the man who had supplied them with alcohol, and wish him a bonvoyage to whatever destination lay ahead for him. Twelve flower coaches were needed just to transport the masses of orchid wreaths and elaborate flower arrangements that only Chicago florists could have turned out. Dozens of black limousines carried the ‘family’ and mourners on that bleak winter day of February 1947. To most of this new generation “prohibition era” conjures up the image gleaned from Hollywood movies with Capone and Chicago always playing the major set piece. But all the lore of speak easies, bath tub gin, Capone and of course Elliot Ness struggling against the whiskey racketeers with his “Untouchables”. And that was the problem with Chicago- there were very few untouchables!Capone had been taken to their hearts as a minor god, a benefactor of the poor.

Few Manitobans realize that we were also “dry” for seven years from 1917 to 1924. Indeed the young Province of Manitoba was in the forefront of the most perplexing of social reform movements, the crusade for the prohibition of alcohol. Reverend John Black organized a temperance society at the River Colony as early as the 1850’s and national groups such as the Dominion Alliance Union established Manitoba chapters soon after the Province entered Confederation.

Action on the issue of Prohibition waited until 1900 when Premier Hugh MacDonald, ironically a man who loved booze all too well himself, gave his name to the MacDonald Act. It banned the sale of liquor in the Province. After attempts failed to make the Act unconstitutional the Government submitted the MacDonald Act to the people as a referendum in April of 1902. The bad Spring roads kept the “dry” farmers from getting into town for the election. In 1892 Manitoba became the first Province to conduct a plebiscite on the question of prohibition. The electorate here voted ‘dry’ by a large margin but the turn out had been small and Premier Greenway showed no inclination to confront such a potentially explosive issue. There was also a powerful lobby of Winnipeg saloon owners who were a strong anti-Prohibition force.

After the turn of the century, Winnipeg, experienced various serious social problems due to the large increase in the number of immigrants and the poor circumstances under which they lived. Winnipeg was booming and the saloons and their associated social disorders brought a widespread movement to abolish the saloon bar. Portage had many long stand-up bars replete with the regulatory spittoon and mouth wiping towels. Huge amounts of alcohol were being brewed in private stills located in the woods around Portage, and it contained coal oil, lead, ethanol and methyl and other poisonous contaminates. Much more on this fascinating topic next week.

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Mar 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love this fantastic looking forward to more history lessons


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