The Real Story of West Coast Rum Running

Do you know what was happening on the West Coast of Canada during the prohibition era in the United States?

After years of poring over newspaper accounts and interviewing old-time rum runners, author Rick James knows more about what happened than anybody. He filled a book with what he knows. Don’t Never Tell Nobody Nothin’ Nohow: The Real Story of West Coast Rum Running was published in 2018.

On November 24 at 6:30 pm, he will be sharing stories about this fascinating British Columbia history at the VMM.


From 1920 to 1933 the manufacture, sale, importation and transportation of alcohol was illegal in the U.S.  The imbibing of such products was also against the law. It wasn’t long before fleets of vessels—from weather-beaten fishboats to large steamships—began filling their holds with liquor to deliver to their thirsty neighbours south of the border.

Rum running along the Pacific coast wasn’t dominated by violent encounters like those portrayed in movies and on TV.  It was carried out in a relatively civilized manner, with most rum runners operating within the law.

The liquor came into Vancouver Harbour from Glasgow, London and Antwerp through legal shipping methods. At Ballantyne Pier the liquor was loaded directly onto vessels bound elsewhere. Because the product did not land on Canadian soil, no import taxes needed to be paid. The boat operators misrepresented where the fine scotch, rye, campaign and brandy was going, but otherwise they followed the rules.

Of course, there were a few characters who, in their efforts to maximize profits, got into riskier and more rugged pursuits. There were some shootouts, hijackings and even a gruesome murder associated with the business.

Celebrated author and maritime historian Rick James considers himself a real West Coaster. Given that he’s worked as a tree planter, a deckhand and a lighthouse keeper, his claim seems accurate. He also has the sailor’s love of story. This talk promises to be a night to remember.


Date: November 24, 2022
Time: 6:30 pm
Tickets: $7.50
Place: Vancouver Maritime Museum