Uncle Phillippe The Booze Maker

I hate forwarded emails. I usually delete them without even reading them, so when my uncle Don sent me a message with this subject header it sat untouched in my in box for four days.

Last night, while cleaning up my inbox, I noticed it again and something compelled me to open it. There was no message in the body of the email, just a Word document with this article attached.


I’m not sure how legible this is, or if you can read French, but here’s the gist:

My mother’s uncle Philippe was a bootlegger  from about 1940 to 1945.  The article above highlights just one of the times he was arrested and charged $100.00 out of a possible fine of up to $2,000.00 at the time. (We are a charming people, what can I say?)  The photo illustrates the set up he built himself (crafty too), which enabled him to make about 5 gallons of booze daily.

RCMP officer Gary Roy took notes and eventually took the equipment away (and later only resurfaced from his basement for his wife’s prize-winning pot roast on Sunday evenings. the children used to slide food down to him using an elaborate rigging system that involved the former kitty door and a chute constructed with cardboard tubing).

At the time of his arrest Uncle Philippe explained that because he had a big family he did this to put bread on the table. My mother’s family consisted of eleven kids. I wonder if his was bigger?

My grandfather told his sons that he and their Uncle Jonny would help Uncle Philippe with his home-made distillery, and would take the fruits of their labour across the border to the States using the same trails that are part of the family’s sugar bush and maple syrup farm. My mother’s cousin Denis Brault makes the maple syrup pictured below.


My grandfather was very proud of the fact that he could help Uncle Philippe, and received a small share of the profits for his efforts.  Later on, (presumably after the above article was printed) Uncle Philippe built much improved equipment and went underground and continued to make booze. Literally. He had to crawl into a homemade tunnel to work his new equipment and this ended my grandfather’s distilling career because he was just a little too fat to fit in the tunnel (imagine the Winnie the Pooh-like scenario that led to this discovery.)

My uncle advises us to be proud that our forefathers were crooks to put food on the table.

I secretly dream that somewhere on the family property, nestled in the woods along those trails that led to America was a pine structure with an old piano, a bar, enough seating for about 40 people, and a handful of sexy (if not slightly snaggle-toothed) women referred to as Les Belles Soeurs who kept the joint jumping. The place would have a crooked sign over the door, hand painted on a piece of tin that read: Cabane à Sucre, or Sugar Shack.

Insert your own Sugar Bush jokes here.




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1 Comment

  1. Mark Schoenberg
    April 18, 2009 / 3:57 pm

    Grandpa Harry was a bootlegger. During prohibition he rowed his boat out past the 3 mile limit and rowed back to a sheltered cove in Sheepshead Bay, loaded to the gunwales with Canadian hootch. Aside from being a mean sonuvabitch, he was smart and enterprising. The next day, after Harry got the booze back to the family manse in Bensonhurst, my mother, Estelle, and Aunt Henrietta – twins and cute as matching buttons – would sashay through the streets of Brooklyn, carrying paper sacks – making Grandpas deliveries for him. Unlike your uncle, nobody got busted. Not once. I guess we were all proud of Grandpa Harry when we discovered that after his permanent departure, he’d left Grandma Molly with a sizable chunk of AT&T, which supported her nicely until at 97, she’d just had enough.