When you hear the word bootlegger what comes to mind? Is it secret stills, late-night barrel drop-offs, and money exchanging hands? You may also think of gangsters, backwaters of the south and the rise of crime. As we all know, bootlegging is a very profitable business. What you may not know is that Canada and specifically Ontario had its share of notorious bootleggers in its history.
From the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s there was much talk about alcohol consumption. Many of the towns and counties in Ontario around the 1890’s decided to go “dry”, even though Canada’s prohibition of alcohol was less stringent than across the border in the US. It’s about this time that Temperance societies took root and aggressively started preaching the ills of “Devil’s water”.
Now, transport yourself just north of Toronto to Dufferin County to the towns of Orangeville, Mono, Mulmur, Grand Valley and Amaranth – just to name a few. There you would find secret stills discreetly hidden in a tree covered marshy areas by farmers and bootleggers peddling this illicit booze. This business was thriving in the late 1800’s.
Fast forward ahead to present day where I had a chance to experience this fascinating side of history by the newly launched Temperance and Temptation tour. There are three experiences you can choose from – the Headwaters, York or Durham regions.
I was part of the inaugural Headwaters experience and on the tour, we were treated to an entertaining ride filled with mystery, intrigue and of course, booze. Along the route, we did wine tastings, visited the Museum of Dufferin, a temperance hall, roadside pubs, and a distillery. Enroute, we were regaled with music from the Tipsy Temperates Trio Band and tales from bootleggers and the temperance society.
Here’s a look at the Headwaters Experience Tour from start to finish:
Stop 1 Adamo Estate Winery
The first stop on our tour is the Adamo Estate Winery, which is only about 1 km away from the Hockley Valley Resort. The main building is an attractive modern space with floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of natural light streaming in.
At the winery, it’s still before noon but that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our group to sample four stellar wines, especially when a delicious charcuterie plate accompanies them! We sampled the crisp 2017 Bock Pinot Gris, a sweet 2016 Spark’l Chardonnay Musqué, a full-bodied 2015 Parke Pinot Noir, and a smooth 2015 Edgerock Merlot.
The winery also boasts a café, massive wine store and beautiful patio gazing upon the vineyards making this the perfect kickoff to an exciting afternoon.
Stop 2 – Dufferin County Museum
The Tipsy Temperates Trio is playing tunes from a bygone era as we enter the museum and it sets the perfect mood to explore the renovated Museum of Dufferin (MOD).
The exhibit features the Alexandra House hotel, a notorious drinking establishment located in its previous life in Orangeville.
We sip a Spirit Tree Cider as we explore the exhibits examining bootlegger history and artifacts. It’s here we meet Mickey Bryne, a bootlegger, and distributor of the illicit alcohol and Eleanor Crumpacker from the Christian Temperance Society. We are transported back to the 1800’s and the chase is on as government inspector, Barnabus Bailey tries to nab Mickey Bryne with the aid of Ms. Crumpacker.
The theatrics in the museum sets the mood for our next stop, the Terra Nova Pub.
Stop 3 – Terra Nova Pub
Before arriving at the Terra Nova Pub, we let Mickey Bryne off our bus so he can scramble into the woods because he knows Barnabus Bailey and Eleanor Crumpacker lie in wait at the pub.
Once we arrive at the Terra Nova Pub, we are in for more drinks and a delicious lunch. We devour a Ploughman’s lunch with cheese, cured meat, pate, boiled egg, pickle, and toasts, that wash down with the speakeasy cocktail (by the way if your counting this is my third drink before 3 pm).
While we are enjoying good food and spirits, Bailey and Crumpacker head out to the woods in search of bootlegger Mickey. They arrive back looking haggard and disheveled and without Mickey.
The Terra Nova Pub, is typical of what you might find in the late 1800’s as a road stop and resthouse serving alcohol to weary travellers. Today, it is updated with exposed beams and an inviting space offering an upscale lunch and dinner menu and a fully stocked bar. They use only the finest, locally sourced ingredients to craft their delicious meals.
We finished there with bellies full and continue the hunt for what Mickey.
Stop 4 – Horning Mills Community Hall
After lunch, we are transported to Horning Mills Community Hall for a bit of salvation by Eleanor Crumpacker. The Tipsy Temperate Trio are playing music and then a sermon is delivered while we nibble on delicious biscuits and refreshing tea. Ms. Crumpacker extols the virtues of refraining from imbibing the “devils water” and the joys of leading a pious life. Mickey Bryne is disguised as a temperance woman in a gown, (although what woman still wears a full beard). There he, we mean she, is performing coffee service. Once he is found out by Crumpacker, he makes a quick getaway. The entertainment on this tour is non stop.
Stop 5 – Corbetton
Our bus breaks down in Corbetton, where farmland and trees surround us. Or so we believe. We all sigh and wonder what’s next? When the ghost of Corbetton boards the bus, we all know its bootlegger Mickey in an obvious disguise. I must give him credit he is quite hilarious and the tour group is entertained for fifteen minutes.
After the bus is “fixed” and we are on our way to our next stop, Grand Spirits Distillery.
Stop 6 – Grand Spirits Distillery
Located in the heart of Grand Valley is the Grand Spirits Distillery. This building, which once housed a schoolhouse is now the home to a distillery and restaurant. We sample Grand Spirits whisky and gin, made in the tasting room.
After a long day of adventure, we were famished and Grand Spirits had a delicious menu to choose from. Beginning with a Bees Knees cocktail. We eat a dinner of baked salmon in miso broth and top it off with a slice of chocolate cake.
We ended our hilarious adventure with some singing from Eleanor Crumpacker, who we are starting to think has a little giggle water in her medicinal bottle. Just like the good old days, you can enjoy the music, sip speakeasy cocktails till the wee hours.
- Mag Ruffman as Temperance Lady Eleanor Crumpacker
- Braden Wright as Provincial Licensing Inspector Barnabus Bailey
- Michael Miranda as Bootlegger Mickey Byrnes
- Chris Wilson as Bandleader, accordionist and baritone saxophonist Cab Caboodle (aka Dickey Byrnes), who also researched the stories, arranged the music and wrote the scripts
- Max Kelly as banjoist Nicky Byrnes
- Jesse Corrigan as guitarist and pianist Ricky Byrnes
Save this post for later – PIN This
For more information about the Temperance and Temptation Tours:
There are 3 experience tours offered – Headwaters, York, and Durham. There is also an option to take self-guided tours. Follow the instructions outlined and enjoy your journey of discovery.
For more information about the regions covered visit www.yorkdurhamheadwaters.ca
NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Central Counties but all opinions expressed in this post are mine.
My husband and I go hiking in that area a lot so now we’ll add drinking and dining. Thanks for the great taste of history.
Thank Carol for your kind words! So many choices. There is a self-guided tour as well, have a look at that too. Happy Trails!
Great story! It’s always fun when a tour guide has a good sense of humour. I would have loved to see the look on people’s faces when the bus “broke down”.
Thanks, Debra! It was a great setup with the Bus Breaking down. Great history tour into Ontario’s bootlegging past.
I’ll have to check it out! Those cocktails look amazing.
Jennifer, You would enjoy the tour, its amazing and yes those speakeasy cocktails are delish.
OMG I did not know this. Interesting “opportunistic” past of the region. Hope CBC does a miniseries. I want to retrace this journey
Diana, it’s a wonderful experience and just north of Toronto. Yes, it would be great if CBC did a miniseries.
Very entertaining. I could picture it in my mind.Not to mention how scrumptous the food and drinks sounded.
Thanks for the feedback. The food and drinks were delicious.