Tuesday, December 7, 2010

San Juan Island Rum Runner

Old boat above a small inlet on the west shore of San Juan Island.
The south end of Vancouver Island across Haro Strait is in the distance

While visiting the west shore of San Juan Island I observed an old steel boat hauled up out of a small harbor. Locals knowledgeable about the boat told me it had been used for running rum during prohibition. The  west shore of San Juan Island is approximately nine miles from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada located across Haro Strait. Islanders had been used to relatively free trade between United States Territory and British Territory during the years that the San Juan Islands were in dispute between the two countries. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 had set the border between U.S. and British territory as the 49th parallel. However, control over the San Juan Islands was not settled until 1872.

Once the United States assumed full official control of the islands a long tradition of smuggling across Haro Strait began almost immediately with shipments of woolens and silk. At that time Victoria was the big city and most goods were moved via water as few roads existed on the mainland. Smuggling operations would ship goods through the multiple passages of the islands and then to points south such as Seattle, Port Townsend, and Tacoma. Besides avoiding duty prohibited cargo included opium into the United States for migrant Chinese workers as well as Chinese workers themselves. Prohibition of alcohol in the United States from 1919 to 1933 lead to very lucrative shipping during that time period. While buried Spanish gold have intrigued island visitors, a lost stash of well aged single malt has an appeal as well. Of course smuggling still goes on with cocaine and marijuana still shipped through the islands. This past year a Canadian boat was abandoned on the shore of San Juan Island and was suspected to have been used to transport goods otherwise not allowed in the United States. 

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