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Hobos and Bootleggers

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You don't see many hobos around the Coast today, but when I was a young girl, there were plenty of them in Shigawake. They would carry a stick with a bag tied to the end of it, just like they do in the movies; filled with clothing or something to eat. The hobos would travel back and forth along the Coast, some by train, and others by foot. Most of them would "ride the rails" as they say. This meant that they would hitch a ride on the train, hiding either underneath or on top or even inside the boxcars. The hobos that we saw traveled the roads. They'd get hungry and come into town looking for food.

My father died when I was only three, but that never changed my mother's generosity. She was left with four children to bring up on her own with no income to speak of, but she would always give the hobos her last bowl of soup.

We used to have a gallery that went right around the house, so they'd just put down their sack, stretch out right there and go to sleep. We didn't know who these people were but they would come and spend the night at our house! It was just the right thing to do in those days.

To be honest, the hobos weren't the only strangers prowling our quiet neighbourhood. There also happened to be a lot of bootleggers around. Most of the bootlegging happened on a clear moonlit night. My mother would hush us all up in bed before a car would come up the road and secretly park behind the house. She would whisper: "Don't make any noise. Say your prayers and go to bed."The police would be driving back and forth along the road looking for the bootlegger and he'd be parked behind our house hiding from them the whole time.

My mother was a widow so they never thought to look around our house. Once they had gotten tired of looking for him, they'd drive away and he'd escape. We all knew he was from Douglastown and stored his liquor in our lane.

There was another bootlegger from Hopetown who ran a much bigger operation. And then there was this foreign lady who did business with him. She was always dressed to the hilt.

A lady bootlegger -- what a clever idea. Who would ever suspect? She was an American and she came all the way to the Gaspé Coast to pick up liquor that came in by boat. They would fill her car with moonshine and liqor and she always managed to cross the border without suspicion.

Douglastown seemed to have its share of bootleggers because there was another fellow from the area who knew when the shipments were coming in on the boats, and he'd be there to pick up the liquor. He knew the police were never far behind, so he had to be careful. He'd tie his rowboat to the big transport ship, keeping well out of sight of the dock. No one ever knew that he was unloading liquor from the other side of the ship! The ship would set sail with the liquor-filled rowboat still attached. When the ship passed Gascons, the smaller boat would be released.

As the police were always looking for him, he would sail out to the Newport Isles and light a lantern, placing it on a rock where it would be sure to attract attention. The police would see the light, and get in a boat to sail out to the island to investigate a possible bootlegging. And while they were busy investigating, the bootlegger had the time he needed to unload the liquor into a car he'd have waiting near the bridge in Gascons. He'd be long gone by the time the police realized it was only a lantern. Tricks of the trade, you know.

*Ethelyn was born in 1919 in Bromont and was a well-respected school teacher all her life. She also shared the responsibilites of running a fishing supplies shop with her husband in Shigawake. Orva was born in Shigawake in 1924 and worked as a telephone receptionist and at Gaspé hospital during the war. Orva married a boy in the Air Force and spent several years in England.