Vancouver History Blog

The Forbidden Vancouver Blog

Westender article – The Reifel Family by Will Woods

Will wrote a piece on the notorious Reifel family, rum-runners supreme, for the Westender on May 30, 2013. A couple of unfortunate typos crept in before publication – no prizes if you catch them!

Here’s an excerpt:

“Prohibition was repealed in BC in 1921, but in the US it would run until 1933. So, for about 12 years, if you were an enterprising BC brewer, with enough cash to buy boats and recruit sailors (and perhaps pay the odd bribe), you could conduct your very own rum-running operation. Henry and George fitted the bill exactly and they set about the task with zeal.

The Reifels added to their breweries by acquiring the B.C. Distillery in New Westminster. They bought a large tract of marsh land in Delta, with long grasses perfect to hide boats (incidentally, the land was gifted by the family to the federal Crown and is now the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary). Before long the Reifels rum-running business was working like clockwork down the coast.

Their vessels would make their way south packed full of liquor and crewed by hardy ex-Navy men. Always staying at least 12 miles off the US coast and in international waters, hence out of reach of the US Coast Guard, the vessels would eventually reach Rum-Row, a veritable floating warehouse of bootleg liquor just off the coast of Mexico. Legend has it the Malahat, the largest of all the boats stationed at rum-row, was able to hold over 100,000 cases of liquor. American middlemen would then sail out from California, buy their liquor and head back home.

Rum-running made the Reifels staggeringly rich. They built the Casa Mia mansion on SW Marine Drive. They owned sports cars, private airplanes and country estates. George even financed the building of the Commodore Ballroom and Vogue Theatre. When the US finally repealed prohibition in 1933 the Reifels knew the game was up and promptly sold their breweries and distilleries.”

Westender article for you to read – hot off the press!

Westender article clipping - prohibition in Vancouver westender-article-reifl-family

Thanks to the Westender for featuring some Vancouver history via Forbidden Vancouver!