One of the cool things about Windsor is its deep history, especially in the prohibition years through the 1920s and early 30s. It was an era of general lawlessness, great drunkenness and unfettered greed – and it sure sounds like an evilly fun way to spend a day.
Since 2009, The Rum Runners Tour has been supplying Windsor residents and visitors the ultimate journey back in time. The nearly five-hour experience takes visitors aboard a coach and travels several key places in prohibition history, including Mackenzie Hall, Bedford United Church and local award-winning Wolfhead Distillery. The whole thing ends with a fabulous meal in an old Speakeasy environment at Franco’s Restaurant.
Having been through another prohibition tour at The Tunnels of Moose Jaw a few years back, I wasn’t sure how this could improve on the story at all. The Tunnels tour brought you through a complex of underground tunnels hidden beneath the streets of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and lasted maybe a half-an-hour in total. The Rum Runners Tour in Windsor is a completely different experience altogether and combines a visual trip around the area by coach and a personal tour of places where it all went down.
The real highlight of the tour is the interaction with all the actors along the way. We met many shady characters, from Benny da Weasel, Yorkie and a local police officer, to Reverend Leslie Spracklin (The Fighting Parson) and his highly outspoken Temperance Lady. The experience then culminates at Bertha Thomas’ Speakeasy where we also met Fingers and King Canada.
There is little downtime throughout the experience and the history is just as fascinating as the characters we met. For someone like myself that can usually claim I’ve either been there or done that, almost everything about The Rum Runners Tour was new to me. From the tiniest details to the most blatant in-your-face facts about the everyday places I’ve walked by daily without blinking an eye.
The tour and tastings at Wolfhead was a great experience. We went behind the scenes to see how Windsor’s favourite alcohols are made, prepped and packaged. And if you’ve never had flavoured booze, this is the place to try it out – coffee whiskey, banana caramel vodka and grapefruit vodka were a couple of the must try flavours we got to savour.
Rob Tymec (Benny) and Tyler (Yorkie) are the main actors behind the tour. They travel on the coach with you and provide a wealth of trivia through their entertaining talks. Tyler even hands everyone a keepsake newspaper with a plethora of facts and photos about the real prohibition era.
Joe McParland (Spracklin) and Marilyn Harvey (Temperance Lady) gave a little insight into a pro prohibition stance inside the Bedford United Church, which was actually the real church where Spracklin preached at the time (during the Rum Runners era it was known as Sandwich Methodist Church).
Alex Monk (Cop) did little to stop our prohibition friends from causing havoc but gave us the legal rundown from a 20s perspective.
At the Speakeasy we met Michelle Mainwaring (Bertha), who not only told jokes and flirted with the guys, but she also sang songs. Mainwaring is a highly entertaining performer and a great one to wrap up entire event. She had the entire tour in the palm of her hands.
Mark Baker (King Canada) seemed to have a lot of fun as the French Canadian rum running businessman King Canada, toasting with the audience every chance he had. Bruce Jamieson (Fingers) provided the piano music for all the songs at the Speakeasy, giving the restaurant a definitive 1920s sound.
The Rum Runners Tour is a real gem in the Windsor tourism arsenal and a highly recommended trip back in time. It’s easy to see why it’s received a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. The event is a must see, not only for tourists and visitors, but also for new and old-timer residents throughout the area. As we lose many of the original buildings and sites where these events actually happened almost a century ago, it’s heartwarming to know the people behind The Rum Runners Tour are dedicated to preserving and bringing that history to life.
The Rum Runners Tour runs on selected dates until September 29, 2018. Tickets are available online.
Rob Tymec – Benny da Weasel
Tyler Workman – Yorkie
Alex Monk – The Cop
Marilyn Harvey – Temperance Lady
Joe McParland – The Fighting Parson
Michelle Mainwaring – Bertha Thomas
Mark Baker – King Canada
Fingers – Bruce Jamieson