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Govenlock

Home base for a booming pioneer prohibition booze trade

GovenlockGovenlock ruins

The two-story 10-bedroom Govenlock Hotel was built in 1914 by John Lindner. Three years later, James Gaff stopped at the hotel for a rest, and when he was told there was no rooms available that night, he made an immediate deal with Lindner and promptly bought it for $4,500.

Govenlock's early days looked promising. The pioneer town even had a Chamber of Commerce. But it was liquor that fueled Govenlock's pioneer commerce. At least four liquor warehouses were established to serve the booming prohibition trade. And with liquor, there was gambling and parties, attracting not only the thirsty folks from across the border, but many bachelors from all parts of southwestern Saskatchewan who wanted to let loose.

"We'd like to meet the girl in Govenlock," recalled Paul Kalmring, a musician and store owner from nearby Senate. "The bachelors in the area had nothing to do so they'd take the train to Govenlock, play poker all night at the pool room."

The pool room and dance hall was a two-story building, built and owned by Henry Buss. In the early days, it was a place for the Americans to meet and relax. While waiting for their liquor orders, many dropped in, mingled with the local business crowd, and settled down for a good game of pool, and a game of high-stakes poker.

The revelry and good times were constants in Govenlock's early days, and so was the sight of eager booze traders. Americans came to town in their Fords, Packards, Hudsons and Studebakers. In order to avoid suspicion when riding empty of booze, each car's rear was loaded down with sand bags until each vehicle was filled at Govenlock's liquor export houses. The highly-prized 12 per cent Canadian beer came in a barrel. Each barrel had three burlap sacks, with 24 four-quart bottles - wrapped in straw - in each sack. A barrel wholesaled for $24. When it reached the United States, it sold for $140. A carload of 14 barrels of beer and five cases of whisky could fetch a profit of $2,500.

For a few years, the bootlegging trade was good business, with few legal hassles for the rumrunners. Mounties and provincial police intervened only to ensure that none of the liquor ended up in local hands before it crossed the U.S. border. A few Govenlock residents tried bootlegging but soon found more was stolen than they could actually sell. As long as the bootleggers obtained a tourist pass at Canadian entry border points, they had few if any legal problems.

However, the booze-fueled prosperity ended abruptly in 1922 when the Saskatchewan government announced it wanted better control of the liquor trade and restricted liquor export houses to cities with 10,000 people or more. It was the beginning of the end for Govenlock. One by one stores closed and residents left. In 1962, Govenlock's grain elevator was toppled and demolished. In 1990, most of the remaining buildings - including the Govenlock Hotel - were bulldozed. Today, only the community hall - built in 1948 - and a commemorative plaque mark Govenlock, and its past wild, wild spirit from the hell-raising pioneer days.