When police paid little mind to P.E.I.'s illegal bars

Gordie Dunn didn't think he was breaking the law. He just wanted to provide people with a friendly place to drink.

Residents operated bootleg taverns in their living rooms because the law prohibited pubs

In P.E.I., bootleg pubs had police looking the other way

34 years ago
In a province without licensed bars and pubs, local homeowners stepped up in 1987. 2:31

Gordie Dunn didn't think he was breaking the law. He just wanted to provide people with a friendly place to drink.

In 1987, he was known in Charlottetown as a bootlegger: someone who operated a drinking establishment out of his own home.

According to reporter Kevin Evans, police estimated there were 25 such illegal pubs in the city of 16,000.

And they weren't that hard to find.

Take out or drink in

"Bootlegging's been part of our Island culture for literally centuries," said deputy police chief Wayne McIntyre. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

"There are the subtle hints, like picture windows with smoked glass," said Evans. "And the not-so-subtle hints, like the truck picking up empties the morning after the night before."  

Just about everybody who frequented Gordie's place knew him — and they weren't just treating him like the local liquor store, either. 

"There's takeout service, but on Prince Edward Island it's more common to drink in," noted Evans.

According to a 1982 item in the Globe and Mail, bootleggers persisted in P.E. I. because there were only 13 liquor outlets on the Island at the time.

"There is also a sizable number of people who go to bootleggers out of convenience or shyness," said the paper.

'Your friends ... they're there'

Gordie Dunn, right, shows reporter Kevin Evans some of the amenities of the tavern located in his home, including a pool table. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

Dunn said he paid taxes on the earnings from his place, and that he had recently renovated his old location when a judge ordered it shut down for a year.

"I added this addition on out here," he said, as he and Evans toured a space with a rec-room feel. "And put in a pool table which went over very well."

Although nightclubs were allowed on P.E.I. the province's liquor laws had no provisions for pubs or taverns. And that's where bootleggers found their niche.

"Every different bootlegger's is a certain group of people," explained Dunn. "And that's your friends, usually your working buddies or whatever, they're there."


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