It has been three years since we at York Durham Headwaters launched our popular Temperance and Temptation experience. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, then YDH invites you on a journey of Prohibition and temperance in our region. We look back on this complex era of vice, crime and corruption, and how it relates to the place where we live, work and play today. For this interactive adventure, we collaborated with several of our artisan producers, small businesses and favourite destinations to bring you, our guest, an authentic collection of experiences that are fun and informative… with a little bit of “hooch” on the side.
Temperance and Temptation connects the past to the present. As it happens, York Durham Headwaters has a bit of a reputation for its Prohibition Era bootlegging ties, as well as one for excellence in alcohol innovation and entrepreneurship today. What’s extraordinary about this tour is that, while you are driving from one stop to another, you will enjoy an entertaining podcast that gives you insight into this fascinating time in our history.
Chris Wilson, musician and educator (who also holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology), is the talent who pulled all of the history and riveting stories together for the Temperance and Temptation experience, and who voiced and produced the podcast that goes along with it. “The Temperance and Temptation podcast is intended to be part guided tour and part stories along the way,” he explains. “The stories that you’re hearing as you’re driving from place to place—some of them have specific reference to the area that you’re driving through, and some are just general stories about the early booze production on the Ontario frontier, and the various restriction efforts made to curb it.”
Unfortunately for Chris when he set out to create what has become the Temperance and Temptation experience, there was no central place to search for the stories that would bring the tour to life. It was a matter of old-fashioned sleuthing through newspapers, archives, talking to historians, reading scholarly works, and even visiting local graveyards. “I found the process interesting, but it was difficult to find that balanced perspective in terms of the public account,” he recalls. “There was a shame around the consumption of alcohol, and the newspapers of course were full of stories from temperance supporters as to why people shouldn’t drink. But one of the interesting things about the whole phenomenon is that people who were drinking just wanted to be left alone, to carry on as they saw fit. They weren’t, of course, telling their stories in the media, or even telling their stories at all. They were just quietly going about their business.”
However, that doesn’t mean there were no stories to be found at all. To the good fortune of all of us who have enjoyed the T&T experience, Chris was able to dig up some great stuff from the other side of the argument. “I found the dialogue between the forces that wanted people to stop drinking, and the ones that wanted to keep drinking, fascinating,” he says. “I think that the best stories are the ones of the bootleggers themselves. The key areas for bootlegging were up in the marshes north of Newmarket and south of Sutton, Jackson’s Point and the marshes around Port Perry. These were the areas where the bootleggers worked because they could conceal what they were doing since inspectors tended not to want to brave those locations.”
In these times of COVID-19, the advantage of having a podcast and a driving tour model for Temperance and Temptation is that it allows you to experience the tour from the safety of your vehicle, and with the company of people in your social bubble. Now that small producers are starting to open up and are offering visitation in a limited capacity, their ability to accommodate guests is often not as robust as it was in pre-pandemic times. But don’t let that stop you. If you come upon a producer who is unable to accommodate your group, you still have the opportunity to enjoy the podcast and all the places the tour takes you to. And, if you come across one producer who happens to be closed or unable to accommodate you, there is a good chance that you will be accommodated at the next partner business on the trail.
Chris is proud of what he was able to accomplish with the Temperance and Temptation tour and podcast—and he should be, because it’s pretty awesome… even if we do say so ourselves. “I feel like we were able to strike a balance between just telling a straight-up historical story and actually bringing to life the characters that might have been involved,” he says. “We were often animating these characters, so in many cases, the podcast will give voice to the historical figures. It certainly adds a lot to the story, the tone, and the overall ambience.”
So, what are you waiting for? Jump in your jalopy and take the York Durham Headwaters Temperance and Temptation tour today. Enjoy our podcast, narrated by Chris Wilson and friends, as you go to learn all about the fascinating stories of bootlegging, temperance and the Prohibition era in our very own backyard.
Story by Katherine Ryalen