Poet Bob Currie on Al Capone

Robert Currie at his house in Moose Jaw.
Photo: Thomas Bartlett
Robert Currie, former Saskatchewan Poet Laureate and long-time Moose Jaw Resident, wrote a poem called "Al Capone in Moose Jaw," which he shared with the "Finding Al" crew during a recent visit to the Friendly City. The poem is from his book Witness and is dedicated to Bob's former high school classmate Nancy (Beamish) Gray whose father is said to have cut Capone's hair on more than one occasion.

Bob said the poem was also partly inspired by the gangster movies he used to see when he was a kid.

"Every time some guy went into a barber shop, they’d put a towel across his face and outside the door, Tommy guns would open up and riddle the whole place, so I’m sort of playing off that a bit in this poem," said Bob. 

Other than hearing Nancy's story in school, Bob said no one really thought very much of Capone at all.

"But it kind of makes sense," said Bob about the Capone-Moose Jaw connection. "The Soo Line does come right up from Chicago and you know back in the day there was a certain amount of rum running and going out of Canada and into the States, so who knows."

Below is his poem, reprinted with his permission.  

Al Capone in Moose Jaw 

For Nancy (Beamish) Gray    

More than once I left Chicago far behind,

fled the heat, the rub of life along the lake.

I slipped away, up the Soo Line into Canada,

stepped down, a burst of steam, took the tunnel

underneath the tracks, rose beneath the bright arch

of the division point station, found River Street

awash with rum and willing women, policemen

already trained to look the other way. Oh, sure,

I might have had an itch to dominate that action,

but this was small-time stuff, Chicago was my town.

What I liked up here was Overs’ Barber Shop,

walking in alone, no one with me, not a man,

dropping into that great leather chair, clean-cut

Bill Beamish washing my hair, drawing damp strands

between the first and second fingers of his left hand,

the snep, snep of the scissors in his right, ahh,

settling deep into that chair, eyes closed, purrrr

of clippers on my neck, then the razor

by my throat, and no gun in my pocket,

snick, snick, snick, the sideburns squared away,

the sudden splash of Rum and Quinine Tonic,

the tingle on my scalp, fingers rubbed it in,
massaged the muscles of my neck,
worked above my ears, across my forehead,

zzzz, a hive of bees at peace, a comb, perhaps,

a brush, something passed across my head.
Ah yes, more than once I had my hair cut there.

Visiting the Moose Jaw train station

The Moose Jaw Train Station
Saskatchewan Archives R-A3374
This was the Moose Jaw train station in the 1920s.

It is said that some people used to smuggle alcohol in and out of Moose Jaw at the bottom of train cattle cars.

According to fact or fiction, tunnels were built from the former CP Rail station on Manitoba Street to the Cornerstone Inn across the street. A secret above-ground entrance behind the Cornerstone Inn was the hub of a network of tunnels that included one directly across Main Street to the former Exchange Cafe, once one of Saskatchewan's finest dining establishments. Other tunnel links went north up Main Street and west along River Street to the Royal George and Brunswick Hotels.

The train station was designed by Hugh G. Jones and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1920 to 1922, so it would have been a fairly new building when Capone went through it. The station had a two-story waiting area, a four-story office block and a six-story Tyndall stone clock tower.

The Cornerstone Inn is rumoured to be connected to the train station via a tunnel.
The station was a stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway service and was a transfer point to the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad also known as the Soo Line Railroad, which operated from Saint Paul to Portal, North Dakota.

There was also the Soo-Pacific, which ran during the summer, through to Vancouver via a connection with Canadian Pacific Railway's "The Dominion" at Moose Jaw. This was discontinued in 1963.

The building was designated a historic railway station in 1991.

Alcohol was American as apple pie.

Library of Congress

For most Americans, before Prohibition, alcohol was American as apple pie. 

The Mayflower hold was filled with beer. 

John Adams began each day with hard cider. 

George Washington made sure his men had half a cup of rum everyday. 

Thomas Jefferson dream of fine American vineyards. 

Young Abraham Lincoln sold liquor by the barrel from his grocery store. 

Fredrick Douglas said liquor made him feel like a president--self-assured and independent.

Physicians said alcohol was far better for people than waters hauled from muddy rivers.

Clergy men drank as part of their ritual celebrations.

Cited from Ken Burn's documentary Prohibition.

Driving into the past . . .

The Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw has a great collection of 1920s cars. We took Leon Willey there to do some of his hosting for "Finding Al."

While at the museum we had a chance to check out the history of land travel in Saskatchewan.

There are over 40 cars and another 16 trucks, from a 1902 Holsman rope drive car that looks more like a buggy, to a Ford Model T, which was “the car that put America on wheels.” 

There are also all kinds of contraptions for winter travel, motorcycles, even a Citro├źn half-track that made a trip through the British Columbia wilderness in 1934 on the whim of a French-American millionaire, carting much-needed trail supplies, like cases of champagne.

If you haven't been to the Western Development Museum before, you should check it out.