They’ve been eluding the authorities for five years now and there’s no rest in sight.
Mark Baker’s The Rumrunners Tour is a popular Windsor tourist attraction, now in its fifth year, that recreates the raucous Prohibition days of the ’20s and ’30s when illicit booze made its way across the Detroit River and lured the likes of Al Capone here.
“We like to think of what we do as a travelling play,” said Baker, a veteran actor and theatre volunteer who turned his calling into a money-making venture that provides steady work for some of his acting colleagues.
“We pay our performers, and that’s a rare thing these days.”
Baker was inspired to put together The Rumrunners Tour after playing the role of Rev. Spracklin in Marty Gervais’ play, The Fighting Parson, in 1990.
“I just thought it had all kinds of potential,” he said. “It took me awhile to get together a script and line up a strong cast.”
Baker knew stories of the booze trade linking Windsor to Detroit would appeal to out-of-towners. What he didn’t anticipate was a huge interest among locals.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people from Windsor they had no idea we have this kind of crazy history.”
The tour has become a favourite destination of the Ontario Motor Coach Association. Baker also hooked up recently with travel website TripAdvisor, increasing its profile across the northeastern and midwestern United States.
“The bulk of the bus tours are seniors’ groups,” he said. “But we get a lot of clubs and families on the tours, as well.”
The Rumrunners Tour has proved so successful, in fact, that Baker is putting together another attraction based on the region’s French-speaking history and culture.
Tentatively titled The French Connection, Baker is seeking bilingual actors and tour guides to launch the attraction in spring 2015. His group recently received a Canadian Heritage grant of $3,500 to help organize it.
For the Rumrunners, Baker provides employment for about 15 actors who portray multiple roles. Baker himself plays Spracklin and Blaise Diesbourg, the infamous rumrunner dubbed King of Canada by Al Capone.
Other regulars include Michelle Mainwaring, Jim Walls and Rob Tymec.
Baker said he does about 50 tours a year on buses and trolleys that can accommodate up to 40 passengers. Each tour is five hours in length and covers many of the former Prohbition-era hotspots, including the former Chateau LaSalle (Rosa’s Restaurant), Mackenzie Hall and St. John’s Church in west Windsor.
Tours are booked weeks in advance, so to reserve a spot by calling 519-990-5379.
Ted Shaw – The Windsor Star
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