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King Canada

from “The Rumrunners – a prohibition scrapbook” by C. H. (Marty) Gervais

Blaise Diesbourg, a.k.a. King Canada, bootlegged and served bar at his brother Charlie’s hotel, the Wellington, on the main street of Belle River. Blaise’s involvement in liquor trafficking soon brought him into contact with the kingpin of the underworld – Al Capone. It was then that he adopted the name “King Canada.”
He became a supplier to The Purple Gang in Detroit and to other big dealers in the United States. Instead of carrying a weapon, he carried a tough-minded attitude which seemed to guide him to success.

I was called “King Canada” because that’s how I wanted to be known in the United States. I gave myself that name because here in town if the law comes looking for King Canada, well, nobody’s going to know who that is. The people in town know me as Blaise Diesbourg but they don’t know King Canada. If the law comes to me and asks, I say I don’t know. I did this so the law couldn’t keep track of me and what I was doing.

The King and Capone

Al Capone came to see me at the Mexico Export Dock, and asked if there was anybody that could handle that stuff for him. And I was the only one that could. I mean Capone was getting the stuff by boats…but he wanted the stuff everyday, by plane. I was the only one that could give ‘em that.

So we go in the house of my brother Charlie, in the cellar, and we talked. There was another fellow with him.

I said, “Listen, I am King Canada, and you know you can’t fool around with me. I know every move in Chicago…every move you make.”

He says, “How?”

I says, “What do you think I am? Don’t you think I know something through the government of what’s going on in Chicago?”

The original Scarface, Al Capone, king of Chicago gangsters during prohibition
photo: The Rumrunners, by C.H. Gervais

“Yeah,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

Capone was kind of a tough man…but, oh, he was a good guy, you know. He was about, oh, I guess five-foot ten or eleven…but smooth. He was never tough with me. I met him only two times… once here in Belle River when he came to see me and once more in Chicago when I went down there with his pilots.

Capone had his own planes…old bombers…each had a pit long enough to hold twenty-five cases of whisky. At six o’clock in the morning I’d meet the pilot there in one of the five fields.

Capone would order from the export dock and it would be delivered to my field. I would load up the plane when it landed…that was my job. The pilot used to pay me money in a bundle from the bank. And it was stamped on the back how much it was. I never counted no money. He would give me the bundle and I’d throw it on the floor of the car. Never had time to count it. Because I only had five minutes
to load the plane…300 bottles of whisky.

One time a pilot said, “Capone wants you to come to Chicago.” So I got in the plane and went to the Sportsman’s Park Racetrack in Chicago. And Capone was there with his big car. I got in with him. We had three motorcycles with machine guns, three in the front and three in the back. And we had nine miles to go to the place they called the Fort.

Well, the next morning I had to take the plane because one of the men I had hired was waiting in the field with the load…back in Belle River.

Everyday I sent a load to Chicago. I never had them land in the same field. And Capone was a nice fellow. Oh yeah. But they say that you couldn’t double-cross him, because you’d be a dead goose.

Anyway, I’m the only one–the King of the Airplanes.

With an increase of police patrols on the waterways, whisky smugglers took to the skies. Photo: Dossin Great Lakes Museum

The King and The Purple Gang

I had a gang in Detroit I used to deal with called The Purple Gang. They were tough. But they didn’t bother me.

They had a big bar over there, and you knocked at the door, and a guy would say, “Who do you want to see?”

Well, I knew the guys there, and he’d holler to another fellow to go get my friend. When my friend came, he’d say, “Oh, hello, it’s King Canada! Let him in! Let him in!” and I’d go in and they’d bring champagne…anything I wanted.

I made a lot of money in those days working for The Purple Gang. I was rich at one time. I had money, but just like that – it was gone. And you know when you get too big in business – you become too big as a man – you lose out. I bought an airplane, paid $12,000 for it.

Above: In August of 1937, Purple Gang member Harry Millman’s LaSalle Coupe was blown to bits. The blast killed a valet (who had been sent for the coupe) outside the 1040 Club in Detroit, a favourite Purple Gang watering hole.
photo: The Detroit News

Well, this guy form The Purple Gang, he made two trips – I couldn’t fly myself – and busted it up on the other side. He landed in the field where it was rough. They busted up the undercarriage, and set fire to it.

The registration was under my name, so if anything happened, I’d told them to set fire to it. Get rid of it. I don’t want no trouble.

Well, that gang in Detroit says you better buy another one. I load them up in my field, but the engine wasn’t working right. He just made it over the fence, and he crashed. Right away he set fire to it.

The Purple Gang had the pilot…a good pilot, too, most of the time…but I just wasn’t lucky. Anyway, I lost $24,000, crashed up two planes, a month apart. Yeah. They were $12,000 a piece.

The long arm of the law
Above: police raid and destroy a speakeasy in Detroit.
photo: Detroit Free Press

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