The Melnick / Melnyk Family

Chapter 8

Boxing, Bootlegging and Bingo

To support income, many varied and diversified practices were followed. The most popular and most successful was “bootlegging”. The character of many of the Melnicks will undoubtedly be portrayed in the following pages. Before dealing with this topic, I feel that the character and life of Paul (Babalou) should be introduced.

The life story of Paul starts out on a rather sad note although in the subsequent pages, the reader will find that in no way did Paul’s unfortunate childhood accident inhibit his dynamic business oriented mind. His philosophy was something like this,
“If a system can be made, then it sure as hell can be beaten.” It was also this philosophy that would ruin his business life.

During the depression in 1930, the boys were out trying to make a fast quarter. They would go up to the Assembly Yard and wait for the coal train coming in from Glace Bay, jump it, and sort out all the big lumps of coal, and then throw them off the train. The rest of the gang would wait on the side of the tracks to bag the stolen coal. It was then taken to Simon Dipenta and sold for twenty-five cents a bag. The process began to worry the Dominion Coal Company and they placed a company guard, Crooks, on duty to watch for the criminals. Crooks came on the job, armed with a revolver, and chased some of the boys. Several days later, Charlie Dakai, Jim Dakai, and “Moongoose” cornered Crooks and took his revolver. The story goes that Crooks
“cried like a baby” to get his gun back. Since that day, the gang never received trouble from Crooks again.

During the winter of 1930, there was a similar outing. This one, however, would not end on such a happy note. On February 24th, 1930, Peter’s fifteenth birthday, Paul slipped while getting off the train and fell beneath the wheels. Both legs were amputated to the thighs. Paul was only twelve years old.

At the age of fifteen, Paul’s business career began. From that day until now, he has never received a formal pay cheque. Paul’s major hobby was pool. His mother and brothers would
“slip” him the “odd quarter". By the end of the week, Paul would spend as much as two dollars a week on pool – a week’s wages. His brother decided to buy Paul a pool hall because in the long run it would be cheaper. A hall was purchased for one hundred dollars and three tables were rented for eight dollars a month. Paul, now set up in his own business, was making twice the money his brothers were; and the strange thing is he was only fifteen years old. The legal age to be in a pool hall was sixteen.

This was just the beginning of his career; in the future years it would grow substantially. Paul may have inherited this orientation of business from his mother, who without an education and unable to speak English, ran a variety store first on 30 Tupper Street and then on 27 Lingan Road, the corner lot of Tupper Street and Lingan Road.

In 1934 when Paul was about sixteen years old, he began as a small and ultimately short-term fight promoter.

Boxing had been one of the neighbourhood’s strongest sports, mainly because it was one of the cheapest and it suited the character of the neighbourhood boys. Sports such as hockey were never played. One possible reason for this was that skates were not available and road hockey was not yet conceived.

The interest in boxing stems from the fact that one of the boys from the gang, “Blackouts” who was several years older had previously tried the profession of boxing. He, unfortunately, did not make it all the way. However, he did have “gloves” and usually gave the younger kids in the neighbourhood a few lessons. Of course, the boys grasped the sport quickly. The fighting gang included Joe Biro, Slim Jim, Nick, Stone, Peter, Blackouts and a host of others. At first the boys fought in their backyards; later, some moved to the ring and turned professional.

Paul was unable to take part in the game, but he organized the fights for the rest of the boys. It enables him to participate in the fun and to make a little money. (With Paul, it would only be a little money).

After several years, Nick (Punchy) took kindly to the sport, turned professional, and was able to become a contender for the Welter Weight Title of Canada in 1942. (It is unfortunate that more information has not been available to trace his career)

Nick fought for his brother Paul as the “main go”. He received five or six dollars for the fight. He fought only three or four because now Nick was moving up to the big times. Usually fighters such as Peter Stevenson (Chink) and Mike Dipenta received only fifty cents for their fight.

One interesting story recalled by Paul is as follows:
“In order to fill up the seats and make money", Paul managed to contract a small time fighter by the name of Eddy Bowls. Eddy was one of those guys that everyone liked because of his unknown modesty. Eddy was in the next year or so to earn the nickname “Killer Bowls” and “K.O. Bowls”. To accomplish this, Paul paid several fighters to “lay down” for Eddy. The sports writer at the local newspaper used to be Paul’s scoutmaster before Paul lost his legs. They were still good friends and the sports writer helped Paul out by sweetening the headlines. Killer began getting popular and the local fighting arena, The Melnyk Hall, was packed every night. Newspaper headlines flashed “KILLER BOWLS KILLS AGAIN.” A prominent member of the community, Star MacLeod, became interested in Paul and asked him to promote his fights at the “Arena Rink” which Star owned.

All was not bright for Paul or Eddy. Bob Talbot, (commonly called “Turbot”) a Negro, became interested in Eddy Bowls and contracted him before Paul could renew his previous contract with Eddy. This was bad news for Eddy, who had only one fight left for Paul. Paul had gotten wind of the scandal and approached a man by the name of Law Power to fight Eddy. Law was a big man but he refused to fight Eddy because of his knockout record. Paul told Law the truth of the story and was able to convince him to fight Eddy. The show was arranged and Blackouts, who had been a close friend of Paul and helped him to promote fights, was the referee that night for the fight at the Melnyk Hall.

It was arranged that when Law gave Eddy a good
“blow”, Blackouts (Ernest Delezandro) would call foul. This happened three times and each time the fighters were given a twenty-minute rest period and then “would go at it again.” The joke is that Eddy was not by any means a good fighter, and Law was one of the best at that time. Eddy did not know the difference; in all his honesty and modesty, he believed himself to be a good fighter. The third time that Law hit Killer, he was out for the night. An hour later, after Killer was carried down the stairs, he asked, “He didn’t hit me, did he”?

This incident ruined Paul as a promoter and as a result, he was out of a job. It was now wartime and many members of the old gang went to enlist. Several would not return. In the Melnick family, Stone, Peter and Nick would all go into the services within the next couple of years. Joe was unable to leave the plant because he was working in the wire and nail mill manufacturing barbed wire, an important war commodity. Once again, Paul was left out. However, this became an opportune time for Paul to get back into business. Stone had owned a small corner store in the Pier called “Stone’s Business”. Up front, as anything with the Melnicks, the store was legitimate; in the back was another story. Here there was a gambling room and shine was sold on the side.

When Stone enlisted and subsequently had to go overseas, he sold the store to Paul on the condition that Paul would sell it back to Stone when he came home. Paul converted the store into a “Dine and Dance” but kept the gambling and liquor deals. In 1946 Stone returned and Paul kept his promise.

In 1946 Paul moved to Sydney Mines with his wife Ida, whom he married in 1941. He remained there for two years. In that time, he bought the old liquor store on Main Street and turned it into a poolroom and bingo hall, plus a few novelties on the side. In 1948 Maria Melnyk became ill and asked Paul to move back to Sydney and help her with the store. Maria supplied Paul and his wife with an apartment above the store and gave them free rent and free groceries.

Paul began to bootleg in order to make a few extra bucks. Over the course of the next ten years, Paul was arrested about eight times for the illegal sale of liquor. However, he paid only one fine. Two of these eight arrests were cover-ups for his mother and for Stone who were also practicing medicine.

The first cover-up was for Maria who was caught selling shine by Inspector Teabolt of the R.C.M.P. Teabolt didn’t want Paul to take the rap, although he pleaded guilty to the charge. Instead the R.C.M.P. laid a charge on both Paul and Maria. Rosenblum, the family’s lawyer, won the case and Maria was cleared; Paul, on the other hand was convicted but he never paid the fine.

The second cover-up was for Stone who had just been released from prison. Paul, once again took the rap and was convicted. This time the fine was two hundred dollars, which Stone would pay. Paul, however, had no intention of paying the fine. Rosenblum said to Paul
“for shames sake anyway, you’ve got to pay this one.” This is how Paul came to pay the one fine.

The Melnicks, like most everyone, sold a lot of liquor during the depression years. Making shine did not really begin to be so profitable until the war years when liquor became rationed.

During the mid forties, while Peter was on leave, he first learned how to make shine. The following story is recalled by both Peter and Joe, with only slight variations.

When Peter arrived home on leave from the army, he became quite bored for the first day or two. Then one day Joe and Stone took him up to their “still” on Alexander Street, which at this time was mostly, woods. Peter was told to drive the family car back home. To leave it parked on the roadside would indicate that someone was in the woods and possibly making shine. Peter, not being able to drive a car, dressed in mid July in an army “fatigue suit”, (which is quite heavy) drove the car home; and in the process sweat off ten pounds! The second day, Peter thought he would play it smart and drove the car down the road a little way and parked it there. He was then given the job of keeping the fire going under the still. Not knowing the correct procedure, he built up the fire too much and the still began to shake. Luckily, his brothers arrived and told Peter to
“run for your life”. Within a coupe of minutes, the still blew sky high. Joe and Stone remarked in sadness, “All that moonshine was wasted, what a sin!”

As time progressed, the Melnick operation grew larger. At first Peter, Joe, Stone, and Maria would go to the still and get a five-gallon jug of shine to bring back to the house. Later, a rumrunner was hired. One such person was Albert Moules, commonly known as “Ready”.

Each five-gallon barrel of shine was diluted with fresh boiled water, thus, producing two extra gallons. The barrels were destroyed, usually burned and the metal hoops thrown as far as possible away from the house.

The Melnicks became superb in hiding shine. One hideout was inside the walls of the house. In the master bedroom, the plaster and wood were removed above the window and a ten-gallon barrel was placed inside the wall. There was a special spot on the wallpaper that could be removed to retrieve a hose supplying the shine. This barrel was filled from the attic in the corner of the sloop of the roof. There was a hole drilled through the floor beam with a copper pipe coming from the barrel to the attic. If too much shine was received at one time and there was not enough room in the ten-gallon barrel to store it, half-gallon jugs were placed between the floor joists in the attic and these were used up first.

Another “hide” was located outside the house. A twenty-gallon keg was buried in the ground. In a particular spot, a bicycle valve was planted to which a buried hose leading to a twenty-gallon keg was attached. To extract shine from the keg, a bicycle pump was placed on the valve and shine pumped out through a hose, also hidden.

When Ivan was still at home, he was the “tester” for incoming shine. All his life, he drank strong, black rum and if the rum was not up to par, black pepper was placed in it to heighten its strength. For shine, which was not up to par, orange peels were placed in it. This may possibly be the first “Orange Gin”.

The work history of Paul continued in 1957-58. In these years Paul devoted most of his energies to bingo, although the usual sidelines were still present. Paul became the first to introduce out-door bingo in Cape Breton. This out-door bingo was played at the sports centre. The story is not that simple, for Paul created a system in which he would always be the winner. The bingo game went something like this: First of all there were one dollar and two dollar cards. Top prize was one thousand dollars. If you had a two-dollar card, you could, conceivably, win one thousand dollars. On the other hand if you possessed a one-dollar card you could only win five hundred dollars.

Each and every card contained the numbers fifteen, thirty, forty-five, fifty and seventy-five. For a small game, say for a couple of hundred dollars, these numbers would always be called and sometimes other numbers held, so that these numbers fifteen to seventy-five would be called. Prizes were and had to be paid out. However, when a large game was in progress, the numbers fifteen to seventy-five would not be called. If they came up, they were hidden and later returned to the pot. Thus only poorer people would win. That is, people who bought the one-dollar card had a better chance.

The door prize was managed in a similar fashion. When Paul would give the people their admission ticket, he would pick out a particular person and this one would win the door prize which amounted to fifty dollars. He would do this by holding the stub of the ticket in his hand and not place it in the ticket box. Usually a woman with several kids would win the door prize. However, on numerous occasions it was his friends that won.

For this seemingly legal, but in all reality illegal bingo game, Paul made large amounts of money. To carry this through, he cheated on government income tax. His system proved successful for a couple of years but in the end, the government won – calling BINGO. They nabbed him in 1959 for income tax evasion of thirty-eight thousand dollars by checking his income for the first six months of 1958 and the last six months of 1957.

This undoubtedly ruined Paul. From 1960 to 1961, he ran a small taxi stand in Sydney Mines. From the early sixties to the present day, he owns and operates a small pool hall in Sydney Mines.(3)

Webmaster's Notes:

(1) There is some mention of Nick on the internet, notably on  New Non-HW Boxers Rated [Archive] - Page 3 - OOTP Developments Forums where it states that he fought as a LHW out of Winnipeg with a record of   0-4-1 between 1945-49. As well Boxing Record Archive has a mention of "Hick" Melnick fight in Glace Bay, NS on 25 Nov 1942 against Harry Hurst. If I read it right, Nick won with a knock-out.

(2) Actually Orange Gin although not popular at the time, had in fact been around since 1864 and was invented by James Burrough, the founder of Beefeater Gin Distilleries. Source The Edmonton Sun edition for 15 November 2005.

(3) Paul Melnick was born February 22, 1918 in Sydney , Nova Scotia, and died October 1985 in Sydney , Nova Scotia. He married Ida Mae Hammond.

Copyright © 2006 Robert Stephen Melnick. All rights reserved