This investigative report reveals that:

In the 1980s, anyone wanting to buy hashish had to know where to go. And in central Etobicoke, the wealthy Toronto suburb where Mayor Rob Ford grew up, one of those places was James Gardens. In the evening, the sports cars often wound along Edenbridge Drive, past the gated homes and the lawn-bowling pitches, until they reached the U-shaped parking lot. By nightfall, the public park was a hash drive-thru. One former street dealer, whom we will call "Justin," described the scene as "an assembly line."

There were usually a number of dealers to choose from, some of them supplied by a mainstay at James Gardens – a young man with the hulk-like frame and mop of bright blond hair: Doug Ford. "Most people didn't approach Doug looking for product. You went to the guys that he supplied. Because if Doug didn't know you and trust you, he wouldn't even roll down his window," Justin said.

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Today, Mr. Ford is a member of Toronto's city council – and no ordinary councillor. First elected in 2010 as his brother was swept into the mayor's office, he has emerged as a truly powerful figure at City Hall –– trying to overhaul plans for Toronto's waterfront less than a year after arriving. He also has higher aspirations, and has said he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, Doug Ford Sr., by running in the next provincial election as a Conservative.

Meanwhile, he serves as his brother's de facto spokesman. As Toronto is gripped by allegations that its mayor was captured on a homemade video smoking what appears to be crack cocaine and his office descends into disarray – his chief of staff was fired on Thursday – Doug Ford has been the only person to mount a spirited public defence of his largely silent sibling. On Friday, after the Mayor finally made a statement about the accusation, he was the one who fielded questions from the press.

Well before the events of the past week, The Globe and Mail began to research the Ford brothers in an effort to chronicle their lives before rising to prominence in Canada's largest city. Over the past 18 months, it has sought out and interviewed dozens of people who knew them in their formative years.

What has emerged is a portrait of a family once deeply immersed in the illegal drug scene. All three of the mayor's older siblings – brother Randy, 51, and sister Kathy, 52, as well as Doug, 48 – have had ties to drug traffickers.

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Ten people who grew up with Doug Ford – a group that includes two former hashish suppliers, three street-level drug dealers and a number of casual users of hash – have described in a series of interviews how for several years Mr. Ford was a go-to dealer of hash. These sources had varying degrees of knowledge of his activities: Some said they purchased hash directly from him, some said they supplied him, while others said they observed him handling large quantities of the drug.

The events they described took place years ago, but as mayor, Rob Ford has surrounded himself with people from his past. Most recently he hired someone for his office whose long history with the Fords, the sources said, includes selling hashish with the mayor's brother.

The Globe wrote to Doug Ford outlining what the sources said about him, and received a response from Gavin Tighe, his lawyer, who said the allegations were false. "Your references to unnamed alleged sources of information represent the height of irresponsible and unprofessional journalism given the gravely serious and specious allegations of substantial criminal conduct."

There's nothing on the public record that The Globe has accessed that shows Doug Ford has ever been criminally charged for illegal drug possession or trafficking. But some of the sources said that, in the affluent pocket of Etobicoke where the Fords grew up, he was someone who sold not only to users and street-level dealers, but to dealers one rung higher than those on the street. His tenure as a dealer, many of the sources say, lasted about seven years until 1986, the year he turned 22. "That was his heyday," said "Robert," one of the former drug dealers who agreed to an interview on the condition he not be identified by name.

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Upon being approached, the sources declined to speak if identified, saying they feared the consequences of outing themselves as former users and sellers of illegal drugs.

The Globe also tried to contact retired police officers who investigated drugs in the area at the time. One said he had no recollection of encountering the Fords.

Another, whose name appeared on court documents in relation to allegations of assault and forcible confinement committed by Randy Ford, said he could not recall the incident. Several did not respond.

Since entering public life, both Fords have been ardent supporters of Toronto police and have campaigned, over the years, on increasing the police presence on Etobicoke's streets. In December, 2011, Doug Ford showed up, unannounced, at a police press conference to trumpet the force's crackdown on a network of drug dealers who were selling, among other things, marijuana.

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Doug, like Rob, frequently promotes the Ford family as a type of brand – one that started with their late father's four-year tenure as an MPP in the government of former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Doug Ford is fond of invoking his family's contributions to the community. Through his involvement with the Rotary Club of Etobicoke, he has helped to organize events like the Etobicoke Fall Fair. He frequently mentions the many sports teams that the Ford family business, Deco Labels and Tags, has sponsored over the years. He also cites the many football teams his younger brother has coached, and the hordes of people – he puts the figure at 25,000 – the Fords have entertained at their annual backyard barbecue.

But long before he took over the family business and pursued public office, Doug Ford's circle of friends was a group of young people who called themselves the RY Drifters, after the Royal York Plaza, a strip mall many of them frequented.

The Fords' neighbourhood was paradoxical in some respects. It teemed with wealth; families who settled there after the Second World War, such as the Fidanis and the Brattys, would become known as the biggest players in Toronto-area land development. As his sticker and label business flourished, Doug Ford Sr. was featured in the society pages of The Globe, rubbing elbows with cabinet ministers, senators and members of the Eaton family.

But the prosperity disguised a disturbing trend among many of the area's young adults – an attraction to crime that went beyond typical teenage rebellion. Former Ford associates interviewed for this story identified at least 10 RY Drifters who became heroin addicts, some of whom turned to break-ins and robberies to support their habits.

In recent years, the Ford family home has become known for the annual barbecue, attended by hundreds of neighbours and a Who's Who of Conservative luminaries – including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. But in the 1980s, the finished basement at 15 Weston Wood Rd. was one of the many places Doug Ford did business, the sources said.

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"Justin" recalled descending to the basement on one occasion to buy hash from Mr. Ford, and on numerous other occasions watching as it was sold.

He said he couldn't recall exactly how much hash he purchased that day, but that it was enough to require a triple-beam balance scale – the kind used in most high-school science classes. Normally, street-level dealers in that era relied on Pesola scales, the compact tubes often used by fishermen to weigh their catch. "If you went over [a quarter-pound], you had to go up to the three beamers – because you could get up to a few pounds on it," he explained.

As a dealer, Doug Ford was not highly visible. Another source, "Tom," who also supplied street-level dealers and has a long criminal record, said his girlfriend at the time would complain, whenever he was arrested, that he needed to be more calculating "like Doug." Mr. Ford's approach, sources said, was to supply a select group that in turn distributed smaller amounts across Etobicoke.

As well as James Gardens, a popular place to buy hash was the Royal York Plaza, also known as The Drift, because it offered a clear line of sight down Royal York Road and fair warning of any approaching police cruisers.

The mall is located steps from the Fords' childhood home. "If [Doug] wasn't going out, someone would go down to the house and pick it up and bring it down to the Royal York Plaza," said "Sheila," adding that she was an RY Drifter who bought small quantities of hash from Mr. Ford, and knew him to supply street-level dealers. "If Doug wasn't around, people … would sell it for him. It was an operation." The quantities that Mr. Ford handled were, at times, substantial. "Michael" said he remembered buying hash from Doug Ford at least half a dozen times – before he found a cheaper source – and that each time he bought between one-quarter and one-half of a pound. He said that a quarter-pound sold for between $400 and $425.

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Like many of the street-level dealers interviewed, he said he sold hash in order to support his own smoking habits. When asked where Mr. Ford fit in the hierarchy of dealers in their neighbourhood, he replied: "He'd be at the top."

Turf wars were rare. Relations between dealers were so good, in fact, that in times of short supply, competitors turned to each other for help. "Robert," a former high-volume seller of hash, said he had an arrangement with Mr. Ford. "He would buy off me, sometimes I would buy off him."

"Tom," the high-volume hash dealer who admired Mr. Ford's ability to avoid scrutiny, also said he and Doug helped each other out during shortages. "We had all figured out that that kept the cops away. 'Let's keep things low-profile. Why start fights? There's enough money in it for everybody.' And most people agreed with that. Once the fights start and the guns come out, then the cops will be in and it will ruin it for everybody."

But the shunning of strong-arm tactics was not universal.

Marco Orlando had thick, curly black hair and round cheeks. He and his parents, Italian immigrants, lived in a bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac a short walk from the Ford family home.

He was also supplied a lot of drugs on credit but was notoriously unreliable when it came to paying for them. Among his suppliers, the suspicion was that Marco was sharing his illicit proceeds with his parents and feigning poverty. So two weeks before Christmas, they hatched a plan, said "Tom," a drug dealer who said he was involved in the scheme.

On a Tuesday night, with the usual throng of young adults outside the Bank of Montreal at the Royal York Plaza, Marco was jumped, beaten and thrown into a car. He was driven more than 30 kilometres to a basement in Bolton, where someone called his parents, demanding they hand over the money. For 10 hours, Mr. Orlando was captive, but his parents didn't panic. Instead, they called the police. Within three days, all three men allegedly involved in the plot were under arrest. ("The powers-that-be blow things all out of proportion, and I guess technically it is kidnapping, but in our world, he owed us $5,000," said Tom.)

One of those arrested was Randy Ford, who was 24 at the time. Court records retrieved from the Archives of Ontario show that he was charged with assault causing bodily harm and the forcible confinement of Mr. Orlando. The records do not disclose how the case was resolved. Randy Ford's lawyer at the time, Dennis Morris – currently representing Rob Ford in the controversy over the alleged crack-cocaine video – said he did not recall the incident. He questioned the allegations surrounding the Ford family's past: "What's the point, other than a smear campaign?"

Since his brothers became leaders of Canada's largest city, Randy has largely remained in the background. Like them, he has blond hair and a wide frame; he also drives a Cadillac Escalade. One of the few times he has been photographed by the media was for a Toronto Star article during the 2010 election campaign. He posed with his brothers in front of a portrait of their father at the family business, where Randy oversees manufacturing. During the election-night speeches at the Toronto Congress Centre, he stood silently behind Doug, wearing a dark cowboy hat.

But in the past, he was much less low-key. Whether on his motorcycle or at the helm heel of the family sailboat – The Raymoni – he always went full throttle. When he fought, which was often, it was usually a one-sided affair.

"He was a terror," said Leo, another former associate of Doug Ford.

Numerous sources identified Randy Ford as former drug dealer, including one who identified himself as former partner, but he and Doug maintained distinctly separate operations. "Doug, being savvy as he was and as business-minded as he was, knew his brother was just too volatile," said "Justin," the street-level dealer who said he was supplied by Doug Ford.

The eldest Ford sibling, Kathy, has been subjected to media scrutiny over the years, primarily because she has been linked to a number of bizarre, violent and sensational incidents.

Most recently, in January, 2012, her long-time boyfriend, a convicted cocaine and hash dealer named Scott MacIntyre, was charged with threatening to murder the mayor at his Etobicoke home. He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser offence and was given credit for time served.

(In a brief interview with CBC after the alleged death threat, Doug Ford said: "To be honest with you, I really don't know Scott MacIntyre." Photographs and video taken on the night of the 2010 election show that Mr. MacIntyre was part of the small group of family members celebrating with the new mayor, his wife, Renata, and Doug.)

Ms. Ford's relationship with Mr. MacIntyre is even more perplexing because of an earlier incident: In 2005, he and another man were accused of shooting her in the face during an altercation in her parents' basement. She survived the blast and was rushed to hospital, while Mr. MacIntyre fled in her mother's Jaguar. Crown prosecutors later dropped numerous charges against him, while his co-accused, Michael Patania, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a handgun.

But even before that, there was gunplay – and it was fatal. Seven years earlier, Ms. Ford's lover was fatally shot by her ex-husband, a drug addict named Ennio Stirpe. At his trial, Mr. Stirpe testified that his victim, Michael Kiklas, was a martial artist, which forced him to bring along the shotgun as "an equalizer."

Not mentioned in the press at the time was the fact that Mr. Kiklas was a white supremacist – a group with which Ms. Ford associated in the 1980s.

Her friends included Gary MacFarlane, a founding member of the short-lived Canadian chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the late Wolfgang Droege, perhaps the most notorious white supremacist in Canadian history, a former Klansman told The Globe in an interview. Two other former associates of Ms. Ford confirmed her association with known white supremacists.

Among Mr. Droege's numerous criminal endeavours, he also sold cocaine and marijuana, which led to his death in 2005 when he was killed by a customer. Mr. Droege was incarcerated for much of the 1980s in U.S. prisons – both for drug trafficking and for his role in a bizarre plot to overthrow the government of Dominica in the Caribbean.

The former Klansman, who agreed to answer questions by e-mail on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Kathy Ford was close to the movement, but he said he couldn't recall meeting any of the Ford brothers. He described hanging out in the Fords' basement and being snubbed by Doug Sr. when Ms. Ford invited him to a party on the family boat. Her father, the former Klansman said, clearly did not approve of his beliefs, while she was engaging and fun but hardly a committed soldier in the race war.

"Some people are real 'believers' and know all the history, dates, facts etc… Others just join to piss off their parents, or carry out some other act of personal rebellion," he wrote. "Clearly [Kathy] was the latter camp."

It remains unclear how much Mayor Ford was exposed to his siblings' escapades and their issues with illegal drugs. He is considerably younger – Doug, the closest, is five years older. But at least one of Doug's closest and oldest friends has become an official adviser to the mayor's office. Several sources have identified David Price as a former participant in Doug Ford's hashish enterprise.

The morning after the Toronto Star and the U.S. gossip website Gawker alleged that journalists with both organizations had viewed a homemade video of the mayor smoking crack, a throng of reporters waited outside his home. Mr. Ford walked past them, uttered only four words – "these allegations are ridiculous" – and hopped into his SUV.

After driving only a few feet, he pulled to the side of the road and rolled down his window to chat with a man in a sunglasses and a blue shirt, Mr. Price. Moments later, Mr. Price appeared again, this time standing between videographers and Mr. Ford as they tried to film the mayor at the gas station at the end of his street.

Since he arrived at City Hall, the mayor's office has said almost nothing about what Mr. Price, called director of logistics and operations, is there to do. Concerning the hiring of Mr. Price, Doug Ford told Globe and Mail city hall reporter Elizabeth Church that "you can't teach loyalty."

Mr. Price first appeared in the office mere days after The Toronto Star revealed that the mayor had been asked to leave a military benefit gala by Councillor Paul Ainslie allegedly because he appeared intoxicated.

A few months before Mr. Price became a public official, he was approached by a Star reporter covering a football game being played by the high-school team coached by Mr. Ford. The reporter quoted Mr. Price as saying that he had coached the mayor in high school, and ever since he has been described in media reports as Rob Ford's former football coach turned aide.

However, four former dealers who spoke with The Globe described Mr. Price as a participant in Doug Ford's hash business in the 1980s.

Both men attended Scarlett Heights Collegiate Institute, where they played football and hockey. "Michael," a former street-level dealer, said he recalls being approached by a young David Price, who told him that Doug Ford had come into a large supply of hash. "I remember buying a quarter-pound," he said.

"Robert," once a large-scale supplier, called Mr. Price "Dougie's close ally" and described their hash business as "a partnership."

"Justin," a former street dealer, said: "They were two peas in a pod. They were both big, tough boys. It just became a natural thing."

He added: "Doug brought the supply, and Dave brought the demand."

According to Mr. Price's LinkedIn page, which has been taken down since he joined the mayor's office, he was Doug Ford's campaign manager in 2010, and graduated from York University in 1987 with a degree in economics and international relations.

Following that, he worked for decades at State Street Canada, a financial services company that provides investment management for institutional investors, such as pension and mutual funds. One former colleague described him as hard-working, very oriented toward customer service, and extremely opinionated when it came to politics. He left the company in 2011.

Mr. Price did not respond to several requests for comment.

Rob Ford was not a player in the Etobicoke drug trade. Several sources said they saw him around his brothers as they were doing business, but they said he didn't seem to be involved in a significant way.

It is difficult to determine what it was like for him growing up in this environment. His spokesman did not respond to requests for interviews. His closest friends from high school declined interview requests. Generally, it was only people who were on his periphery who agreed to speak.

As a teenager, the future mayor committed to football like it was a religion. He co-captained his junior team at Scarlett Heights Collegiate, which went a dismal 1-5 in the regular season one year, but shocked the league in the playoffs by making it to the championship and upsetting undefeated Etobicoke Collegiate. A yearbook photograph shows that "Robbie" – as he was known then – wore his leather championship jacket for at least three years after that victory.

He once played on Etobicoke's all-star team, a mixed bag of players from different high schools that was assembled in the summer to face off against all-star teams from Toronto's other boroughs.

It was a short and intense two weeks of back-to-back practices, which was necessary to inject cohesion into a mixed bag of young men who didn't know each other. Before each practice, they were told to run a mile. If they completed the run in under six minutes, they didn't have to complete it again for the rest of training camp. But if they failed, they had to keep running it at the start of every practice until they came in under the mark.

After a few days, there was only one person left chugging around the track.

"I remember Rob, who was about the same size as he is now, running this thing every day for like two weeks until he was the only guy running – but still giving it 100 per cent at the beginning of every practice until he finally made it," said Mike Lawler, a former Scarlett Heights coach.

"I just thought it took a lot for a kid to do that and not say 'to hell with it.' "

Another former Scarlett Heights football coach, Art Robinson, described young Rob as a leader, who was regularly the foreman in his shop class. There were even a few occasions, Mr. Robinson said, that Rob alerted him to students smoking pot on school grounds.

He went on to attend Carleton University. where he played football but never left the bench, one former teammate said. He dropped out in 1990, the end of his first year, he has told the online news service Openfile.

After that, he joined the family business, but unlike Doug, who ambitiously worked to grow the company, helping it expand to Chicago, his heart was not in it, several former employees said.

"Robbie just did not have the passion for labels," one long-time employee said. "He did what he had to do because it was the family business, but he did not show true passion until he got into politics."

His first run for public office came when he was 27, a council election that he lost. Undeterred, he became involved in several civic-minded campaigns – including one that targeted drug dealers and buyers.

In 1998, he teamed with his father and Toronto police for an unorthodox project, he later told The Etobicoke Guardian. In what would be the start of his unwavering tough-on-crime platform, he – at the time, 29 and unelected – and Doug Sr. – a backbencher at Queen's Park – travelled to Scarlettwood Courts, an Etobicoke public-housing complex, to rid it of illegal drugs.

"When people would drive through to buy drugs, we'd send the owner of the car a letter. It would tell them not come back to the area," Mr. Ford told the Guardian after he was elected to City Council in 2000. He said his crime-fighting campaign had helped him win the election and promised to take the battle to other low-income neighbourhoods.

But his personal war on drugs was short-lived. The year after their letter-writing campaign, he was arrested in Florida after being pulled over for impaired driving. Police also found a joint in his pocket – an offence not revealed until his 2010 mayoral campaign.

Throughout the reporting of this story, Doug Ford made several phone calls to Globe managers and reporters to complain about the questions being asked.

In November, 2011, he called a reporter in the evening to complain about the newspaper's "yellow" and "gutter" journalism.

"I'm getting calls from people I haven't talked to in 20 years," he said. When asked why he was so upset, he responded that he objected to "the type of questions" being asked.

"This is going to get ugly," he said, explaining that he was too "hot" at that moment to consider setting up a formal sit-down interview.

His call appeared to have been prompted by a brief interview The Globe had conducted that day, when a reporter asked a former associate about the RY Drifters – a group that he said never existed.

"It's like a folk tale," he said.

Greg McArthur is an investigative reporter with The Globe and Mail. Shannon Kari is a freelance journalist in Toronto. They were assisted by staff researcher Stephanie Chambers