Article reproduced from the Vancouver Sun, January 19, 2008:
The B.C. Pen's graveyard secrets
Former bookkeeper shares records nearly lost forever that put names to long-dead convicts
Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008
Not much is left of the federal penitentiary at New Westminster, less still of the thousands of men who served time there for murder, rape, theft and drug-dealing. About four dozen, though, are still there, in a forgotten graveyard called Boot Hill perched on the edge of a ravine in New Westminster's Glenbrook Ravine Park.
Prisoner #9720, Donald Bottineau, went to the Pen four times for a variety of sex offences usually involving young native girls. He died after falling from a truck bed and though he had family on the outside, no one claimed his body.
According to Vancouver Sun clippings, prisoner #2938, Reginald Colpitts, arrived at the Pen in a prison wagon escorted by a motorcade of police cars, a high-profile transfer from Dorchester prison in New Brunswick. At 19, Colpitts was already serving a 12-year sentence for bank robbery when he killed a prison guard and was shipped across the country. He was assigned to the super-maximum security unit. He hanged himself two years later with a sheet tied to an iron bar.
Between 1914 and 1963, 47 men are known to have been buried at Boot Hill, as unwanted in death as they were in life. All that remains of them now is simple stone blocks inscribed with their prisoner numbers, made in the Pen by their fellow convicts.
Only a handful of people know the graveyard is there, across a deep wooded chasm from the former penitentiary grounds, just a few metres from the lavish memorial built on the site of the Woodlands Institution graveyard. It is scruffy, unmarked and the fences are broken. Piles of construction debris from the glossy new homes and condos being built all around the forgotten plot litter the ground nearby.
The City of New Westminster owns the plot, ceded to the city by the federal government. The city's web page devoted to the park makes no mention of the cemetery.
The secret of who is buried there was nearly lost in 1980 when the Pen was shut down. But former B.C. Pen bookkeeper Tony Martin had been sent in by Corrections Canada for the final few months before shutdown to settle the books, and he filled his basement with prison-made furniture, prisoner mug shots and the official correspondence of the wardens who ran the prison through the decades since it first opened in the 1870s.
Most of the records were on their way to the dump or the burning barrel, but, Martin recalled, a few guards knew of his interest in history and let him know when records were being loaded onto the trash heap.
"I would get a call once in a while from Jimmy Johnson or one of the other guards that they were about to throw out the mug shots or some such thing," Martin recalled during an interview in his Abbotsford home. "I had them put the boxes aside in the piggery until I could figure out what to do with them."
Among the records saved were a map showing the locations of the grave markers and documents that included prisoners' names and their numbers.
The graveyard has its roots, literally, in a tangle of pine trees in a nearby public cemetery. It took crews of guarded prisoners up to three days to dig and chop their way through layers of pine roots in the plots owned by the penitentiary in the nearby Douglas Road Cemetery. Warden John Cunningham Brown felt the excessive labour and the security risk intolerable and in 1913 established the B.C. Pen graveyard on high ground to the west of the prison.
The earliest known grave at the new site is that of prisoner #1948, Gin O. Kim (or Gim O. Kin or simply Gim, records vary on the spelling), who was buried in the Protestant zone in 1914. In all, 33 convicts were to be interred as Protestants. Fifteen people were buried in the Catholic zone, including at least five Doukhobors, according to documents saved by Martin.
Records hint that several unrecorded burials may have taken place at the graveyard during 1913 and possibly as early as 1912. Indeed, prisoner #1629, Herman Wilson, was shot in an escape attempt Oct. 5, 1912, in which a guard was killed. Records show that he was taken for medical attention 24 days later on Oct. 29, the day he died. The location of his grave is a mystery.
Newspaper reports uncovered by amateur researcher Deborah McIntosh record that prisoner Phillips Hopkins attempted escape while digging a grave at the penitentiary cemetery early in February 1913, though no burial is recorded during that period. Candidates for that unmarked grave include Wilson's escape partner Joseph Smith, who was hanged at the Pen Jan. 31, 1913, or a native man named Johnny Peter who died the same day.
A first nations man, prisoner #991, Johnny Sook Sias, was disinterred in 2004 and reburied at Campbell River and Green Point. It was not the first time Sias had seen daylight since his death in 1933. His casket was left sticking out of the ground in 1955 as heavy rains and landslides gnawed away at the edge of the make-shift cemetery.
A letter at the time from Warden Robert Douglass to the Department of Health and Welfare proposes moving 11 graves from the Catholic plots and four from the Protestant plots. "As the situation stands now, there is danger of the graves being washed into the ravine," he wrote. Crews of prisoners did the work.
A guard supervising the work later told Martin that Sias had "hair down to his ass" when they took him from the ground. His remains were placed in a potato sack and reburied away from the edge of the ravine, where they stayed for nearly 50 years more.
During the B.C. Pen's 100-plus years, prisoners did much of the work needed for their own upkeep. Convicts carved the grave markers, built the caskets, even made the nails used to put them together. They also built all the furniture used in the prison, including the warden's desk, now residing in Martin's basement.
Vancouver Sun file pictures show inmates building mailboxes and hauling stray logs out of the Fraser River, which were used to heat the prison. Several hectares of fields surrounding the Pen were farmed for vegetables. The piggery held 400 hogs and a large poultry barn was situated nearby.
"The attitude was that whatever we could make at the prison, we would make at the prison," Martin recalled. "The prisoners would even race to see who could cut and stack a cord of wood the fastest, the stakes being a deck of weed (tobacco)."
Vancouver Sun reporter Bruce Smillie and Sun photographer Dan Scott attended the funeral of prisoner #1475, Frank Wilson, at Boot Hill on July 27, 1967. Wilson was a well-known figure in Vancouver, having been convicted of 45 offences during his 54-year criminal career. He was 72 when he died in the Pen while serving a life term as a habitual criminal.
Though Wilson's offences were minor, ranging from drug possession to break and enter, he became a comic figure for his persistent pleas to various sentencing judges that he had quit his life of crime due to his old age. He was, however, quoted in The Sun as telling a police officer, "All I know is stealing and I'll go on doing it until they take me away in a box." Which they did.
Warden Charles E. Des Rosiers said Frank Wilson would be the last convict to be buried at the pauper's graveyard in that story, though one more burial is recorded. Harold McMaster was laid to rest in the Roman Catholic zone after he died in February of firstname.lastname@example.org
NO SIGN MARKS THIS CEMETERY
Between 1913 and 1968, prisoners whose remains were not claimed after death were buried in a dusty plot just west of the penitentiary walls. Early records for Chinese and native prisoners are scant at best; even their names appear to be the best guesses of prison or court officials. Records for Doukhobor convicts, who came from a community that suffered some of the worst discrimination in B.C. history, are similarly incomplete. All five Doukhobor convicts buried here died in the space of about a year in the early 1930s. In all cases the grave marker records only the man's prisoner number. These details are culled from Vancouver Sun and Province files, the B.C. Archives and documents collected by Tony Martin, Hugh Armstrong, the S. Bowell & Sons funeral home archive and other sources. Here are their names; perhaps a lost relative lies among them.
991 Sook Sias
Died: Sept 24, 1933
Convicted of murder in 1892, Sias served nine years and was released. He returned to the Pen in 1906 after being convicted of manslaughter, the same year that Billy Miner and Lewis Colquhoun arrived after being convicted of Canada's first train robbery in Mission. Sias's grave has been moved.
1475 Frank Wilson
Died: July 20, 1967
Serving a life sentence as a habitual criminal after 44 mostly petty convictions. This drug addict and thief, possibly from California, was a great favourite with police and newsmen of his time. His convictions and sentences were frequently noted in The Sun, owing to his advanced age. He was 72.
1774 James Hinds
Died: May 8, 1918
1816 D.H. Smith
Died: May 29, 1966
1844 Moses Paul
Died: March 16, 1917
The Province headlined Paul's conviction "Indian Outlaw Gets Life in Prison." Paul was convicted as an accessory to murder but may have been involved in a killing spree that took three lives, including a mountie, near Clinton. He and his companions were the subject of a manhunt involving more than 50 men.
2304 William Chinley
Died: Jan. 5, 1919
2326 Charles Williams
Died: Dec. 31, 1918
2370 John Francis Walsh
Died: Dec. 3, 1918
Prison records indicate suicide.
2679 John Baptiste
Died: July 22, 1923
2938 Reginald Colpitts
Died: Nov. 24, 1967
Colpitts was only 19 when he was sentenced to 12 years at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick. He was moved to the Pen after being given a life sentence for killing a prison guard at Dorchester. Sun crime files note that Colpitts was chronically disturbed with homicidal and suicidal tendencies. Pen employee John Martin recalls that Colpitts once jumped from the fifth tier (storey) of the penitentiary block, "shortening his height considerably." He hanged himself in his cell.
3087 Charles Morris
Died: Dec. 15, 1936
3237 Harold Gordon McMaster
Died: Feb. 16, 1968
The last recorded burial in the B.C. Pen graveyard.
3388 Kwang Kee
Died: Aug. 13, 1929
4202 G. Saliken1
Died: June 17, 1933
Doukhobor. A George Salikin died in New Westminster in 1933, possibly the same man.
4214 J. Tarasoff1
Died: Feb 1, 1933
Doukhobor. Provincial death records list Jim or James Tarasoff.
4234 Herbert Ross
Died: Sept. 7, 1934
4250 B. Efanoff1
Died: Nov. 24, 1933
Doukhobor. A Bill Efanoff died in New Westminster, age 70.
4332 N. Maloff1
Died: March 7, 1934
Doukhobor. A Nick Maloff died in New Westminster, age 71.
5239 S. Christensen1
Died: Jan. 12, 1941
A Sofus Christensen died in New Westminster, age 39.
5603 Stephen Poole1
Died June 28, 1946
5831 W. Middleton
Died: June 9, 1945
6497 Alphonse Duquette
Died: Dec 11, 1948
Bowell funeral records show Duquette was born in Yukon to A. Duquette of France and Lily Carter of Dawson. He died of a brain abscess at the age of 18.
7299 Kevan Carroll2
Died: Nov. 14, 1952
Bowell funeral records show that Carroll was born in Paris, France, and worked for the CPR cleaning boxcars.
He died of strangulation by hanging at the age of 30.
763 Robert Fletcher1
Died: Feb. 1963
1548 Clarence Thompson
Died: Feb. 3, 1915
1659 Y. Yoshie
March 15, 1917
1948 Gin O. Kim
Died: May 31, 1914
Prison records also show Kim as Gin O. Kin. Provincial death record lists "Unknown Gim" as having died on this date at age 31.
2225 Louie Num1
Died: Feb.3, 1917
2275 Kai Lim
Died Dec. 16, 1916
No death registration
3212 Albert Hill
Died: Feb. 17, 1918
2339 Leong Sam Kee
Died: March 27, 1919
Prison records show that he committed suicide.
2516 Don (or Dan) Urick1
Died: Nov. 14, 1920
2972 Jonas Sundeen
Died: Feb. 25, 1917
3130 Harry Davis
Died: March 5, 1927
3448 Frank Wilson
Died: May 12, 1930
3568 Fernand Robert Bouchard1
Died: Aug. 25,19671
5920 George Sydney Williams2
Died: Nov. 26, 1956
Welsh by birth, Williams died of second- and third-degree burns over 40 per cent of his body at the age of 74.
6651 George Wallace2
Died: July 21, 1956
Born on the Soowahlie Indian Reserve, Wallace died of peritonitis at the age of 45.
7226 Gerald Beatty2
Died April 23, 1956
The former truck driver served five years before he died of coronary thrombosis.
8139 John Henderson2
Died: June 2, 1955
Henderson was a steam engineer and served only nine months before he died of "cerebral vascular haemorage."
8864 Colin Gladue1
Died: Jan. 24, 1959
8869 G. Hawley
Died: Jan. 7, 1957
9693 W. Black
9720 Donald Bottineau
Died: Oct. 77, 1962
Bottineau committed sex offences with girls ranging in age from eight to 12. He died after accidentally falling from the back of a truck on the penitentiary grounds.
Records for Chinese and Doukhobors who died in prison are incomplete, information is drawn from the provincial archive death registry.
Culled from Bowell & Sons funeral records. Prison records are unavailable or lost.
THE LOST GRAVES
Scant records and conflicting reports sometimes conspire to make mysteries. Some of the most notorious criminals to die at the B.C. Pen are buried in unmarked locations.
Died: Sept. 22, 1911
Colquhoun was a partner of Billy Miner and Shorty Dunn in the robbery of a CPR train. The Vancouver Daily Province reported that he died in the B.C. Pen Hospital and his death registration lists him as being buried in the grounds of the Pen. But the Province reported that his brother intended to take Colquhoun's remains. According to Peter Grauer's book Interred With Their Bones, Colquhoun was buried in Clifford, Ont.
Died: Jan. 31, 1913
Smith was sent to the penitentiary in 1911. Smith and Herman Wilson attempted to escape and killed a guard. Though Wilson shot the guard, Smith was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder. His death registration says he was buried at the Pen. A clipping from The Columbian newspaper March 6, 1913, referenced on Deborah McIntosh's website www.boothill.ca
, says that while digging a grave for a prisoner, Phillips Hopkins slipped into the bush surrounding the penitentiary graveyard. That grave could have belonged to either Joseph Smith or Johnny Peter. Smith's exact resting place is not known.
Died: Jan. 31, 1913
Peter, a native man who had been in the Pen for 20 years serving a life sentence for manslaughter, died the same day as Smith and may be in an unmarked grave in the Penitentiary graveyard. See notes for Joseph Smith.
Died Oct. 29, 1912
Highway robber Wilson struck a guard on the head with a hammer and took his gun as part of a daring escape attempt. Wilson was shot in the neck and died of blood poisoning Oct. 29, according to press reports. His death registration lists his burial place as the B.C. Pen. The location of his grave is not known.
Link to original article: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=a259c4...