(Sir) Mathew Baillie Begbie (Judge)

The so-called “Hanging Judge”

[Actually, Begbie sentenced fewer persons to be hung than the average jurist of the day. Of the 52 murder cases he heard, only 27 of them resulted in a hanging sentence. Some historians believe the “Hanging Judge” epithet was a mis-reading of the Barkerville Gazette, that referred to him as the “haranguing judge” due to his scolding of accused and even juries he disagreed with.]

begbieSir Matthew Baillie Begbie spent the first thirty-nine years of his life in Great Britain, far removed from the land he was to have such an influence on later in life. During these years Begbie’s life was filled with social and intellectual activities. He received his first degree from Cambridge University where he studied Math and the Classics. He was involved in a great number of extracurricular activities, devoting his free time to singing and acting in amateur productions, playing chess, rowing, and tennis. After Cambridge Begbie went on to study law. Some accounts claim he was a poor law student and barely managed to graduate. Despite this, he managed to establish a successful law practice in London before heading to British Columbia.

It was not Begbie’s skill as a lawyer that won him the appointment of British Columbia’s first judge. The judge for this new colony had to be in excellent physical shape to thrive in the wilderness of British Columbia, a qualification Begbie met with his exceptional 6’5” height and athleticism. The position also called for someone with courage and enough integrity to resist bribes; all qualities of Begbie’s character.

The new colony was in desperate need of a magistrate to maintain law and order over the American mining population, so when Begbie finally arrived in Victoria on November 15th, 1858, he was greeted with great joy. He was immediately thrown into his duties when Ned McGowan’s War erupted six weeks after his arrival. This was to be the first of many events proving him to be levelheaded and fair in dispensing justice. He traveled all over British Columbia, on horseback and on foot, using his sleeping tent as his judicial chamber during the day. Despite his informal surroundings, Begbie always wore his robes and wig while holding court. During his travels Begbie also made note of the topography, weather, agricultural potential and possible road, town, and bridge sites in the areas he visited, providing valuable information to the colonial government

Contrary to his famous nickname “The Hanging Judge”, Begbie only imposed a few death sentences during his reign, yet he was not without fault in the courtroom and certainly had his detractors.

He did not particularly like or respect juries and their verdicts.

Also, he did not always strictly follow the law, but adapted it to suit his own beliefs and the land he was practicing in. Begbie was a snob when it came to other lawyers, distrusting any who were not trained within the British Empire. He even attempted to ban them from practicing in his court.

When Begbie was not traveling on his court circuit he lived in Victoria. He was an active participant in the community, becoming the first President of Victoria Philharmonic Society soon after his arrival. Throughout his lifetime he continued to provide impromptu solo singing performances to the society’s delight. For his outstanding service to the British Crown, Queen Victoria knighted him in 1875. Begbie spent his retirement in Victoria where he died in 1894.

Principal source: http://www.rocalink.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/ghosts-of-the-north-west-coast/bio.begbie.html.


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Sheriff John S. Ingram

“The Two-fisted Town Tamer”


John S. Ingram Winnipeg and Calgary’s First Police Chief

John S. Ingram was born in St. Thomas, Ontario on April 3, 1853, one of ten siblings, (nine brothers and one sister !) He came from a line of military men. His grandfather was a soldier and his father attended military college in Dublin and worked as a bailiff and county constable.

John came West in 1870 and joined the Manitoba Provincial Police Department. On February 19, 1874 he was hired as Chief Constable of the newly created Winnipeg Police Department which began operations just five days later. Ingram’s salary was a tidy $750 per year and he had a staff of two constables.

chief ingramLike many of the characters he would encounter on the streets of frontier Winnipeg, Ingram was rough and tumble. Early in his tenure… “His reputation was cemented the day he arrested Ambroise Lepine, a particularly bad fellow who was wanted on murder charges. The arrest was made through the simple expediency of Ingram walking up to Lepine, putting him off guard by greeting him as he would an old friend, then knocking him out with a well placed left hook to the head.” (Source: Cockeyed).

His love for wine, women and brawling soon wore thin with city officials. There was infighting among his constables and he had very public verbal battles with city aldermen. At one point he filed a libel suit against Alderman Villiers for accusing him of essentially running a protection racket in the city’s tolerated red light district.

After just a few months on the job Ingram’s ‘hobbies’ caught up with him. On June 7, 1874, constables raided a Sherbrook Street brothel. In the room of Miss Ella Lewis they found a customer in a state of undress. It was none other than Chief Ingram.

On June 9 those arrested in the raid appeared before a newly elected magistrate and mayor Capt. William Kennedy. Ella Lewis and Fannie Ellesworth were charged with ‘keeping a house of ill fame’ and fined $20 each. Ingram and another john named William McEwan were fined $8.00 each. (Free Press June 9, 1875)

As expected, Ingram tendered his resignation and on June 14, 1875 it was accepted by council.

Initially, Ingram went home to Ontario ‘to visit his people’ (Free Press June 19, 1875). He soon returned to Winnipeg and took gigs as a boxer and frequented the rough saloons of Winnipeg. He got arrested at least once, on September 10, 1875 for ‘being drunk and pugilistic’.

Ingram eventually moved West to Calgary, population 500 at the time, and on February 7, 1885 became their first chief of police.

Ingram and his two constables worked from an office located at the back of a hotel saloon. He brought his rough and tumble ways with him and issues such as infighting among his staff, running battles with his political masters and rumours that he was part of a protection racket soon re-emerged.  In February 1888 he resigned his post.

Ingram did not stay in Calgary for long. He and his wife of six months, a British-born widow named Edith M. Oake, and her son went to Montana. Not a lot is known of his time there but it is thought that he spent some of it as a lawman. Periodic visits to Alberta must have been made as his three children were all born on Alberta soil, (Beatrice in 1890, John in 1893 and Leslie (m) in 1895).

In 1896 Ingram and his family returned to Canada when the town of Rossland B.C. asked him to be their chief of police. He held that post until 1903 when, seemingly bored by keeping law and order in an increasingly civilized West, he resigned.

Looking for excitement, he got on as a “dynamite man” with The Silver Star Mining Ltd. in B.C.. On December 17, 1905, working with his stepson, Ingram entered a powder room to thaw explosives:

“Shortly after that, the thawing room exploded, sending black smoke 600 feet in the air and breaking most of the glass in town (it took them months to bring enough glass into town to replace it all). They found Jack buried head first up to his ankles in a bank, the only fatality. No one knows what happened.” (The Lawmen of Rossland)

The headline the next day read: “Center Star’s magazine explodes; powderman John Ingram dead, considerable damage to City.”

Three days later, Ingram, or what was left of him, was put aboard a train for St. Thomas where he was buried. Ingram was 55 year old.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca


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(Sir) Ernest Thompson Seton

Author, artist and naturalist extraordinaire

ernest thompson setonErnest Thompson Seton, author, naturalist, artist (b Ernest Thompson at Shields, Eng 14 Aug 1860; d at Seton Village, Santa Fe, New Mexico 23 Oct 1946). Seton is remembered for his part in the creation of a distinctively Canadian literary genre: the realistic animal story. He spent his boyhood in Ontario, graduated from the Ontario College of Arts in 1879 and then studied at the Royal Academy in England. He studied art in Paris and was soon in demand as an illustrator. His most famous painting, The Sleeping Wolf, won first prize at the annual competition held at the Paris Salon. He moved to the US in 1896 where he published his first collection of animal stories, Wild Animals I Have Known (1898). It contained his most famous story, “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw,” and has since been translated into many languages. This was followed by more than a dozen additional collections of similar stories, which won him international acclaim.

In 1906, Seton published Two Little Savages; Being the Adventures of Two Boys Who Lived as Indians and What They Learned. Based on his childhood experience of “playing Indian” in Ontario, it is now considered a classic of children’s literature. This was followed by numerous books on woodcraft, one of which formed the basis for the Boy Scouts of America Official Manual (1910). In 1910, Seton joined Lord Baden-Powell (British) and Daniel Beard (American) in establishing the Boy Scouts of America. Seton’s charismatic appeal made it hard for the association to get rid of him. He levelled charges of militarism and they, in turn, charged him with pacifism. Finally, in 1915, he was expelled on the pretext that he was not an American citizen.

ernest-thompson-seton-illustrationsIn the meantime, Seton had intensified his scientific activities. In 1908 he published the 2-volume The Life Histories of Northern Animals: An Account of the Mammals of Manitoba. After a trip to the far north, he also published The Arctic Prairies: A Canoe Journey of 2000 Miles in Search of the Caribou (1911). Between 1925 and 1927 he published 4 volumes in a series entitled Lives of Game Animals, for which he was awarded the John Burroughs and Elliott Gold Medals.

Seton spent the last 16 years of his life near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and took out American citizenship in 1931. With his second wife, Julia Buttree, he set up Seton Village, a study centre for naturalists which is still active. Until his death, he remained so bitter about his conflict with the Boy Scouts of America that he was persuaded to leave out all mention of it in his autobiography, Trail of an Artist-Naturalist (1940).

ernest thompson seton - two little savagesPost script: I am very proud to say that I have a copy of Two Little Savages in my library. I received it as a child, living on a farm in Pefferlaw, and have treasured it ever since. It is one of those books imbued with the finest qualities a child can aspire to: a curious nature, keen observation, and achievement. Sadly it is out of print now, but if you can find a copy I recommend it most highly.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Roncarelli v. Duplessis (1959), Supreme Court of Canada

Arguably one of the most important decisions in pre-constitution law.


maurice dulessisRoncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] S.C.R. 121, was a landmark constitutional decision of the Supreme Court of Canada where the Court held that Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, had overstepped his authority by revoking the liquor licence of a Jehovah’s Witness. Justice Rand wrote in his often-quoted reasons that the unwritten constitutional principle of the “rule of law” meant no public official was above the law, that is, they could neither suspend it or dispense it. Though he had the authority to do this by the law granting him the discretion, he overstepped the reasons why he held this. It is held as an example of a ruling showing a need for rules governing the granting of authority.


Frank Roncarelli was a successful restaurant owner and practicing Jehovah’s Witness in Montreal. He was very active in the Jehovah’s Witness community and used his wealth to support persecuted members by offering bail security for those who had been arrested by the municipal government. Tension between the dominant Roman Catholic community and the Jehovah’s Witness community saw increasing arrests of Jehovah’s Witness members for selling copies of their magazines without the necessary permits under city by-laws. Roncarelli furnished bail for over 375 Jehovah’s Witness members in three years and many were arrested multiple times.

The Chief Prosecutor of the city contacted the Premier who spoke to the Chairman of the Quebec Liquor Commission. Roncarelli’s liquor licence was subsequently revoked. Extensive testimony showed the government actors believed Roncarelli was disrupting the court system, causing civil disorder, and was therefore not entitled to the liquor licence. Roncarelli was told that he was “forever” barred from holding a liquor licence and that this action was a warning to others that they would similarly be stripped of provincial “privileges” if they persisted in their activities related to the Witnesses.

Roncarelli received news of the revocation in December 1946, and while he tried to keep his business open without the licence, it was not profitable and he put it up for sale within six months. Consequently, he brought an action against Duplessis for $118,741 in damages. At trial, the Quebec Court of Queen’s Bench found in favour of Roncarelli, however it was overturned on appeal.


Did the Premier of Quebec overstep his authority in revoking the liquor license of Roncarelli?


Finding for the appellant, $33,123.53 in damages awarded plus costs.


Supreme Court JusticesThe six judges who sided with Roncarelli used different legal reasoning to reach their decision. Three judges wrote that Duplessis had ordered the cancellation which was outside his authority as premier; two judges stated that although Duplessis had the power to order the cancellation, he had done so in bad faith; and the sixth judge concluded the premier was not entitled to immunity as a public official.

Cartwright wrote a dissenting judgement which argued that it was within the power of the commission to refuse to grant Roncarelli a permit as the act only fettered the commission by delineating circumstances under which the granting of a permit was forbidden and circumstances in which the cancellation of a permit was mandatory, and nothing more. The Justice argued that as this was an administrative tribunal, and not a judicial one, it was “a law unto itself” and did not need to base its decision on anything more than policy and expediency. Cartwright went on to argue that even if the commission were to be considered quasi-judicial, in which case procedural fairness guarantees would apply, that still would not entitle the plaintiff to monetary damages.

Principle established

The unwritten constitutional principle of the “rule of law” means no public official is above the law, that is, they can neither suspend it or dispense it.

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Nellie Cashman

“The Angel of The Cassiar.”

nellie cashman - portraitEllen Cashman (1845 – January 4, 1925), better known as “Nellie,” was Born at Belvelly, near Cobh, County Cork in 1845, Cashman came to the United States around 1850 with her mother and her sister, settling in Boston. As an adolescent, Cashman worked as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. She and her family emigrated to San Francisco, California in 1865.

Following the onset of the Klondike Gold Rush, Cashman left her family home in 1874 for the Cassiar Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. A lifelong Catholic, she set up a boarding house for miners, asking for donations to the Sisters of St. Anne in return for the services available at her boarding house.

Cashman was traveling to Victoria to deliver 500 dollars to the Sisters of St. Anne when she heard that a snowstorm had descended on the Cassiar Mountains, stranding and injuring 26 miners, who were also suffering from scurvy. She immediately took charge of a six-man search party and collected food and medicine to bring to the stranded miners.

Conditions in the Cassiar Mountains were so dangerous that even the Canadian Army advised against the rescue. Upon learning of Cashman’s expedition, a commander sent his troops to locate Cashman’s party and bring them to safety.

An army trooper eventually found Cashman camped on the frozen surface of the Stikine River. Over tea, she convinced the trooper and his men that it was her will to continue, and that she would not head back without rescuing the miners.

After 77 days of unfriendly weather, Cashman and her party located the sick men, who numbered far more than 26; some estimates credit Cashman with saving the lives of as many as 75 men. She administered a Vitamin C diet to re-establish the group’s health. Thereafter, she was fondly known in the region as the “Angel of the Cassiar.”

nellie cashman's house copyLater in life, Cashman moved to Tombstone, Arizona. She raised money to build the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and committed herself to charity work with the Sisters of St. Joseph. She continued to work as a caretaker, taking a position as a nurse in a Cochise County hospital.

In 1898, Cashman left Arizona for the Yukon in search of gold, staying until 1905. Her prospecting ventures took her to Klondike, Fairbanks, and Nolan Creek. She later owned a store in Dawson City.

In 1921, Cashman visited California, where she declared her desire to be appointed U.S. deputy Marshal for the area of Koyukuk. In 1922, the Associated Press documented her trip from Nolan Creek to Anchorage.

In January 1925, Cashman developed pneumonia and rheumatism. Friends admitted her to the Sisters of St. Anne, the same hospital that she had helped build 51 years before. She soon died of her illness and was interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia.

On March 15, 2006, Nellie Cashman was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca

Casa Loma

One of Canada’s more than 20 castles


casa loma todayCasa Loma is the unique legacy of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Sir Henry was a leading financier in Canada around the turn of the century, and a decorated commander of the Queen’s Own Rifles. His wealth was accumulated through a variety of ventures, including land speculation in the west, prior to CP Rail’s trans-continental extension; and a monopoly on the provision of electric power in the Toronto area.

casa loma BWThis wealth allowed Sir Henry to build a grand home for his wife on a 25 acre country estate, then north of Toronto. This estate originally had only a hunting lodge, but when Sir Henry decided to build stables nearby, it was not long before he also decided to build the home of his dreams. Construction on the castle was begun in 1911, and continued until the castle was very nearly finished, in 1914. This undertaking employed three hundred men, and cost the exorbitant sum of $3.5 million dollars. In addition, Sir Henry spent another $1.5 million dollars on furnishing the castle lavishly.

casa loma salonUnlike many homes built during this time, Casa Loma was designed with several technological features we take for granted today. The house was wired for electric power; fitted for a central vacuuming system; and had its own telephone exchange with 59 telephones. (The stories tell that frequently, more telephone calls were made in one day at Casa Loma than in the entire city of Toronto at that time.) Also, the castle’s original ovens in the kitchen were so big that they could cook an entire ox.

The railway children’s education in northern Ontario

Little Known Stories Series

raiway schoolsThe school on wheels began as an experiment, a joint venture between the Department of Education and the railway in 1926. Both CN and CP co-operated with this venture and there were a number of routes throughout Northern Ontario, each one having about six one-week stops at each designated siding. The children of that area would attend school for 3 to 6 days. They would be given enough studies to last until the school car returned the following month.

They travelled by foot and by canoe and on skis and snowshoes. One story tells of two young boys aged 9 and 11 who travelled 20 miles by dog sled and who then built a small lean-to shelter of pine bows to stay in overnight. It was -40 degrees.

The people of the north loved the school car. They were eager for their children to learn.

Fred Sloman was the teacher on the school car that ran from Capreol to Foleyet making two other stops along the way at Westree and Tionaga. After returning from the war he became a teacher and eventually taught in a small school in northern Ontario.

He then served on the school car for 40 years during which time he and his wife Cela raised 5 children. The Sloman’s dedication to the people far exceeded that of being just teachers, they became part of each settlement and friends to hundreds of people.

He then served on the school car for 40 years during which time he and his wife Cela raised 5 children. The Sloman’s dedication to the people far exceeded that of being just teachers, they became part of each settlement and friends to hundreds of people.

They welcomed the people into their home on wheels and often provided free meals and medical care, as well as the only source of entertainment around often in the form of a bingo. Mrs. Sloman helped the women by writing letters and sending orders to Eatons and Simpsons. She taught sewing and dressmaking and talked to them about hygiene and childcare. The Slomans became explainers and interpreters of the Canadian way of life.

The school car education came to an end in 1967. Fred Sloman’s car was found years later in a Mississauga, Ontario rail yard, burned out and terribly vandalized with a tree protruding through the roof. It has since been restored and is now on display in Clinton, Ontario.


Pearl Hart – Lady stagecoach robber

Interesting Canadians series

PearlHartHart was born as Pearl Taylor in the Canadian village of Lindsay, Ontario. Her parents were both religious and affluent, providing their daughter with the best available education. At the age of 16, she was enrolled in a boarding school when she became enamoured with a young man, named Hart, who has been variously described as a rake, drunkard, and/or gambler. (Different sources list Hart’s given name as Brett, Frank, or William.) The two of them eloped and eventually separated when he became abusive.

Pearl then ended up in Lady Pearl Arizona where she lived a life of dubious virtue. Taking up with a miner named Joe Boot in 1889, Pearl committed her first crimes by luring men to their room on the pretense of romance. Instead of this, Joe would be waiting to crack their skull and rob them of their money. When that proved to be less than profitable, the partners in crime turned to robbing stagecoaches.

For this exploit, Pearl bravely cut her hair and put on men’s clothing, but her disguise could not hide her femininity. She and Joe robbed the Globe, Arizona stagecoach of $400 and made their getaway, only to get lost on their getaway. They were found the following morning by the pursuing sheriff and his posse, asleep beneath some trees.

pearl_hart2Arrested and put on trial, Pearl made up the sob story that her poor mother in Canada had needed the money and that robbing the stagecoach was the only way she could think of to get the desperately needed dollars. The jury showed her some sympathy and released her, only to see her rearrested not long after for unlawfully carrying a gun.

Pearl was sent to Yuma Territorial Prison, where she earned the distinction of not only being the only female ever to be sent there, but also for being the only woman to become pregnant while in the prison! This bought her an early release since the only two men who had been alone with her were a preacher and the Governor of Arizona! She was pardoned and discreetly told to get out of Arizona.

After that, Pearl mostly bummed around as a pick-pocket, turning tricks here and there as a prostitute, and getting arrested occasionally. She then performed with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show before eventually returning to Globe, Arizona, where she married a rancher and lived to be near the ripe old age of 90. She was put to rest in the early 1960.

For this and other stories, see:  Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to gerrybbooks@yahoo.ca

Thanks for dropping by. There is more interesting history to come, so do drop by again.

Gerry B.