Posts Tagged ‘british columbia history’

“Mountain Prison, known as "Buchenwald” to the Sons of Freedom Sect, is situated five miles northwest of Agassiz, B.C. in the Fraser Valley on a prison reserve of one hundred and fifty-eight acres. The prison itself is situated at the foot of Burnside Mountain overlooking fertile farm land and just north of a section of the Fraser Valley which suffered considerable flood damage in 1948.

Construction of this $300,000 maximum security prison commenced in May 1962 and the prison was in operation by July of the same year. All buildings, and their furnishings are metal on cement slabs. The male and female sections are separated by an eight foot barbed wire fence and the two sections are encircled by an eight-foot mesh fence.

The female section is comprised of a combination washroom and hospital, combination kitchen and mess, and one dormitory; is built to accommodate fifty inmates, and has a population of 13. This section is staffed by 9 matrons and supervised by the male administration.

The male compound consists of four dormitories, combination hospital and washroom, and a combination kitchen and dining area. This section is built to accommodate two hundred inmates, has a population of 86 and a total staff of 22.

All administration buildings, including male and female staff quarters, workshop, two-stall garage, stores, visiting room and officer, are constructed outside the perimeter mesh fence overlooking the prison compound.

Immediately after the prison was opened in July 1962, the staff was confronted with a display of stripping and nude parading followed by a fourteen-day fasting which the rebellious inmates would not even pick up their own bedding. All buildings in both compounds are equipped with old fashioned, pot-bellied, wood-fired stoves. The inmates are expected to cut the wood which is hauled in four foot lengths from the nearby Experimental Farm to be used for heating, cooking, etc. This is resented by the inmates who do not believe they should be doing any work. As a result of their attitude, it has been impossible to introduce a proper inmate training programs and, consequently, the inmates are not provided with newspapers, books, radios, tobacco or sports equipment.

The Freedomites prepare and cook their own meals which consist mainly of vegetables, eggs, cheese, etc., and contain no meat or meat products. The majority of them eat more than is required and consequently are over-weight and flabby. 

They are a communal sect and during visits between the two sections which are limited to one half-hour visit each month, their general topic of conversation pertains to discussions on the welfare of their relations.  These unpredictable people refuse to think as individuals and all requests and demands made upon the administration are made as a group. 

Almost  one  year to the day after Mountain Prison  commenced operations, and after many meetings and a prayer service  by  the  inmates, they requested to see the Superintendent.  The officer in charge  realized the precariousness  of the tense situation and contacted the Superintendent immediately, who returned to the prison from Victoria.  Upon his arrival all  the  inmates gathered around him and their declaration of a ‘fast unto death’ was read by one member. This was received in writing and was later to become  a  legal document.

The subsequent fast which began on July 21, 1963, and lasted one hundred and two days hospitalized ten inmates and resulted in the death of one Freedomite. On the advice of the attending physician, the staff  was forced to feed one hundred inmates for approximately two  and a  half months. Because of the limited staff force and acts of violence by some inmates, it was necessary to call upon  the parent  institution, a medical team, and a number of prevailing
rate employees for assistance.

A crucial time during the fast period came with the arrival of approximately seven hundred trekking Doukhobors from Vancouver  and the  interior of B.C. They arrived in cars, trucks, and  buses,  and set up camp at the east entrance to the prison, less than one-quarter of a mile  from  the prison compound. Visits and corresponding privileges with the inmates are not allowed and the trekkers, therefore, resorted to climbing the nearby mountains from where the shout and signal greetings to the inmates. 

Now with winter approaching, activity in the tent town has been brisk. Approximately one hundred and ninety of their crude shelters are being covered with wooden frames, cardboard  and  plastic,  or any  other material that can be gathered from the countryside and from the nearby garbage dump. They are gathering wood for heating and cooking on the makeshift stoves with pipes from old one-quart fruit  juice and oil cans.

Weekends find the road to Mountain Prison and "tent town" jammed with Canadian  and United States tourists seeking a glimpse of these poor confused renegades who have defied all the laws of our land. 

What happens next to this radical  sect is unknown.  The forthcoming winter, with its rainfall and winds which could reach a velocity of sixty miles an hour will, no doubt, test the will of the trekkers to remain at the gates of Mountain Prison.

One thing appears certain, unfortunately. The leaders of the Sons of  Freedom Doukhobor Sect will continue more vigorously than ever to rule the rest of the sect by terror, threat  and  indoctrination. They will continue to despise man-made laws, destroy property,  and  seek public sympathy. All for a cause which we — or  they themselves — cannot understand.”

– Superintendent Raymond Wilson, Mountain Institution, “Mountain Prison’s Fanatical Sons,” Federal Corrections. Volume 2A – No. 4. September-October-November 1963.

Photograph shows two elders of the Sons of Freedom

‘trekkers’ outside of Mountain Prison, in the Agassiz camp, protesting the death of an inmate on fast. Source is

Doukhobor Genealogy Website. From the private collection of the George Henry (“Timothy”) Eaton family, West Vancouver, British Columbia.

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The “Gallows” fire prevention sign in Manning Park, British Columbia. 1947 From Vancouver archives. A prop cigarette shown being hung in attempt to prevent forest fires.

via reddit

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“Mountain Prison Near Agassiz, B.C. –
New Maximum Security, Fireproof Institution
Designed For Freedomite Doukhobor Inmates,” Federal Corrections.  Volume 2 — No. 3. June-July, 1962.

A new prison, especially designed to hold Sons
of Freedom Doukhobors sentenced to penitentiary
terms is now in operation. It is located approximately
five miles north of Agassiz, British Columbia.

Because of the fact that most of the convicted
Freedomites constitute a potential fire hazard, design
and construction of the new maximum security prison
has been made as fireproof as possible. 

Fireproof even to the paint, the new prison —
which has been officially named Mountain Prison —
has highly restrictive security features. 

To virtually eliminate any chance of fire or other
property damage, the dormitory buildings have been
constructed of metal, with concrete floors. Light fixtures
are high in the ceilings and are covered with
wire mesh. Windows are also grilled with heavy wire. 

In the dormitories, beds are double-decker steel
bunks, and stools are also of steel. Mattresses and
bedding are made of flameproof material. And, to
provide additional protection, oversize fire hydrants
are located at strategic points around the prison area
— outside the fences, so that inmates will not be able
to tamper with the water supply in any emergency.

In addition to these special security measures,

the prisoners will be under maximum security control.
As a maximum security establishment, the prison has
towers staffed with armed guards. Inmates will be
allowed only minimum privileges — a half-hour visit
once a month from members of their immediate families,
and permission to write only one letter a month.

Explaining the highly restrictive nature of the
$300,000 Mountain Prison, Allen J. MacLeod, Q.C.,
Federal Commissioner of Penitentiaries, said that it
was due to the nature of the Freedomite acts of

“In other institutions, we emphasize a work program
for inmates”, Mr. MacLeod said. “Remembering
past experiences, no such program has been planned

He pointed out that inmates who work are granted
such privileges as watching television, listening to
radio. playing carde. writing letters, playing baseball
and other sports. reading, and attending shows. Since
past experience has shown that the Freedomites refuse
to do any work while in prison they will receive only
minimum privileges. 

However. Mr. MacLeod said, if individuals or
the group as a whole ask to be allowed to participate
in a work program. and show a genuine willingness
to co-operate, consideration will be given to individual
transfers to the B.C. Penitentiary, or to establishment
of a work program at Mountain Prison itself.

Mountain Prison is on a 168-acre site, and has
accommodation for 250 men and 150 women, with a
fence separating male and female compounds. In
cases where a husband and wife are both inmates,
they will have their half-hour monthly visit in the
public visiting area. 

The Freedomites will sleep 40 to a dormitory.
They will cut their own firewood for their heating and
cooking needs, and will do their own cooking. They
will also maintain their own living quarters and do
their own laundry.

First inmates of Mountain Prison will be 49 convicted
Freedomites to be transferred from the British
Columbia federal penitentiary at New Westminster.
These will be followed by another 46 to be moved in
from other institutions in the province. 

Mountain Prison comes under the jurisdiction of
Warden T. H. Hall of B.C. Penitentiary. In charge
at the new prison itself will be Superintendent Raymond
A. Wilson. who has been with the Penitentiary
Service for 23 years, mostly in Saskatchewan. Under
him will be a staff of 22 men and 11 women.

Photos are from a latter date, late 1970s to early 80s, but showcase much of the still existing dormitory buildings and fence line – the workshop was a newer addition once the Doukhobors were mostly released by 1965.

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“Bush Training for Young Offenders,” Ottawa Journal. June 01, 1951. Editorial.

Extending the principle of industrial school and farms for young men who fall afoul of the law, the British Columbia Attorney-General is now sending this class of offender to forestry camps in that province.

IN the new camps, the youths learn to swing an axe and wield a saw, to cut bush-roads and trails, and the elements of cutting down the huge trees of the Pacific coastal belt. They were well-housed, well-fed in the tradition of British Columbia’s logging industry, and paid $3 a day for their labors.

Skills that these young men are learning in the forestry camps should stand them in good stead when their sentences are served. Forest workers on the west coast are highly-skilled tradesmen and are able to command wages far higher than are paid in most industries.

It seems reasonable to expect that with expert loggers’ jobs – and pay – available to them, the offenders will not only go straight but wonder why they ever risked arrest, conviction and loss of liberty for a few easy dollars.

[Newsclipping from Penitentiary Branch file 1-1-98, Volume 1, RG73.]

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“Fire fighting at Mountain Prison,” Discussion, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1974. 

Taking a fire prevention course at Mountain Prison B.C. is
restricted — arsonists don’t get a chance. That’s what C. M. Foster, supervisor of training, half jokingly pronounced when
describing the new program started last year. Staff and inmates
were invited to take part, 14 inmates volunteered. 

Fires were set and put out, all part of the course, and Ron
Tupper, works officer coordinated the event. “Inmates who
clean the dormitories and huts benefited from the training.
They’re inside most of the time and would be the first to take
action on a fire. 

"Although the buildings are metal, with painted wood
partitioning inside, it wouldn’t take long to gut a building,”
Tupper pointed out. 

Mountain Prison was opened in 1962 to house Sons of
Freedom Doukhobor’s convicted of arson, hence the all-metal

According to Tupper, “There’s usually only a skeleton staff
on duty in the evening, and not many during the day. Were
there a big fire inmates would be called out to help. A good
reason for fire fighting training. 

Inmates might also be called to fight brush and forest fires in
the surrounding bush, said Tupper. We try to meet all contingencies.
One-time guard, Vic Friesen of the Provincial
Fire Marshall’s Office set up the program, using equipment
available at Mountain. Instruction was a daily three-hour
session, with films, first aid, and practical training. 

Foster explained the program could assist inmates in finding
a job after release. A certificate, showing the course has
been taken, plus other tests, is required.”

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“For the non-Indigenous peoples, Early British Columbia was a place where men were men and women were scarce. And manly men did not spend time in churches.

Marks notes that in transient resource towns, the concept of masculinity caused men to “abandon religion along with the families they left behind.”

Some men, she writes, did not completely discard God, but embraced drinking, gambling and the sex trade. That left little room for Christianity. They preferred to spend their free time espousing the virtues of socialism.

White women were a minority throughout the province, but a majority in churches, where they were isolated from influences such as the Indigenous peoples and the immigrants from Asia.

One of the key chapters in this book is “Sundays are so different here.” In it, Marks compared four small communities in British Columbia with two in Ontario and two in Nova Scotia, and compares census data with church records.

Involvement with churches was at a lower rate in three towns in the Kootenay than in the towns in Ontario and Nova Scotia, reflecting the “no religion” entries in the census. But there were remarkable differences in church involvement between three Kootenay communities and Vernon, in the Okanagan Valley, which saw a higher rate of church involvement than was seen in the eastern provinces.

As Marks notes, it was families, led by women, who formed the backbone of congregations.

The Kootenay towns were much more transient, while the ones in the east had been established for much longer, and families in Vernon, a young community, had formed deep roots. The three Kootenay towns also had more people who were lodgers or boarders, a group generally associated with being male, and irreligious.

The gender gap was key. Women were more likely to attend churches, to join church organizations, and to fight for temperance causes and against brothels. They may have gone to church regularly to make it clear that they were respectable, unlike the women who were in the red-light areas.”

– Dave Obee, “Indifference to religion played huge role in B.C. history: Review of Infidels and the Damn Churches: Irreligion and Religion in Settler British Columbia, by Lynne Marks; UBC Press.The Times-Colonist, December 10, 2017

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An evocative portrait of the Colquitz internal culture emerges from the
surviving accounts of Granby Farrant, his institutional staff, medical
and provincial authorities, media observers, patients, family, and
friends. As argued above, the overarching feature of life at Colquitz was
the unrelenting presence of regulatory forces in virtually every detail of
daily existence. In what follows I sketch out some of the main features
of the Colquitz social order, showing how expressions of medico-legal
power infused the entirety of patients’ experience, from the seemingly
banal routines of food and dress, activity and sleep, leisure and labor, to
the most conspicuous displays of raw compulsion. I also assert, however,
that institutional regulation and its resistance were immanently
complex and contradictory phenomena, an understanding of which can be achieved only by penetrating beyond the surface manifestations
of discourse and action. 

At Colquitz, much energy was devoted in the early years to humanizing
the institution and furnishing inmates with a few precious amenities
and amusements. But these worthy efforts aside, confinement at
Colquitz was clearly a corrosive and austere existence. In the main it
comprised a numbing repetition of institutional routines, punctuated
by the periodic turbulence of staff-patient conflict, intermittent shifts in
the organizational regimen, the occasional intervention of outsiders,
visitations by delegations of bureaucrats and medical authorities, and
outbursts of inmate aggression, dissent, and escape. Mostly, though,
there was just monotony, inertia, and the ineluctable passage of time.  After the first few entries, the number of remarks recorded by Farrant in
the ward notations for any given patient typically ebbed to a trickle,
usually stabilizing at one or two annually, unless exceptional events interceded. 

 Both patients and attendants dwelled in close, claustrophobic quarters.
The cells of segregated inmates were spartan and confined. For
those living under congregate conditions on wards, virtually all facets
of life unfolded in the company of others, with privacy at a premium. Unanticipated hazards could erupt at any time. The cries and imaginary
conversations of floridly psychotic patients filled the nights in the
tiers of locked cages. Many inmates were simply consigned to their
“rooms” for months, years or decades on end, deteriorating with the
elapse of time, too debilitated to participate in the institutional culture
or too alienated to care.

Examples abound. W. D.’s father signed him into the Public Hospital
for the Insane from a Vancouver Island community in 1921 after the
son had vandalized the father’s car and attempted to plunder his team
of horses. After an escape attempt officials shipped W. D. to Colquitz
four months later, where he languished for the next 42 years. A typical
ward notation from Farrant observed that:

[tlhis patient remains in his room, sullen and morose, refused to stay on ward,
stating that patients interfere with him, becomes aggressive when compelled to
do so.. . he assists with some of the Ward activities and spends the rest of the
time playing with bits of paper in his room. He will not enter into conversation
although occasionally he will answer in monosyllables.“

A middle-aged Chinese immigrant admitted from Victoria in March
1913, C. D. had been "wandering from one town to another throughout
British Columbia and the North West Territories.. . believing… that
he owns a railroad & intends to marry a princess.” Describing him as
hostile and aggressive towards doctors and attendants, authorities removed
C. D. first to Essondale, then to Colquitz in early July 1919. l There, according to Farrant, he “does not come in contact with other patients
except at meals, is clean and tidy in his habits, he understands
anything said to him and readily obeys but will not speak… whenever
he sees me he becomes excited, shakes his fist at me and makes grimaces.”
This life of dismal solitude continued until February 1935 when
officials deported him to China. J. R., a farmer certified from New Westminster
in 1917 at age 44, proceeded to Colquitz two years later. There
he refused to leave the ward for two years, convinced that his enemies
would shoot him on sight. Finally he began tending to the institution’s
pig population, although “he is continually talking to imaginary persons,
frequently hides behind some obstacle, as though to get out of the
line of fire.” By 1923 J. R. began to deteriorate further mentally, “does

not take as much interest in his work, wanders away from it.” He developed
tubercular ulcers later that year. J. R. lingered until 1928, when,
“restless and destructive” to the end, he expired of tuberculosis on
15 May.

The severities and indignities of life at Colquitz were everywhere in evidence
throughout the medical files of these 100 men. For some, the bonds
of humanity and hope seemed to evaporate inside the institutional walls.
M. A., an Austria-bom strikebreaker sentenced to seven years imprisonment
in 1914 for attempting to dynamite a Nanaimo labor hall, landed in
Colquitz five years later where he “refuses to lie in bed, says he must be let
out, they are killing him with electricity that he can feel it tickling all over
his body.” Contracting tuberculosis in the early 1950s, he too returned to
Essondale only to die in that hospital’s infirmary. 

Perhaps more so than any other, the case of G. S. exemplified the
depths of debasement to which the Colquitz patients could at times descend.
A Doukhobor man who had wandered away from his community
in the British Columbia interior, G. S. was homeless and alone
when police arrested him in Bumaby in April 1929 for throwing stones
at a group of taunting boys. Verbally abusive to the judge, he landed in
Essondale under the Mental Health Act, then in Colquitz on 27 April
1929. By mid-August of that year, Granby Farrant was depicting him in
the following terms: “Patient is in a condition nearing an animal more
than any human being I have seen, if not closely watched, he will mix
his food with his excretion, smear it all over the floor, then gather it up
and devour it, he is becoming very emaciated physically, it is impossible
to keep clothing on him, other than a heavy canvas lined blanket.”
On 31 October another ward note read: “There is not any change in patient’s
condition, he is still confined to his room, spoon fed, bathed two
and three times a day as he is most filthy, smears himself with excretion,
urinates anywhere, spits all over the room, he is noisy, incessantly crying
‘let me out.’ ” Three days later, the patrolling night attendant found
I G. S. dead in his west ward cell. The attending physician attributed his
death to exhaustion from dementia.

Yet amid all this squalor and despond, there were also expressions of
generosity and compassion. Corresponding with his sister in 1929, C. F.
reported that “I have met quite a number of real men here, both the staff
and among the patients.” He requested that she send along “some Imperial
smoking mixture and a roll of snuff to give to some Swede boys
here.” Farrant described in 1924 how W. C., a chronic dementia case
first admitted to the PHI in 1905, “in the afternoons leads patient M. W.
about grounds, who is totally blind, he is very attentive to him.” D. M.
petitioned British Columbia Attorney-General Gordon Sloan (without
success) to undertake an inquiry into a fatal assault on a fellow patient by attendants that D. M. claimed to have witnessed in 1932. W. J. H., an
Order-in-Council patient found NGRI after attempting to shoot a friend
while in a trance-like state, managed to elope from Colquitz in September
1926. Two months later, having eluded recapture, he authored a
poignant plea to Farrant on behalf of a less favored patient:

Dear Friend-I write you a line in case you are busy and I would not want to
bother you anyhow I guess you are bothered enough by others with out me.
What I would like to ask you is to give P.S. a little consideration by allowing
him if not out on parole, to at least allow him [to] sleep in the room there where I
[was] as there is an extra bed and let him have the priviage of spending the evenings
in the pool room, I believe if he got a chance that he isn’t a bad sort of a
chap and I have know him now about a year, being he has German blood in him
I believe he feels that, that is held against him and when one feels that the world
is against him it is pretty hard to help one of that sort.… I fully relisize the responsibility
of your situtation and I know you would only be glad to help anyone
who you figured would be on the square with you; you no doubt could tell
me of cases where ungratefulness was given in return for kindness as some of
the attendants over the way have told me but P. seems to have no one to speak
for him and I trust if you will give this matter you kindest consideration, and
that good results will be obtained no doubt you will agree with me that it seems
a pity to see a fine young chap in such a place and now Xmas approaching the
change would bring a little cheer into his life.

Attendants, like patients, were profoundly affected by the institutional
ecology of Colquitz. For employees, who were typically unskilled and
considered fortunate to have secured one of the coveted provincial public
service positions (all the more so as the Great Depression descended,
and the number of applications far exceeded available placements), life
at Colquitz was characterized by austerity, a near-military regimen, and
a grinding routine: “[the staff at this period lived on the premises… in
bed at 10:30, lights out and front door locked at 10:30 pm, no smoking in
hours of duty, taking drilling by the chief attendant, rising on signal at
5:40 am. Married staff with families residing in the hospital vicinity received all-night permits on alternate evenings only.” The work at Colquitz
was more onerous than at the mainland institutions, owing to
“construction of the building.. . lack of opportunity for promotion as
compared with Essondale [and] higher cost of living on the land.” Hours were long (there were two daily 12-hour shifts); remuneration
was low relative to wages available elsewhere; and earnings were further
undermined by the 1931 restraint program. In 1933, following a
2% wage cut two years earlier)46 under-attendants were earning $1,080
annually, with night men receiving five dollars extra per month. The supervisor,
in comparison, enjoyed a yearly salary of $2,700. 

Some staff were not above pilfering hospital provisions to make ends
meet. Farrant unceremoniously dismissed night attendant R. in February 1933 when he surprised the latter at 5:00 am in the act of purloining
food from the hospital pantry. Farrant dispatched another employee
after the latter was “recognized by some of the patients as having
served with them in the Penitentiary. This is not conducive to good discipline,
though I hate to kick a man when he is down.” Attendants
could be fired on a whim, or because they transgressed the Supervisor’s
political principles. They usually bore the brunt of blame for inmate
escapes, they frequently became embroiled in scuffles with patients,
and were sometimes the subjects of unprovoked assaults. 

At least one attendant died on duty when in 1927 he was buried by a
gravel pit cave-in. In response, the Workmen’s Compensation Board
awarded his mother $100 to cover funeral expenses, and Granby Farrant
conveyed to her a letter of commiseration: “Our acquaintance with
H. was but brief,” wrote Farrant, “yet we had time to appreciate his
many good qualities, my hopes for his future were cruelly shattered,
nevertheless we must give way uncomplainingly to the One who sees
all things for the best. I am enclosing Cheque #4916 for $67.95, being
November salary, less 5 days W.C.B.” Judging from the contents of
her letter delivered to Farrant the following spring after the WCB had
rendered its judgment, the mother was less than impressed.

At the same time, during a period when public service employees
were often recruited as much for their political as their vocational suitability,
at least a proportion of attendants were plainly deficient and unsympathetic
to the suffering of inmates. While it is difficult to estimate
the prevalence of physical and psychological abuse, some incidents did
come to Farrant’s attention. Attendant G., for example, was dismissed
in October of 1921 after having severely flogged one of the patients.
Medical Superintendent H. C. Steeves expressed astonishment that one
of the institution’s personnel might be capable of such conduct. “I feel
very much distressed,” he remarked to Farrant, “that any man in our
employ should have so very little humanity in him as to treat any patient in this manner, particularly an unfortunate case of dementia,
whose mentality has become so low that he is unable to know right
from wrong, or to protect himself.”

In responding to attendant violence Farrant seemed as preoccupied
with institutional legitimacy as with the safety of inmates. After attendant
H. had attacked patient C. in 1928, fracturing the latter’s jaw, Farrant
declined to summon police. “I would have put him under arrest,”
he explained to A. L. Crease, “had it not been, for worrying patients’
friends, when they saw the case in court.” On other occasions staff
held patients directly accountable for their own victimization: “[Attendant
D.] wilfully kicked the patient’s hand,” reported Farrant, 

to cause the patient to release his hold on the bars, this inflicted several abrasions
of the skin. The patient was visited by a friend within an hour of the occurrence,
Mrs G. of Vancouver [the patient’s wife] may possibly call upon you
for an explanation, it will be quite in order for you to say that the patient has not
been seriously injured, his mental condition is unimproved, that he is giving a
fair amount of trouble, he is exceedingly annoying to both patients and staff.

Perhaps not surprisingly, no further mention of this incident appears in
the case file.”

– Robert Menzies, “"I Do Not Care for a Lunatic’s Role": Modes of Regulation and Resistance Inside the Colquitz Mental Home, British Columbia, 1919-33.” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History. Volume 16: 1999. pp. 187-194

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