Posts Tagged ‘british columbia’

George Meeres, “Road building at Mara Lake [British Columbia] by prisoners of war [sic. interned enemy aliens].” Black and white photograph, 1916. Enderby Museum, #3377

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“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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“They Much Prefer To Be ‘Good Boys’,” Victoria Times, Sunday Magazine. October 20, 1951.

Young First Offenders Find Reclamation In Forest Camps


A human experiment in treatment of youthful first offenders has paid off a grattifying 100 per cent for the British Columbia Forestry Service.

On June 19 this year 12 lads were taken from Oakalla Prison to a forestry camp at Kettle Valley in the Nelson area. They were young men who ha come into conflict with the law through the over-exuberance of their youth.

The boys were given exactly the same treatment as hundreds of other youths in 10 other forestry department ‘youth training camps.’ They did the same work. Only difference was that they composed a complete camp of first offenders.

Lands and Forests Minister E. T. Kenney, who originated the plan, reports now that there was not ‘a single defection’ during the summer-long camp.

The boys are not treated as criminals. In fact, the very important thing about the camp is that they are separated from chronic criminals. If they had remained in prison they might have associated with hardened criminals and emerged the worse for the experience.

The camp was supervised by the district forest ranger and the boys came under the direct supervision of ‘custodian’ Robert Deildal, appointed by the penal institution.

Treated as potential citizens, with a great contribution to make to the state and society, the boys responded by co-operating to the fullest.

The forestry service anticipates their progress and co-operation to the point where they may eventually find permanent employment with the forest industry or administration. 

Officials are intending to expand this branch of their work materially. The success of this initial camp undoubtedly will spur this effort.

The boys are employed on construction of forest-protection roads and trails, slash disposal to reduce fire hazard and fight fires. Several of them have been used by forest rangers on compass work and surveying.

The boys are paid $3 a day, but only receive 50 cents of that. The rest is held back and credited to them.

They are given as much freedom as boys in the regular camps. On occasion, they go to nearby dances or movies. The forestry department also has shipped in a projector and equipment to show films in a small settlement next to the camp.

The forest service feels it is getting a good dollar’s worth of service from every dollar expended. In addition, the youths are being given an opportunity to expend their energy, ingenuity and enthusiasm – on projects essential to the economy of the province.

Moreover, they are spending a summer amid beautiful and peaceful surroundings and learning a useful vocation that will be in continuous demand in this forested province.

Someone once said: ‘Man is at his best when pitted against Nature.’

In all the forest services youth camps this summer there was a total of nearly 150 boys. They all received $3 a day plus board and transportation to and from their homes.

The idea of a youth-use in conjunction with the forest resource is not a new conception by any means, but previous projects of this nature (exclusive of the first offenders’ camp idea which was first done this year) have unfortunately had their genesis in a depression period.

The present development is distinctive in that it came into being in 1949 when employment was available to all.

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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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It is almost two years since the last nail was pounded into a
new home at Becher Bay Indian reservation on Vancouver
Island. Not an historical event perhaps, but a warrior-like
achievement for inmates from nearby William Head

Since then the only building underway at the remote institution
near Victoria is the change from minimum to medium
security. Poles for posts, and concrete slabs for perimeter
towers will denude the ornate scenery on which William
Head is perched: answering public demand for greater inmate
containment. Cost of the upgrated security is expected
to be $100,000.

When the Indian home was being constructed it heralded a
new community venture for 20 inmates – all eager to
show the expertise they’d gained from classroom instruction.
Now they watch construction that might keep them
from going outside again to build another home for an
Indian family.

The Becher Bay project is the last of 13 permanent buildings
William Head inmates have helped construct since
1961. Twelve were built within the institution
grounds – Becher Bay was the first in the outside community.
And thereby hangs an inmate tale of well-doing.
Although credit for the Becher Bay house should go to Tom
Horsley, William Head’s vocational training director, teamwork
by the Canadian Penitentiary Service and the Department
of Indian Affairs and Northern Development moved the
project into front-line activity.

According to Tom Horsley, “We wanted to build something
like this for a long time. Never could find a way around the
red tape that withheld decision.” Patience won out. Officers
from the two departments got together and $9,600 was allocated
the job.

Still smiling two years after the first excavator dug deep into
forest soil, the happy vocational training director explained
that for years building instruction had been an up and down
affair at William Head. “We built two houses every year to
teach inmates the building trade. Then pulled them down.
The material was used again and again. Inmates got fed up
with putting muscle energy into erecting a well-built house.
And it was pretty hard to get them enthusiastic when the
time came to build again.”

Staff at William Head still remember the excited inmate
reaction when the Becher Bay proposal was put to them.
Carpentry instructor Bob Hunter admits the inmates kept
pushing the idea, “they were so hep on getting the job
started.” All 20 chosen had various building skills. For each
one on-job training meant a year’s credit toward a four-year
apprenticeship diploma. Looking back, staffers Tom Horsley,
Bob Hunter, and masonry instructor Jim Bremner, admit

it was exciting to see the three-bedroomed house grow.
More so, knowing a needy family would benefit.

Seldom did the inmate-builders slack, even in wet weather.
And, because it was a training project, greater care and
precision went into every phase. For the Indian couple and
their six children, entering the cathedral-styled front of the
two-storey house was like starting life again — they’d
never had such a pleasant home. For the inmates, the
Becher Bay house stands out as a job they’d welcome
again. But there are many forms and parole demands to
satisfy before another venture can start.

Although hammers and fret saws are silent, inmates and
vocational instructors at William Head have good reason to
believe in their building program — 12 other buildings in
the institution complex vouch for this — all built by

It’s 13 years since inmates first heaved concrete slabs, and
lifted heavy beams into place at William Head — the start
of an inmate building boom.

Three years previously, in 1959, the Canadian Penitentiary
Service had taken over the Department of Health and Welfare
holding depot at William Head. Emigrés, mostly from
the far east, were held there in quarantine until health

checks, particularly for smallpox and the bubonic plague,
cleared them as landed immigrants. Some were held for
several weeks.

Small huts, and outdoor kitchens, home to the lower-deck
passengers, dotted the Parry Bay coastline of Vancouver
Island where William Head Institution is now located. But
first class passengers were given first class treatment, in a
special building apart from the less-fortunate hordes; a long,
terraced frame building built in 1914. Where once heavily
laden immigrants struggled ashore to await health clearance,
inmates now await parole.

As quarantine huts were vacated by outgoing passengers,
they were torn down to make way for permanent structures
for incoming inmates. Some were stripped and relocated on
the property. Inmate labor helped build or rebuild almost all.

The first two, a visiting building and a greenhouse, were
erected in 1961. Why priority was given to the greenhouse
records do not divulge. Next year a guardhouse was built
immediately inside the gate entrance. Wood-framed, it
needed frequent painting — the elements at William Head
have no mercy.

In the following year two more buildings, a small concrete
block construction, used to store inflammable goods, and a

fire hall were completed. By 1965 most of the old quarantine
buildings had gone, and a sentry tower erected. One landmark
remained – the first class passenger quarters. This
building was also demolished two years later and a school
and auditorium erected. In the next five years a kitchen,
dining room, works.office, and mason shed were added.
Then came the building-of-the-year, an inmate vocational
training shop.

To an outsider the long, one-storey, modern building may
not appear unique. To William Head inmates its the cream of-the-bunch.
Twenty-one inmates earned their spurs erecting
it during a year-long building program, 1972-1973. With
pride, they claim it their own.
Well they might. It is the only time CPS has paid for inmate
labor at the minimum federal hourly wage rate – which
started at $1.75 and went to $1.90. For a 40 hour week, the
21 inmate-builders earned a solid pay packet. For Tom
Horsley and his shop instructors, it was the beginning of a
new building-era. Every inmate and staff flexed muscles to
construct a building-to-remember. They didn’t know then the
Indian reservation home would also be a milestone.

Classrooms for carpentry, masonry, sheet-metal work, and
other building instruction goes on in the new building.
There’s every opportunity for inmates to learn a trade that
can help them after release. Carpenter instructor, Bob
Hunter, says most of the “boys” do well. A few slack. Seldom
when on a real job, such as the Becher Bay project.
One year later where are the 21 inmate-builders? What did
they do with their well-earned pay?

Most have left William Head. Either paroled or transferred to
another institution. Five still remember: One became an expert
plasterer. He saved his money. Sent some to a needy
sister, paid off a debt, kept the rest for his release. Another,
after working three months as a plumber, sent a good-sized
cheque to his family. He too retained some for his release.

A third recalled the tremendous physical and mental training
the project gave him. Early to bed and early to rise was a
daily grind at first, but soon became a habit. Keeping regular
working hours wasn’t difficult either. In fact, “… it was a
boon to have a regular job.”

“It’s too easy to get bored in the pen,” he said, looking at
little used, flabby muscles. He too saved – for his release.
The fourth man had been a truck driver. On the project he
learned carpentry. Apart from learning how to work at regular
hours, he gained a course credit. His wages helped to
support his family. Were there another call for volunteers
he’d be the first to answer. “I felt great when I was out
working everyday.”
Admitting to being a loner, the fifth man said his greatest
benefit was “fitting in with the gang.” Also a truck driver, he

became a sheet-metal worker on the vocational training
shop, responsible for heating and air-conditioning. Most of
his wages went to his parents.

All five wanted to know “when can we get going again?”

Besides replenished bank books, working conditions were
the same as for any other building contract. No work, no
pay, was the rule. Few were sick; then only a cold or pulled
back muscle. Of the 21 who started, three were laid-off, and
two fired for laziness. One lazybone repented and returned.
From their weekly salary each man paid for room and board
in the penitentiary. Income tax and unemployment insurance
was deducted, and each man paid for workboots and
extra clothes.

Doug James, works officer at William Head, is certain the
building program is a good rehabilitation incentive. He also
believes “taking away the temporary absence pass kills

Until T/A’s are granted again, building more homes at
Becher Bay or elsewhere is at a standstill.

Mr. James hopes the pass system will start again, “these
men get fidgety when not working.” He agreed not all inmates
qualified for T/A’s. Said screening was important,
especially when working on a large project. “But cheap
labor destroys a man’s good intention to work.”

Totaling inmate work time on the vocational training shop,
Doug James arrived at 15,747 hours. In 10 years inmates
have worked approxinnately 250,000 hours erecting various
buildings at William Head he said. The cost of materials was
approximately $506,699. Records of inmate pay were

Building a liveable house and useable classrooms have
given inmates a taste of regular work hours. Now they’d like
a regular paid job again — even while serving a penal

– Mona C. Ricks, “Hammer And Nails
A Home Can Make.” Discussion, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1974

Photograph captions from top to bottom:

1 & 2) 

What was once a government
quarantine camp for emigrants
arriving on the Canadian west
coast, is now a federal penal
institution. Looking at William
Head on Vancouver Island
today there are few signs of the
long wait many passengers
had before continuing to their
destination. Taken over by the
Canadian Penitentiary Service
in 1959, the camp’s flimsy
quarantine huts and kitchens
used by lower-deck passengers
have been tom down

3 & 4) 

First-class passengers were
separated from other travellers
in majestic quarters; a long,
frame building, set well back
from the coastline. Built in 1914
it became an administration
building for CPS staff. Condemned
by fire officials, it was
demolished in 1967 and a
school and auditorium for inmates
erected. lnmates built
most of the institutional complex as it stands today. They
are particularly proud of the
vocational training shop…


Camp director Bob Muir gives
inmates a hand [cutting down trees].

6) Inmates on the job clearing
brush, trees.

7) Three-bedroomed house outside the institution grounds, on Becher Bay Indian reservation. 


An Indian family wait to enter their new home, built by inmates from William Head Institution, as Commissioner Paul Faguy unlocks the door.

9) Jim Bremner (left), masonry
instructor, and Bob Hunter
(right), carpenter instructor,
show how they conduct their
courses at William Head Institution
in the new vocational
training shop.

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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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“For Human Reclamation,” Victoria Daily Times. June 20, 1951. Editorial.

Some measure of faith and a large measure of hope are contained in British Columbia’s latest plan to encourage the rehabilitation of a few young offenders committed to the Oakalla Prison Farm.

Under the scheme conceived by the province’s minister of lands and forests, E. T. Kenney, 11 boys or young men would be released to work for the forestry department, building fie protection roads and trails, and doing similar work. They would be paid a small wage and would be under the supervision of a counsellor. If they proved their worth and demonstrated their ability in reassume an honorable  place in society, they could, it is believe, be absorbed into forest industries.

The hope of the originators of the plan is that outdoor living and association with men who work in the woods will have a constructive influence on the young men under sentence. If it did nothing else, the plan would give them a favourable environment, furnish for them an opportunity to develop physically, and give them a chance to use their energies in a way which should not only be useful to society but which should help them to recapture their own self-respect.

The number that can be absorbed into such activity at the present time seems pitifully small. Yet if the scheme works, if those who participate in it justify the faith the authors have shown in them, it might be extended in years to come.

It is not, of course, a full answer to the problem of reclamation. It does, however, present an optimistic and earnest approach to the question of correction, as opposed to punishment, in the operation of our penal institutions.

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

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