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“Young Punks Are Mixed With Hardened Thieves At Burwash: Ex-Guard,” Globe & Mail. July 10, 1948. Page 07.

By J. Y. NICOL
Cartier, July 9 (Staff). – Reporting on sick parade, an inmate at Burwash Industrial Farm complained to his staff physician that he pains around the heart. ‘You are quite all right and fit for work,’ the doctor assured him, instructing the guard to escort him to his gang.

Less than half an hour later the man dropped dead, his body was taken to the CNR station in a coal dump-truck.

The Industrial Farm is supposed to be reserved for old offenders, yet around 7 per cent of those doing time there are 18-year-old punks on their first stretch. They are forced to associate with the hardest criminals in the province.

Every man who tries to escape is sentenced to 15 strokes of the strap, regardless of the circumstances or the temptation afforded to him, and the punishment is inflicted in two stages so that the mental torture is often as serve as the physical.

This and other charges were advanced today by Toronto-born James Alexander Smail, 27, a naval vet who went north because of the ‘attractive offers’ advertised by Burwash administration authorities.

He arrived at the tail end of a major riot last October, when 15 carloads of special police had to fire tear gas. He left April 19, and freely predicted to authorities that another riot was in the making. This broke more than a week ago and again tear gas was used.

Smail said that he was suspended without either an explanation or redress and that his appeals have been ignored both by the Department of Reform Institutions and the attorney-general.

Now employed in a railway roundhouse here, Smail said: ‘I am at least $1,500 out of pocket because I fell for that Burwash advertisement. I have done my best to place some vital grievance before the proper authorities, but I have been ignored all down the line.

‘I am still anxious to serve, but that is impossible under the present circumstances. And I do not speak for myself entirely. At least 1,000 other men have passed through the staff within the past year. The turnover is out of all proportion or reason.’

At present there are between 600 and 700 prisoners. In the old days there was one guard for every four inmates. Now the ratio has been almost doubled.

Smail said that he was offered an income of $120 a month and staff housing accommodation which he never received after eight months of service. With deductions for board of $19.50 a month, $5 for room, medical, laundry, dental fees and unemployed insurance his take-home pay dwindled to $87.14 a month. Out of that he had to support his wife, and two children, after renting a house for them in Burwash village, seven miles from the main camp.

‘They even nicked me 25 cents a day to ride to work in a government truck which was also used for transporting prisoners,’ Smail stated. ‘I understand the the inmates, however, rode free of charge.’

The room in which he slept at the farm was big, about 20 feet by 40, but it was also shared by from 10 to 15 other guards.

‘There was about a foot of space between each guard,’ he said. ‘Why even at sea in the navy we had more room.’

Last February Smail and 15 other guards enrolled at a special school of instruction authorized by George Dunbar, Minister of Reform Institutions. Smail topped the class in the final examination with 91 per cent. Few other guard ever broke the 90 mark. ‘And not many of those who did are still on the staff because they received no support in carrying out their instructions,’ he commented.

It was on the day of his dismissal that Smail, acting on instructions, participated in a ‘frisk’ of the 150 prisoners. This resulted in the discovery of live ammunition, knives, shivs or daggers and a considerable quantity of smuggled food, he says.

‘We had been instructed to be on the lookout for stuff like that,’ the former guard stated. ‘Yet when it was over I got the axe. The prisoners put up quite a beef, you see.’

‘An hour later I was told to report to the superintendent’s private office. He simply said: ‘Go home and we will call you in a day or so when this blows over. The prisoners are a little peeved.’ I went home free of charge that day in a staff truck, driven by an inmate with no guard accompanying.

‘Later, the superintendent sent work that I should see him at 8 p.m. at his home. When I got there I was told to sit down in a big leather chair and three senior officers started to quick me. I didn’t want to take abuse from them for doing my duty and I let them know that.

‘Acting Superintendent Brown said ‘I have been in touch with Toronto and on verbal instructions by telephone both you and a sergeant are to be dismissed.’ With that I left.’

Smail recalled two or three incidents where prisoners had been strapped for bolting from the farm under heartbreaking circumstances.

‘I know why one man tried to get away,’ he stated. ‘He received word of trouble at home. This prisoner was married and was a father. As soon as he was caught he was given the usual sentence – 15 strokes of the strap, and that is mandatory in such cases.

‘It was obvious even to his guards that he was in a frantic state of mind while at work and he should have been under strict supervision. Instead of that he was given opportunity to attempt to gain his freedom. And the temptation was too strong.

‘Now a strapping is not a pretty spectacle, I may assure you. The prisoner is hitched firmly to a post and there are steel bonds around his arms, his stomach and his feet. He is blindfolded and his shirt is pulled up to his blindfold.

‘The guard assigned to inflict the punishment has a strap about three feet long. He flails the man with it eight times and none of the strokes are gentle. It leaves the man black and blue.

‘After those eight strokes the man is bustled off to solitary confinement. He is stripped of his clothing, handed a nightgown and tossed into a cell. For the next seven days and nights he must lie on the cement floor – for there is no cot in solitary, you see.’

But another pathetic incident lingers in Smail’s mind. There was the day when a fresh load of ‘fish’ or new inmates arrived. Among them was a blond-haired lad of about 18. It was plain to all that he had never been in jail before. When he lined up for dinner, the kid picked up a tray, as he would in a city cafeteria, to collect his food. The old-timers just hold their plates out. Burwash is supposed to be the place for the old-timers, the guard pointed out.

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“Unrest at Industrial Farm – Burwash System Indicted by Salvation Officer,” Globe & Mail. July 8, 1948. Page 01 & 02.

By J. Y. NICOL
Sudbury, July 7 (Staff). At the Salvation Army service in Burwash Industrial Farm, a man no longer may stand, right up before his fellow men and say that he wants to be saved. Some guards curse the prisoners with the eloquence of a mule skinner. Some prisoners, in turn, flaunt authority by tossing their beans on the floor with the same gusto and impunity as they shoot crap on a Sabbath afternoon.

Incidents such as these are common knowledge in the Nickel City where a year ago, Reforms Minister George Dunbar came by plane from Burwash, 26 miles south, to announce the dawn of a new era the down-and-outer, with variations, after inspecting the prisons of England. This was to out-Borstal the Borstal plan.

‘I remember and well,’ he said at that time, ‘when at a tender age I set fire to a styrawstack. My father and I knelt together that night in prayer for forgiveness. The next morning he got up and flailed the hell out of me – and I know how easy it is for one to go astray.’

Twelve months have passed since he made that statement. So have two riots, and the firing of an unknown number of tear gas shells and a statement from both the minister and Ralph Ayres, Burwash superintendent, that everything is under control. Also, two Burwash strawstacks – barns included – have been set aflame.

The barns were burned in the first riot last October when an attempt was made to shift the blame for the outbreak on some of the underlings. They had left Dolly Quentin, the Windsor bad man, to linger too long there upon his approaching discharge, it was claimed.

But now at Burwash there is no Dolly Quentin to blame and more trouble may occur at any moment.

If it does the minister may sit on the information for more than four days, as he did about the outbreak of June 28 when the beans were tossed on the floor. 

In a nutshell, the department is trying to put over a noble idea with a parsimonious spirit. First, the minister has C. H. Neelands, as his deputy, who, with the late Norman Oliver and two lumberjack prisoners in one common tent, started Burwash more than 30 years ago as an adventure in reformation.

Through the years, Mr. Neelands advanced in the public service. Weathering changes of government and policy, he has proved invaluable.

You could call Mr. Neelands about any little matter and he could give you an immediate answer. Today, when you ask Mr. Neelands, he answers, ‘Sorry, I know nothing.’

Then there is A. R. Virgin, superintendent of all of Mr. Dunbar’s institutions and also a capable executive.

Mr. Dunbar has answered complaints about the rapid turnover in his staff by saying, ‘This is a natural situation in Northern Ontario.’ He is trying to hire guards at a monthly salary of $154 with a promise of housing accommodation which came, in one case, after a service of four years. Any man with a pair of shoulders and a yen for work can double that in the nickel mines.

Two Toronto ex-servicemen, with good war records, joined the Burwash staff. They brought their wives to Sudbury and paid $50 a month rent. When they did not get their houses as promised, they resigned for economic reasons. After being accepted for other government jobs, they were suddenly tossed out. The reason they received was this: ‘You didn’t stick it at Burwash.’

About the only person in this area who will come out openly in criticism, however, is Major A. McEachern of the Salvation Army, who occasionally visits the farm in the absence of the regular Army chaplain. 

He said ‘the services are conducted in a most mechanical way, and that is not as it used to be. The co-operation from the staff has deteriorated. There was a time when we could talk to the men with confidence. And if we passed a suggestion along to the authorities, it was considered, but not today.

‘There is a feeling of mistrust among the staff and this in turn breeds a greater feeling of distrust among the inmates. They think that every hand raised in their direction is against them.

Our idea is that a man may be down, but he is never out. The official attitude is that he is always down and always out. Some years ago, when we held service we could invite a man to come to the altar and say his prayers. We can’t do that any more. We cannot ask a man either to stand or to come forward and declare himself. At the most, he is permitted to raise his hand. Should he make any other move, he would be suspected of causing a demonstration. The atmosphere is not normal, even for Burwash.’

Major McEachern, who has experience in many other institutions besides Burwash, said that the guards seem to be imbued with the idea a prisoner is nothing but  a crook and a scoundrel, and that he must be told that frequently

‘I doubt,’ he added, ‘that much is to be gained by calling him a wretch or a scoundrel. I have met some talented men in Burwash – Men I Know can be restored to society. We of the Salvation Army, being practical people, do not for a moment believe that the solution is by pampering. We do believe that there is a helpful medium, and it is through mutual confidence.

The last time I conducted a service there, a prisoner told me, ‘Let me thank you for the words of kindness. They are the first I have heard for a long, long time,’ and I know he spoke sincerely.’

On May 11, James A. Small, a former Burwash guard, now living in Cartier, a railway town 34 miles northwest, wrote a letter to Attorney-General Blackwell, which said in part:

‘I would like very much for your office to look into the straight and truthful facts regarding Burwash Industrial Farm. I was employed approximately eight months. I took two inmates to the doctor about eight weeks ago one morning under the influence of drugs. These men could hardly stand on their own feet, but no action was taken regarding the serious condition of these men.

‘While working in April, one night about 9 p.m., I uncovered the place that an escape inmate was hiding to my sergeant, who in turn notified the senior sergeant. They captured the escaped inmate at 9:15, in the same place. I informed them on Sunday, April 18. I was instructed to take 140 men from the cell block to the show. I returned with the inmates and then reported to my dormitory the men who had stayed in all Sunday afternoon.

‘As I returned to the dormitory, a big crap game was in progress. Approximately 50 men were around a table 12 feet long and three feet wide. As I opened the main gate, the game broke up and the inmates stood around. I was asked to leave the dormitory by this crap-shooting crowd of inmates. I informed them that there would be no crap game as long as I was on duty.

‘On Sunday, about 5:50pm, I called an inmate from D dormitory. I had been informed that he was carrying money in this crap game. I searched the inmate and found a two-dollar bill. The rest he had eaten or discarded. Monday morning, April 19, I reported for work at 3:30 a.m., and I did my duties as laid down by my sergeant. I found that books and papers were being brought in. I asked one guard what he knew about this stuff, and he went to the senior sergeant about 7:25 a.m. and reported that there was an enormous amount of contraband in B and C dormitories.

‘The sergeant then called another sergeant, and told him to give C and B dormitories a thorough search. On these orders, three men came over to the dormitories at 8:50 a.m. I was in my own dormitory when six officers walked in and told the inmates remaining indoors to line up. They searched the clothing of the inmates, who were then told to go to a dormitory downstairs while their beds and clothing were given a complete frisk.

‘We completed 240 beds and 960 blankets in two hours and 20 minutes. In this frisk we discovered knives, bullets, tea, sugar, ham, shoe polish, extra clothing, wire files, razor blades, toilet soaps and small bottles containing gasoline and chains. Seven pillow slips were turned in, three parts full of contraband.

‘When the inmates returned they were surprised to see a frisk had been pulled. The acting superintendent and another sergeant (he had ordered the search) walked in and started to apologize to the inmates. They were told that anything that was missing would be replaced to quiet things down. They were informed that the officers responsible for the frisk would be suspended.

‘On this, the inmates started to holler and complain about losing tobacco, sun glasses and false teeth. One inmate went as far as to tell the sergeant who had directed the search that he wasn’t going to make his bed again. The ones who messed it up could do this.

‘I was called out of my dormitory and told to report to the superintendent’s office by the sergeant who ordered the search. There, I was suspended by another sergeant.

‘Immediately I left for Toronto to find out why I had been suspended. I talked to Mr. Neelands, and he said he would let me know in a day or so. ON April 23, Mr. Neelands telephoned me at 10 a.m. and asked me about my intentions. I told him I would ask for a transfer to another camp as the rest of the officers who took part in the search were transferred.

‘He told me then that I wouldn’t be reinstated. I told him I would certainly find out why not. With this, he warned me what would happen if I went any further.’

‘….I would like to have thrashed out very soon as I have nothing to hide on my part, so would like to hear from you as I know that the industrial farm is not a reform institution but a big political farce.

‘As I write this, four inmates have just escaped. Two were caught on the Toronto-bound train with first-class tickets. Two more sawed their way out of the kitchen. None of them was missed for 10 hours.’

A policeman commented: ‘I helped o fire tear gas at those birds. They had hung up some wet blankets expecting we’d shoot. The abuse they heaped at us before the got the gas blasted my eardrums. Just the same, I have heard a guard curse at a prisoner as if he was worse than a dog. No human being, at Burwash or out, can stand for treatment like that.

‘The Borstal plan is sound and it calls for discipline on one hand and incentive on the other. But it can’t work under bulldozing or mollycoddling, and at Burwash today they go from one extreme to the other. There will be more trouble unless they get down to business. We’re sick of being called in to shoot the tear gas.’

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Memo. for Inspector Dawson,

I attach an application from Watchman Bird for transfer from the night to day staff.

As you are aware the general practice of transfer is not consistent with discipline and safety as we require experienced officers for night duty quite as much if not more than for day duty. This present case is, however, exceptional and I have no doubt that family circumstance will oblige Bird to retire if his request be refused. He is an exceptionally reliable and efficient officer and his resignation would be really a lose to the staff.

Please submit the case to the Minister and obtain his decision with as little delay as possible.

Douglas Stewart,
for Warden. 

Letter No. 514

June 13, 1912

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“Inmates Disliked Diet, Minister Tells House,” The Globe
& Mail
. October 30, 1947. Page 05.

“One way to beat the rising costs of living is to get a job as guard at Burwash
Industrial Farm near Sudbury. There you can buy bread for four cents a loaf,
milk at five cents a quart, potatoes at three cents a pound, and other
vegetables for a cent a pound.

Reform Institutions Minister Dunbar gave these figures when
making a statement in the legislature about the recent disturbances at Burwash,
which were followed by a series of escapes. Ross McEwing (Lib., Wellington
North) asked for a statement because, as he said, people are alarmed at these
prisoners running at large.

Mr. Dunbar said he welcomed the question because there was
nothing to hide, and if there was any criticism for treating the prisoners like
human beings he was ready to accept the responsibility.

While there had been a little trouble at Burwash, he pointed
out that the prisoners made only three specific complaints. They didn’t like
the steady diet of mashed potatoes, but wanted them boiled or fried for a
change. They also complained about the medical service, and this was being
reviewed by an official of the Health Department. The third complaint was that
there wasn’t sufficient P.T. exercises as compared with the program at Guelph.

In analyzing the trouble at Burwash, Mr. Dunbar said it
should be kept in mind that there are 723 men there, scattered over 5,000
acres, in care of 170 guards. Many of the men worked without supervision, and
he said he was surprised there weren’t more escapes.

At the time of the uprising there were a number of the
guards at Guelph taking training and these have returned. Other changes are
being made to strengthen the custody staff and with the advent of colder
weather, which serves to discourage prisoners taking to the bush, Mr. Dunbar
said he didn’t anticipate any further trouble.

In new institutions to be built, single rooms will replace
dormitories and this segregation will prevent the ‘bad men’ among the prisoners
from plotting wholesale disturbances, he remarked.

While there was dissatisfaction expressed by some of the
guards, Mr. Dunbar said they were treated fairly. In addition to obtaining staple
foods at rock-bottom prices, they are able to rent rooms and houses at prices
way below those prevailing at Guelph. Board and room is given to a single guard
for $19 a month; laundry for one dollar per month and medical and hospitalization
services for 25 cents a month.

A married man can rent a six-room bungalow from $15 to $18 a
month and the average rent is only $12.50. They also obtain the cheap medical
and hospitalization services available to single guards and if necessary a sick
guard is brought to Toronto if his case requires special treatment, without
extra charge.

‘If the guards don’t like their work, there is nothing to
stop them from quitting. It is a free country,’ remarked Mr. Dunbar.

He closed his remarks by issuing an open invitation to the
members of the House to visit any institution at any time to see conditions for
themselves.

Later Mr. Dunbar issued to the press the following figures
on escapes from Burwash for the following fiscal years (April 1-March 31):                                   

                       In
Custody      Escapes           Recaptured

1942….            1,793               36                    36
1943….            1,577               15                    15

1944….            1,612               26                    25

1945….            1,744               26                    26        

1946….            1,176               24                    22

1947….            1,849               39                    38

From March 31 last up to the present there have been 32
escapes, 23 of the prisoners having been recaptured.

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“Two Escape Burwash, Ten-Day Total Nine,” Toronto Star.
October 20, 1947. Page 02.

Special to The Star
Sudbury, Oct. 20 – Two more prisoners escaped from Burwash prison farm
during the week-end to bring to six the number of escapees in four days. Two
who escaped last week are still at large, while two others were rounded up
three hours later.

The two who escaped Sunday are Henry Leo Mitchell, 36, sentenced at Pembroke,
and Victor James Krassilowsky, 25, sentenced at Port Arthur. Both were
trusties.

Officials said the prisoners are teamsters and went to the barn to get their
horses. They ‘kept going,’ an official said, and when their absence was noted
an alarm was sounded. Nine inmates have escaped from Burwash in 10 days. Six
are still at large. Supt. Ralph Ayres reported today.

The system of allowing prisoners to go about the farm without guard is said to
be part of the reformative system. Because of the large area and the number of
inmates, some have to be placed in the ‘trusty’ category, an official said.

Two prisoners who escaped earlier last week are reported to have been sighted
in the vicinity of the prison and guards and provincial police are continuing
the search.

Prof. Stuart K. Jaffary of the University of Toronto has
returned to the prison and is going ahead with his investigation. Scores of
prisoners have been interviewed by the professor of social science. It is
expected it will be some weeks before the inquiry is completed. Prof. Jaffary
will then make his report to Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform
institutions.

The escaped prisoners were serving terms for breaking and entering and robbery.
Mitchell’s home is in Hull. Krassilowsky, from Geraldton, was sentenced in Port
Arthur to 12 months’ definite and six months’ indeterminate, on a charge of
robbery.

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“Escape
Burwash For Spree, Hint Food Cache in Bush,” Toronto
Star
.
October 9, 1947. Page 02.

Special
to
The Star
Sudbury,
Ont., Oct. 9 – No trace has been found of the two prisoners who
escape before the eyes of guards and police at Burwash yesterday,
Superintendent Ralph Ayres said today. Armed guards are still
patrolling the bush in an attempt to cut off their escape toward the
C.N.R. tracks, but haven’t found any clues as to their whereabouts.

The number of recent escapes suggests to guards, they said, that
there is a secret cache of food in the bush, and perhaps living
quarters which has been built by the prisoners who have escaped.

It was learned that those who are listed as recaptured for the most
part returned to Burwash themselves and that there is usually very
little searching done when prisoners escape.

Many of the escapes, guards said, are likely prisoners going on a
drinking spree. Liqour has been known to have been made right on the
grounds, officials admitted, and the prisoners after sobering ip
return to the camp.

Escapes from Burwash are regarded as ‘a joke’ by those who live
within a 30 mile radius of the camp.

‘They
just go away for a while when they get tired of working and when they
get rested up they come back,’ said a farmer who wasn’t surprised
yesterday when he heard that Theodore Dockstader, 25, and Robert
Duffy, 22, had escaped. It was just two of the more than 40 who have
escaped in four months. In addition it was learned, there were
numerous other prisoners missing a day or so, that weren’t called
escapes.

‘We
just call them ‘Go boys’ because when they want to go they just
run away,’ said a guard. ‘They usually come back in a few days or
so.’

The men who escaped yesterday are reported to have been successful
because guards are under orders not to shoot. Most of them are
without firearms on orders of Col. Hedley Basher, special adviser to
Prof. Stuart K. Jaffary, who is investigating reasons for last
Wednesday’s riot when prisoners took over control of the prison for
three days. 

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“2
Flee Burwash Potato Patch – Evade Guards, Police in Break At
Burwash,” Toronto
Star
.
October 8, 1947. Pages 01 & 02.

Two More Flee Burwash Despite 2-Score Police

Special
to The Star
Sudbury,
Oct., 8 – Two prisoners escaped from Burwash prison camp shortly
before 10 a.m. today despite two score provincial police and armed
guards in the potato patch. It was the second escape in three days
for one of the prisoners, jail officials said.

Five other men are still at large.

Provincial police said here that the escapes ‘exemplify’ the
still defiant attitude of the prisoners. They are said to have
escaped the gang picking the potatoes and ran into the bush.
Superintendent Ralph Ayers said that he has ordered posses of guards
to hunt them. They were joined by provincial police under Inspector
F. B. Creesy.

The missing prisoners are Thedore Dockstader, 23, of Port Colborne,
and Robert Thomas Duffy, 22, of Belleville.

Dockstader climbed out a window last Friday night and made his escape
but was rounded up later.

Hot
on Their Heels’
An
alarm was sounded to police throughout the district. Guards and
police are said ‘hot on the heels’ of the escapees who must
trudge through bush before reaching the C.N.R. right-of-way.

Pickets were around the gang that Dockstader and Duffy were among,
Supt. Ayres said, and they both broke into a run toward the bush. No
attempt was made to fire on them.

Guards are reported under orders to fire no more shots. Most of them
are without guns, but those doing picket duty are armed with rifles.

Others in the gang shouted encouragement to Dockstader and Duffy as
they sprinted across the potato patch.

43rd
Break in Four Months
Provincial
Police Inspector Thomas Wilkinson was notified in Sudbury of the
escape, which brought to 43 the number of breaks from the prison in
fourth months.

Duffy was sentenced in March of this year in Belleville to 12 months
for breaking and entering. He got another three months for escaping
custody and an additional one-month on a charge of ill-treating an
animal. He is described as five feet, five and three-quarters inches,
145 pounds, brown air, blue eyes, fair complexion, with tattoos on
both arms.

Dockstader is five feet five inches, 139 pounds, black hair, brown
eyes. He is an Indian, and was serving an 18-months’ sentence for
automobile theft.

Theodore Dockstader, who escaped from
Burwash last Friday night but was later rounded up, was one of two
men who fled a gang at the Burwash potato patch again today, escaping
into the bush.

Men made their getaway despite the presence of two score provincial
police and armed guards. Robert Duffy joined Dockstader in the dash
for bush. Break was made shortly before 10 a.m. today.

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