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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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“Warns Burwash Powder Keg, Trouble Deep-Seated – ‘Food Badly Served’  – Says Dunbar Should Go See For Himself,” Toronto Star. July 5, 1948. Page 21.

‘Burwarsh is a powder keg and it is going to blow up any day if conditions are not improved. They are even worse than they were before the trouble last October,’ said a prisoner just released. He said he was in both riots and claimed that the prisoners have banded together and are waiting their chance to stage an even bigger demonstration than the other two.

Dunbar Should Visit
‘Mr. Dunbar (Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions) should go up himself and talk to the prisoners and he would get an earful of what is going on,’ said the ex-inmate. ‘They told us he was coming up during the last trouble but he has never been there.

‘Food is the principal cause of the trouble,’ he claimed. ‘It’s not so much what is served, but how it is served. It is rank and cold. The same food could be cooked up in a style that would satisfy the men, but the attitude is take it or leave it.’

He declared that since the riot of last October there had been numerous hunger strikes of two or three days’ duration. When the men protested the menu, he stated, the superintendent Ralph Ayers would taste the food and say there was nothing wrong with it. Then they would have to eat it or go hungry.

‘The men work hard in the fields and need substantial food,’ he said. ‘They aren’t getting it and they are not going to work. The crops will rot in the fields and the temper of the prisoners is such that they are talking about burning the buildings and firing the fields in protest so that the public can learn what conditions are.

Raps Parole System
‘Another sore spot is the sysem of parole. This was one of the things that caused the first riot. The parole board comes to Burwash the second Wednesday in every month. They run through 100 prisoners each time. Then days later the prisoner will get a letter saying he does or does not get parole. The feeling is that the matter is settled before they come before the board.

‘Guards are going and coming all the time. They don’t pay them enough for them to stay. Some are minors. They are supposed to be trained but they don’t know how to handle men. Since they were given power of police officers to make arrests, their job has gone to their heads and they are pushing the prisoners around to show their authority.

He said after the investigation by Prof. Stuart Jaffary of the University of Toronto after the first riot, conditions improved. ‘But everything is going back to the way it was before. There is going to be serious trouble and someone might be killed.’

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“Guards Use Tear Gas To End Burwash Riot Over Baked Beans Fare,” The Globe & Mail. July 3, 1948. Page 01.

After being suppressed for four days, news of another riot at Burwash Industrial Farm, leaked out yesterday and Reform Institutions Minister George Dunbar then revealed the uprising was due to complaints against the food. The trouble which occurred Monday night, was finally settled after three hours of violence when the guards hurled tear gas at the prisoners.

The riot was the second at the huge industrial prison in eight months. It followed by three days a similar outbreak at the Mercer Reformatory for females in Toronto which was brought under control by city and provincial police.

Just how many prisoners took part in the more recent Burwash rebellion could not be definitely determined. Superintendent Ralph Ayres, who took over after the riots last October, refused to give any information. One guard said 510 inmates had to be subdued after they smashed tables, dormitory windows and attempted to batter down the steel corridor gates. Deputy MInister C. F. Neelands, who like Supt. Ayres, was uncommunicative, would only say that the number involved was considerably that mentioned by the guard.

The violence is said to have started over baked beans served for supper. The prisoners housed in dormitories reportedly complained about the fare, but ate it. Then 165 men from the cells filed into the mess hall and began banging on the tables with cups and plates. This action stirred the 345 men in the dormitories to a demonstration of their own.

After three hours of rioting destruction tear gas was thrown at the prisoners and order was restored. Eighteen men have been singled out as the ringleaders and will be disciplined presumably by being strapped, or being placed in solitary confinement.

On top of all this, two prisoners, Leonard Erwin Staley, 29, Toronto, and Admiral Killingsworth, 32, Hamilton, escaped Thursday night and the body of another escapee, Wilson Broch, was found in Long Lake at Bayswater, 16 miles south of Burwash. Broch had been missing since June 19. He was from Hamilton.

Dr. Gillies Desmarais, coroner, said Broch’s death was due to drowning. George Waynott, Hamilton, who escaped with Broch is still at large.

Tear gas was used last October when 10 prisoners, led by Raymond (Dolly) Quinton, Windsor, were in control of the 7,000 acre farm for three days. This ‘committee’ of 10 issued orders to prisoners and guards alike and commandeered trucks. The guards claimed they were powerless to resist the prisoners until they received authority to use the gas.

Such authority was vested in them by an act of the legislature at the last session when the guards of all reform institutions were given the powers of police officers in handling prisoners.

Prof. Stuart Jaffray, who investigated the October riots, said they were caused by a breakdown in the administration system. He also remarked that the food could be improved. In that outbreak, some $3,000 damage was done to furniture and other property.

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“Hunger Strike On At Burwash Sudbury Report,” Toronto Star. July 3, 1948. Page 01.

Special to The Star
Sudbury, July 3 – Prisoners at Burwash reformatory are staging a hunger strike against the quality of food being served, it was learned her today. Officials refused comment and Supt. Ralph Ayers said ‘everything is normal.’

The hunger strike followed the riot staged in No. 2 dormitory, which contains cells and in which are kept the more hardened and what is regarded as habitual, criminals. It was learned there have been several other hunger strikes, some among small groups of prisoners, since the big riot of last October, when prisoners were virtually in control of the whole farm.

The riot started when a plate of cold beans served last Monday night was hurled at Supt. Ayers. He had come to the dining-room on demand of the prisoners who protested serving of the beans cold. Other prisoners who ate at an earlier sitting had hot beans.

C. F. Neelands, deputy minister of reform institutions, said he ‘had no comment’ on the reported hunger strike. A prisoner released Thursday said no one in No. 2 dormitory had eaten since Monday night except maybe a ‘few scabs.’ They were being ‘tonge-lashed’ for it, he said.

Tear gas was used to get the prisoners into the cells last Monday, Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions stated. Windows were smashed and considerable other damage done.

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“Burwash Guards Use Tear Gas,” Toronto Star. July 2, 1948. Page 01.

REPORT 225 INVOLVED – SMASH MANY WINDOWS – EIGHT SAID ‘IN SOLITARY’

Sudbury, Ont., July 2 (CP) – Tear gas was used by guards to quell a riot in Burwash industrial farm last Monday night, it was revealed today. Hundreds of panes of window glass were broken in the dormitory and several tables were smashed.

The riot was reported to have centered in Camp 2, largest camp which serves as headquarters for the arm. About 225 prisoners were involved, but there was no trouble at the jail farm’s other two camps.

It is understand that the spark for the outbreak was set off over a protest about the quality of food being served.

Had Trouble Last Fall
The same jail farm was the scene of a major riot last fall when prisoners objected to their meals and general living conditions. An investigation was made by a board appointed by the department of reform institutions.

It was reported that last Monday’s riot broke ot when a guard slapped a piece of butter forcefully on a slice of pie and it splashed over the arm of a prisoner. After remonstrating the guard, the prisoner threw his pie on the floor and was removed from the dining hall.

Guards were reinforced and the prisoners were ordered to return to their cell block. When police surrounded the dormitories carrying rifles and tear gas occupants kicked out windows and pounded steel grills with heavy 12-foot tables.

The demonstration lasted almost three hours and tear gas was thrown in ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ dormitories.

Farm officials said today normal routine has been resumed but a field day, scheduled for Thursday, has been cancelled. Eight men were placed in solitary confinement. Superintendent Ralph Ayers said there has been tension at the farm for the past two weeks.

‘I can’t understand what is back of it all,’ he said. ‘We feel we may have been treating the inmates better this part winter, and have given them every consideration in their complaints up to now. There was no reason for this outbreak.’

Escapees Identified
Special to The Star
Burwash, July 2 – Two prisoners escaped from Burwash Industrial farm here last night after Monday’s riot.

They are: Leonard Erwin Staley, 28, of George St., sentenced to two years in Toronto, July 30, 1947, and Admiral Killingworth, 32, of Hamilton, sentenced to two years on Aug. 16, 1947.

The two escaped men, the minister of reform institutions reported at his office in Toronto today, ‘just walked off during a sports program on the grounds. Yesterday was a holiday and there were sports events held in the afternoon.’

He said ‘they won’t get very far. The black flies will probably drive them back.’

Recall Mercer Trouble
The Burwash riot was a repetition of the uprising at Mercer Reformatory for women in Toronto 10 days ago.

About 100 city policeman, were rushed to the building on King St. to try to restore order. Two of the officers were injured so badly they required hospital treatment. Det.-Sergt. Welsford had his wrist fractured with a baseball bat and will be off duty for five weeks, police said.

The women ringleaders were eventually locked in cells and given only weak tea and bread when they refused to stop their yelling and screaming. Their shoes were taken from them.

Dunbar Tells of Riot
The riot started Monday night during supper hour, Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions reported today.

‘A hothead in the dining room threw his supper on the floor,’ the minister said. ‘The guards immediately hustled him out, His friends started a rumbling in the dining room but took no action.

‘The next day, Tuesday, it rained all day and some of the men locked themselves in their dormitories and didn’t come down to eat breakfast. Guards threw tear gas into the block and everything quieted down,’ he said.

Mr. Dunbar said the disturbance occurred at Camp No. 2, where there are 156 cells. ‘The riot didn’t spread to any other camp,’ he added. ‘There was lots of noise, but no action was taken by the prisoners. It’s all over now.’

This is the first time tear gas has been used by Burwash guards since they were given the powers of police officers, officials said. A bill introduced by the attorney-general and passed at the last session of the legislature, gave them this power as well as that of being armed and making arrests.

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“Institut Laval: le gaz
était la seule solution,” Le Soleil. June 5, 1980. Page 07.

MONTREAL (PC). — Les gardiens de l’institution à sécurité maximum de Laval
n’avaient pas d’autre choix
que d’utiliser les gaz lorsque
sept prisonniers se sont tranchés
les poignets dans une
tentative de suicide collectif
la semaine dernière, a indiqué.
hier, un porte-parole du
service fédéral des pénitenciers. 

M Guy Verreault a ajouté
qu’une faible quantité de gaz
avait été utilisée afin qu’un
médecin et une infirmière
puissent approcher de l’endroit
où I’incident s’est produit
sans être menacés par
les cinq ou huit autres prisonniers
qui se trouvaient là

“Pouvez-vous vous imaginer
ce qui se serait passé si
nous avions envahi la place,” a indiqué M Verreault réfutant
du même coup les allégations
d’un groupe de défense
des droits des détenus
qui prétend que l’utilisation

des gaz n’était pas nécessaire.

Les sept prisonniers, tous
gardés dans des cachots, ont
utilisé des lames de rasoir
pour se trancher les poignets.
Six d’entre eux ont été
soignés à la prison et Réal
Brousseau a été conduit dans
un hôpital de la région 

Les autorités pênitenciaires
ont demandé à la Sûreté
du Québec de faire enquête. M Jean-Claude Bernheim,
un porte-parole de la Ligue
des droits des détenus, a
demandé, mardi, que le solliciteur
général du Canada. M.
Robert Kaplan, exige une
enquête.  

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“Guards defend use of gas during inmates’ suicide bid,” Montreal Gazette. June 5, 1980. Page 07.

Guards at the maximum-security Laval Institute had no choice but to use tear gas after seven prisoners slit their wrists in a mass suicide attempt last week, a federal penitentiary service official said yesterday.

Guy Verreault said ‘a very small amount’ of gas was released to enable a doctor and nurse to enter the prison exercise yard, where the incident occurred, without being threatened by another five to eight convicts there.

‘Can you imagine what would have happened if we just rushed in with guards?’ Verreault said, denying the accusations by a local prisoner rights group that the gassing was unnecessary.

Jean-Claude Berheim, an official of a Montreal-based prisoners’ rights group, has called on federal Solicitor-General Robert Kaplan to order an inquiry into the affair.

‘Was it necessary to gas these prisoners?’ Bernheim asked. ‘Was security threatened to that point?’

The seven, all of whom were in solitary confinement, used razor blades to slit their wrists. Six were treated in the prison infirmary while the seventh, Real Brousseau, was taken to an outside hospital.

Brousseau has a record of prison disturbances. Verreault said, including an escape attempt at the medium-security Leclerc penitentiary last month and a role in a 1976 hostage-taking at Laval.

The official said Brousseau was back behind bars at the medium-security Correctional Development Centre, which adjoins Laval.

Verreault said there had been no previous threats of suicide from the men, who had been demanding better food.

Prison officials have asked the Quebec Police Force to investigate the incident.

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