The B.C. Penitentiary cemetery, known as Boot Hill by the inmates of the institution, came into existence in 1913 yet may have been used as early as 1912. The last unclaimed body of a convict from the "Pen" was interred in 1968. It's situated across the Glenbrook Ravine and up the hill, across from where the old prison once stood.
For more information, please check out our 2013 Blog of Boot Hill.
At the end of March, it felt the time had come to revisit the forgotten cemetery, and with the good weather finally upon us, it was perfect timing. Boot Hill is now accessible by a cemented foot path due to new construction nearby. A hi-rise has been built directly across from it (to the south), and soon another one is going up to the west. This has me wondering if its neighbours are experiencing an influx of paranormal activity.
|Boot Hill Cemetery - looking north towards the Ravine below. Photo-VSPI©|
I visited the site twice, each time with another member of our team, and as before I could feel the cemetery's energy before it came into view. Although VSPI had had a few calls indicating possible paranormal activity in apartments and condos nearby, we have yet to confirm this to be true.
Walking the path a feeling washed over me, as if something heavy was up ahead. With dark and depressing vibrations hitting me, and rush after rush of tingles travelling down my spine, I was on edge. Arriving at the bottom part of the little acre plot, near the fence, before entering, I announced who we were and why we were visiting. I felt a mental message hit me, saying it is OK but to be wary. Why wary? All I knew was to be cautious. Earlier I had asked my spirit guide and ancestors to be with us for protection, and before we stepped foot onto the land, I surrounded us with protective "white light". I added a prayer, calling on angels, and the Creator to help keep us safe. Now we were ready to enter. As I've done before, I brought tobacco as an offering, which I spread across the grasses as we entered.
This land is to be respected. It is a sacred space for those that have passed on before us, and whose bodies were not claimed by family or friends upon their death. I strongly believe, that this is 'their' special place, and we should heed all warning not to go traipsing around without thinking of who lies here, no matter who they were (criminals or not) and/or what they did in life. We should always treat every cemetery and its interred with kindness, honour, courtesy and regard. And thus, I ask, if you decide to visit this interesting forgotten cemetery, you pay it, and the spirits that reside there, with respect.
I've always had a fascination for this place, and thus I've begun research on whom is buried here, gathering death certificates and archived newspaper articles etc.. What I've found is indeed interesting!
Meet Convict #1548 - Clarence Thompson.
|#1548 - Clarence Thompson: 1871 - Feb03/1915. Photo-VSPI©|
Clarence died on Feb. 03, 1915 due to acute dilation of his heart, and had suffered from arteriosclerosis (the thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries for a year, which typically happens in old age). He was buried on February 05, 1915 at 10 am (according to his death certificate) in the B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery, nicknamed "Boot Hill" by the inmates.
The death certificate also indicated Clarence had been a Miner (occupation) and served time in the "Pen" for 3 years + 2 1/2 months before he met his death.
I found a document which may be Clarence arriving in Victoria, B.C. on March 18, 1906:
|Courtesy Ancestry.ca - Steamer Queen|
During the time there were several mining camps on Vancouver Island, and in B.C. I searched documents and directories available. The results were not significant enough to confirm the information was that of Mr. Thompson.
I then decided to concentrate on why Mr. Thompson was sentenced to prison. Perhaps this would lead to further information. I located several articles from the popular newspapers of the time, which tell us of an event.
|Vcr Daily World - Nov.02, 1911. Courtesy-Newspapers.com|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vcr Daily World (Nov.17, 1911)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Times Colonist (Nov.17, 1911) pg15|
Less than four years after sentencing, the newspapers announce Clarence's death in the penitentiary. He suddenly dropped dead after a day of working in the sewers. Prisoners speculated over how he died, believing it may have been caused due to a blow at the back of his head a few days earlier from a fight. Thompson had only complained of pain to his fellow inmates, but not to prison staff. A post mortem examination was held.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vcr Daily World (Feb.05, 1915)|
|Clarence Thompson's Reason of Death. Courtesy-BC Archives|
A search of the Canadian Census in B.C. during 1911 resulted with no further information about our convict. He was not listed.
Who was the elderly gentleman that Clarence Thompson attacked?
Victim information located: 1911 Canada Census, District No. 5, Squamish Village, B.C., enumeration dates June 14th & 15th
Victim: M. E. Hall
Birth Info: Born February 1852, Germany
Date of Violent Robbery: October 28, 1911
Mr. M. E. Hall, described as an elderly man who came to B.C. via Seattle (Washington, USA), was 59 years old at the time of the criminal act. The Census indicates he was English speaking, could read and write, was of American Nationality, and working in Squamish.
And so I have begun to research the stories of these convicts who have long been forgotten. It takes time and effort to do this, and yet I find it fulfilling.
I must remember, these are men who walked this earth like we do now... and yet some of you may say "they should be held accountable for what they did, so who cares what happened to them. Who cares about this cemetery."
In answer I say this: "No matter who you are, I respect you. It is you who lives with the consequences of the path you chose in life, not I. It doesn't mean that I respect you any less. Therefore, I'd much rather celebrate our past, present and future, recognizing those who have carved a path in it prior to our existence. It doesn't mean I pity any convict, rather I wish to understand who they were. Education leads us to success."
I take it as a learning lesson, as well as and education in how "man" has changed throughout our history. When we have a better understanding of where we were so many years ago, we can move forward with confidence, and make better choices.
As for my visits to the cemetery.. I know I'll always go back. I feel a calling to this sacred space. I will always be careful, apply protection methods, and remember to announce my intentions when I enter the space.
Note: During the first visit this year, we were met with a host of crows gathering in the trees. I know they came for a reason. Whether it was to keep an eye on us or to give us a warning. Either way, it felt really unusual and somewhat freaky.
Leaving the cemetery on our second visit was met with urgency, for a darkness loomed and would have reached out to take hold of my team mate and me, had we stayed longer.
Remember: I urge you to listen to what your body and mind tells you. Don't stay if you feel there is danger, even if you cannot see it. Spirits don't always act as you'd want them to, nor is the saying "they cannot hurt you" true. From all the investigating I have done over the years, I can confidently say that we do NOT know the power of the dead.
With this, I leave you for now. If you, or anyone you know, has information to assist me, please reach out and contact me through the VSPI Website or visit our Facebook Page.
If you have not read any of our previous accounts, please check them out. Each convicts' story is filled with interesting facts, incredible adventures and emotional effect.
01) Meet Convict 1548 - Thompson
02) Meet Convict 2370 - Walsh
03) Meet Convict 2304 - Chinley
05) Meet Convicts 1628 - Herman Wilson + Unknown# - Joseph Smith
06) Meet Convict 1659 - Y. Yoshie
07) Meet Convict 1884 - Moses Paul
08) Meet Convict 2516 - Daniel Henrick Urick
09) Meet Convict 1948 - Unknown Gim
10) Meet Convict 2938 - Reginald John Colpitts
11) Meet Convict 5603 - Stephen Poole
12) Meet Convict 3130 - Harry Davis
13) Meet Convict 2312 - Albert Hill
14) Meet Convict Unknown# - Phillip Hopkins
15) Meet Convict #9720 - Norman Donald Bottineau
16) Meet Convict #2225 - Louie Num
17) Meet Convict #3237 - Harold Gordon McMaster
18) Meet Convict #4234 - Herbert Ross
19) Meet Convict #9693 - W. Black
Sources: BC Archives (Genealogy), Family Search Org, Newspapers.com, Ancestry.ca, Convict Deaths in the British Columbia Penitentiary, 1875 - 1916, CanadaGenweb's Cemetery Project, and The B.C. Pen's Graveyard Secrets-by the Vancouver Sun (Jan.21/2008).
Photos: any photos taken by Kati Ackermann Webb (VSPI - Vancouver Spooks Paranormal Investigation) must not be used in any way without written permission.