Saturday, July 30, 2016

Murder at Ocean Falls.. or was it? (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

Our next investigation of the convicts buried at B.C. Penitentiary's "Boot Hill Cemetery" in New Westminster, B.C., brings us to a story about a Japanese immigrant in the early 1900's. I discovered the case may have been an accidental murder instead one of intention, with discrimination and racism playing a role.

Meet Convict #1659 - Y. Yoshie
Photo by Kati - #1659 @ Boot Hill Cemetery, middle section
Mr. Y. Yoshie, a single man in his mid-40's, travelled to Vancouver, B.C. in 1911. From all accounts it appears he left his native home in Japan for work in the new land of British Columbia.

Although the first Japanese arrived in B.C. in 1877, it wasn't until the Japanese government relaxed its law on banning emigration in the late 1880's, when the migration began into Canada (mainly B.C.). Due to political, social and cultural changes in Japan, work opportunities were limited and living conditions cramped. In 1908, with agreement from the Japanese government, Canada limited the immigration to 400 men annually, but none were placed on women and children. In 1928, the law changed to 150 persons annually. In 1895 Japanese people were not allowed to vote, even if they were born in the province; until 1931 when only World War 1 veterans were given that right. The job market was open to logging, mining and fishing. Most Japanese men were proficient in farming and fishing, but they found work at what was available to them, while those with a bit of money began their own businesses. Through my research I also discovered that most men who came to Canada for work, were of a much younger age than Mr. Yoshie. His life was most likely difficult in Japan, and with the promise of a better one in the Western world, he took the trip across the ocean. In Canada however, he would discover that racial discrimination was rife.

Mr. Yoshie travelled to a logging camp along the B.C. coast at Ocean Falls, north of Vancouver, in 1911, and joined a camp with several cabins and a group of men. The Bella Coola Pulp and Paper Company had purchased land in 1906 and began building a saw mill, school, store and a one bed hospital which was operating by 1909. For an interesting description and explanation of what took place in the area, check this website: Ocean Falls, Home of the Rain People. Because of the economic boom in the province, hand-loggers found work supplying the company with logs to complete the mill and the town.

Courtesy Google Maps - Location of Ocean Falls, B.C.
The following photos are courtesy of the Ocean Falls Museum website:
Courtesy Ocean Falls Museum - 1911
Courtesy Ocean Falls Museum - 1911
Courtesy Ocean Falls Museum - 1912
Mr. Yoshie's story is documented in B.C. newspapers, indicating that his crime occurred on December 28, 1911. The National Canadian Archives (below) provided a hint of what may have happened.
Courtesy National Archives of Canada, 1994
Finding this information assisted us in the hunt for more material to help understand who Yoshie was. Without his first name, or what region in Japan he was from, it was difficult to track down his roots; however, his demise in B.C. was publicized in the newspapers. The following is the first article I located from Prince Rupert, B.C.

Courtesy UBC Open Collections - The Daily News (Dec.20, 1911 pg 1)
Already we see the pattern of racism in the headlines of the newspaper above. Mr. Yoshie (or "Yoshio" as the newspaper reported) was accused of shooting a Japanese man asleep in his bunk without a motive. A possible witness indicated he had not seen anything for he had been asleep and out of sight of the shooting. Yoshie, however, said it was an accidental shooting.

We also note, travel to and from Ocean Falls was via ship. The "Venture" is mentioned, which was a ship run by the Union Steamship Co. of B.C. (founded in 1889) who operated passenger and cargo services between Vancouver B.C. and Alaskan ports. "SS Venture" was built in 1910, purchased the following year by the company, and later sold in 1946 to China who renamed it "Hsing Kong S0."
Courtesy - SS Venture, VPL Access.No.20540 (Aug.13,1918)

Courtesy - Vancouver Daily World (Apr.09, 1912) pg 8
The above article confirms the charge of "murder" on Mr. Yoshie, and that Justice Gregory would preside over the spring trial in Vancouver, B.C.

Courtesy - Vancouver Daily World (Apr.12, 1912 pg 17)
The above article indicates the trial was adjourned on April 9th to give Yoshie's counsel more time to look into his case. They went to court on April 12th.

Courtesy - Vancouver Daily World (Apr.13, 1912 pg 19)
Now we have a description of what "may" have happened. Was it truly an accident? The above article tells us several things. Mr. Yoshie, who does not speak English, was being held in the New Westminster jail, and defended by Mr. R. R. Maitland. It also describes the Judge's shaky voice. It appeared to have been difficult for him to pass the sentence of death, especially after counsel pleaded with the jury to put aside their racial discrimination.

Our attempt to ascertain what truly happened is met with some confusion. Yoshie's account was not entirely believed by the jury for good reason. He had explained the gun went off accidentally, shooting Mr. Hakusui in the face when he stumbled over his laces. He had been feeling ill and instead of going to work, had stayed in bed. When he woke in the morning, after seeing some birds outside, he proceeded to get his gun and tripped, which caused his finger to pull the trigger. He made an attempt to find authorities, and in his mission, being in shock, went into another cabin upstairs to where it was warm. Although the Crown agreed there was no motive, Mr. Taylor indicated the bullet wound had been burnt and the blankets singed; therefore indicating the gun had been fired at close range. He goes on to ask why the broken gun (this is not explained) would be hidden in a sack or why Yoshie would run if he had been innocent.

Mr. Maitland defended Mr. Yoshie by indicating there was lack of motive, and the method of murder and time of day was not one of Japanese strategy, pointing out the accused had admitted to what had happened. 

We located genealogy records of a barrister named Robert Reid Maitland. Born in Brockville, Ontario in 1855, of Scottish-Irish background, he was in the Methodist ministry for a number of years, and began studying law once he left the church. The genealogy page of his family goes on to say he may have had some successes in his practice of law. Mr. Maitland's death certificate indicates he had been living in the province for 31 years (since the 1890's). He died on April 10, 1921 due to a paralytic stroke and is buried in Vancouver's Mountain View Cemetery, survived by his wife and children.

We also located the death certificate of the victim, as no facts are provided in the newspapers other than his last name.
Courtesy - Gintaro Hakusui's Death Certificate
Gintaro Hakusui, Japanese, and in his early 20's was described as a fisherman and labourer. It tells us he arrived in B.C. in June 2011 and went to the logging camp in Ocean Falls in September 2011. His body had been examined by the Coroner at Port Simpson, B.C. which is north of Prince Rupert near the B.C.-Alaska border on the northern coast, now an indigenous village community. The examination also reveals that there were two gunshot wounds, one to his face and the other in his chest. This confirms the witness' statements of "two shots fired".

From the National Archives of Canada we learned that on June 20, 1912 Yoshie's execution sentence slated for June 27th, was commuted to "Life" at the B.C. Penitentiary. His death certificate confirms he had been in the prison since June 28, 1912. Here is where we find one final article in the Vancouver Daily World confirming this change:
Courtesy - Vancouver Daily World (Jun.24, 1912 pg 3)

The Governor-General of Canada believed the incident had been an accident as a result of a "drunken brawl". That fact was not mentioned in the first articles found, thus they did indicate several of the men in the cabins felt sick that morning. Mr. Yoshie was sent to the B.C. Penitentiary to serve his life sentence. He certainly arrived at the prison just prior to the famous escape attempt described in our previous blog of Herman Wilson and Joseph Smith. Had he been one of the prisoners in the yard that day? We do not know.

In 1918, the prison population at "the Pen" was on decline to 161.
At 7 a.m. on March 15, 1918 Mr. Yoshie collapsed and died from "inflammation of the heart muscle". He was buried at Boot Hill Cemetery the following day. If he had family, they most likely were not informed. His death certificate indicates he was "single".
Courtesy - Y Yoshie's Death Certificate
Here we close our tragic story, one of racial divide and question. Mr. Yoshie had experienced a short and difficult life in British Columbia.

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
04) Meet Convict 1774 - Hinds
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

We appreciate your ongoing interest in this adventure, and hope you have learned something new about our past, and the convicts buried at the cemetery. We welcome your comments and thoughts. You can reach us here or at our Facebook Page, or via the Contact Form on our website. Let us know how we're doing!

Until next time,
Take care!
Sources: National Association of Japanese Canadians: NAJC website; Langara BC - articles 2011; - Japanese Immigration To Canada 1850 to 1920;;;;; Ocean Falls Museum; Ocean Falls Blog; National Archives of Canada, 1994; Japanese Canadians & the Racialization of Labour in the British Columbia Sawmill Industry - Audrey Kobayashi & Peter Jackson; WebsterGriggsFamilies-google sites.

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