Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Man Who Preferred Prison (Convict Buried at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

Our story of the following Boot Hill Cemetery convict leads us on a chase across the continent, starting in the Eastern Canada, dipping into the United States of America, and then north to Western Canada in Vancouver, B.C. This seventeenth blog about the convicts buried at the forgotten cemetery, belonging to the razed B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster, B.C., carries with it mystery. Hopefully we'll gain some understanding of who this man was and why he ended up buried in the sacred acre of land.

Meet Convict #3237 - Harold Gordon McMaster
Photo by Kati - Convict #3237 (3rd row from NW top section, farthest N position)

Harold was born on June 09, 1915 to Amelia McMaster in Fairville area of the City and County of Saint John, in Lancaster Parish, New Brunswick, Canada.
Courtesy New Brunswick Archives - Birth Certificate
Although Harold's father was not named on the birth certificate, his grandmother, Catherine McMaster, is indicated as having been present for his birth; thus provided support to her daughter, Amelia. Sadly, several days later, while at home, Amelia had contracted septicemia (blood poisoning) from an infection she may have received while giving birth, and passed away on July 21, 1915.
Courtesy Prov.Archives of New Brunswick - Death Certificate
Amelia lived on Manawaganish Road in Fairville, St. John. See the maps below of the area.
Courtesy Prov.Archives of New Brunswick - Map of Fairville & St. John County
(Date Unknown)
Courtesy Prov.Archives of New Brunswick - Map of Fairville including Manawaganish Rd.
(Date Unknown)
Harold is now without a mother and a father, but from all accounts we discover he was raised by the McMaster family. Catherine McMaster (nee Livingstone), her husband, William, and her sons, James, William John and Joseph, take Harold into their household; and he is found living with them on the 1921 Canada Census. The family has deep roots in New Brunswick going back several generations.
Courtesy - 1929 aerial of Saint John, New Brunswick
Saint John, New Brunswick was incorporated as a city in 1785, and boasts a population of over 67,000 today. It's one of the largest cities in the province, and is located on the Saint John River mouth at the Bay of Fundy. The First Peoples of the area for several thousand of years are the Passamaquoddy (Bay of Fundy coastal region), Mi'kmaq (north of Bay Fundy, in Saint John River valley) and Maliseet (naming the area Měnagwĕs, meaning "where they collect the dead seals"). History records indicate the area was explored in the early 1500s by the Spanish, with French explorers following in the early 1600s. The first permanent settlement rose up on the east side of Saint John Harbour at Portland Point. The city changed hands from the French to the British, then to American British supporters (1783) over the century and into the 1700s, becoming Canada's first incorporated city and nicknamed the "Loyalist City". Also dubbed the "Port City" it became a leading industrial centre predominantly due to shipbuilding. In the 1840s a large influx of Irish immigrants flooded the area, naming it "Canada's most Irish City".
During the First World War, the city was a trans-shipment point for the British Empire's war efforts. During the Second World War, due to the U-boat threat, it shifted it's focus to producing veneer wood for the De Havilland Mosquito bomber aircraft, and fortified itself with additional batteries installed around the harbour. In the 1970s an urban renewal project redeveloped the city and put in a new harbour bridge and expressway, moving the ferry terminal, opening up historic buildings to shops and museums, and building new office towers. In 1982 the Uptown area was designated for historic preservation. Today the waterfront is a tourist area. Saint John grew up on fishing and shipbuilding, but also boasts a long history of brewers; and is a creative hub for musicians, actors and artists, with many galleries and museums present, as well as numerous historic landmarks named in the National Historical Sites of Canada listings.

At the age of 24, we learn Harold Gordon McMaster found himself in trouble.
Courtesy - Escanaba Daily Press, Michigan (Apr.28, 1939) pg01
Harold was apprehended for "break and enter" and asked to be sentenced for the maximum amount of time allowable. From the description it appears he had no place to go nor was able to feed himself. What happened to Harold that brought him to this point? I searched further and found some interesting documentation and articles to help us understand.
Courtesy - Ironwood Daily Globe, Michigan (Apr.29, 1939) pg07
The above article indicates the Judge asked Harold what type of sentence he wanted. It also describes his appearance, which sounds like someone indeed "bumming around". Harold is sentenced to five years in Marquette Branch Prison.
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Detroit, Michigan (Feb.15, 1939)
The above border crossing document provides us with valuable information. From February of that same year, it indicates that Harold has travelled over the border many times at various entry points. An alias of "Ben Brown" is provided to us, as well as his description being 5'9" tall, medium complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. His relative is named as a "brother Joe", which knowing he didn't have a brother, tells us his Grandmother raised him with his Uncle Joseph and treated him like a son. Joseph may have been his closest relative in the family. However, there is more. On the flip side of the document we find out...
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Detroit, Michigan (Feb.15, 1939)
Harold is thought to be "mentally deficient". He also signed the document as "Gordon". Perhaps this is the reason for his alias of "Ben Brown", and tells us why he may have switched his name to "Gordon Harold"? If he was continuously attempting to cross the border and is thought to be "feeble minded" (description of the time), a need to protect himself by changing his name so he could travel across the border, may have been reason enough for Harold.

Asylums popped up everywhere in the late 1800s, and reports of crude treatment were vast. In the 1930s, the economic depression strengthen the support for eugenic sterilization in Canada and the USA; however, a new wave of thinking had begun, leading to an array of self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and those that supported healthier life-styles and dietary habits. It didn't, however, stop the inhuman treatment of those suffering, and singled out minority groups (IE: indigenous peoples).
Did Harold spend time in an asylum? I could not find any documentation to support this.

Harold spent five years in Marquette Branch Prison, which was built in 1889, and was riddled with notorious stories of escape attempts, bloodshed, the murder of its Warden in 1921, and the murder of a doctor in 1931. In 1977 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and became a tourist attraction over the years due to its landscaping.
Courtesy Michigan Dept. of Corrections - Marquette Branch
Making the assumption that Harold was released in 1944, I found news of him attempting to cross into the United States shortly after. Thus, I assume he was deported to Canada after his sentence was completed.
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Buffalo, NY (Aug.19, 1944)
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Buffalo, NY (Aug.19, 1944)
The document describes Harold as 5'7 1/2" tall, with ruddy complexion, a scar on his right palm (when did he get this?), living in Fort Erie, Ontario, at the Howard Hotel, and indicates he was successful in crossing the border in Detroit several times since his exclusion.

A few days later, Harold (aged 29 years old) attempts to cross the border at Niagara Falls, New York.
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Niagara Falls, NY (Aug.21, 1944)
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Niagara Falls, NY (Aug.21, 1944)
From this document we learn not only was he deemed "mentally deficient" by the Provincial Department, but was described as a vagrant. It also adds that he spent a year in jail in Milan, Michigan. I could not find further documentation to support this, but with his aliases and numerous attempts to cross, this is believable. We also learn Harold had been deported in 1937 via Detroit. It has me wondering when Harold began to "want" to be in the United States, and could it be that he preferred to be incarcerated so he could be fed and housed? How was he getting by? What income, if any, was he receiving?

Courtesy Google Maps - Eastern Canada/USA showing places documented
Above, you'll find a map I've put together of the towns/cities Harold has been documented to have lived, visited and attempted border crossings. From what is indicated on the crossing cards, there were many more attempts made, however those documents are not available.

Next we locate Harold Gordon McMaster in the west of the continent. Harold has finally made his journey to Washington State and British Columbia two years later.
Courtesy - Border Crossing at Northport, WA (Oct.02, 1946)
Harold's occupation has changed from labourer to seaman, not to say that either is true. We simply could not find anything confirming that he had been employed. His Grandmother is listed, along with his home in Saint John, New Brunswick, and the document states he arrived via bus. It appears the border patrol didn't know of Harold's previous attempts to cross in the east, nor of his imprisonments.

Northport, WA is on the mighty Columbia River in the north-eastern part of the State. Crossing the border would have placed him near the British Columbia communities of Rossland and Trail. The area is in the West Kootenay region surrounded by mountains. As documented, his trip would take 2 days to Vancouver, B.C. Harold is 31 years old at this time. The trail of Harold's life journey runs dry at this point until 1950.

Courtesy - Border Crossing at Blaine, WA (Sep.20, 1950)
In Blaine, a border town with White Rock, B.C. on the Canadian side, the patrol documents he had been previously apprehended in Buffalo. The scar on his right palm is now indicated as that of a "bullet". Did Harold tell them he had been shot at? Again his Grandmother and Uncle (identified as his brother, Joseph) are listed as his closest relatives. This time he arrived on foot and is wanting to travel to Calgary, Alberta. What happened to Harold between 1946 and 1950 is not known. Most likely he is deported into Canada, but it doesn't indicate to where.

News comes to us about Harold's arrest in Vancouver, B.C. via the papers in 1954.

Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Nov.19, 1954) pg01
Courtesy - Nanaimo Daily News (Nov.20, 1954) pg12
The description indicates his occupation as seaman. His criminal path has escalated to "attempted holdup" and he was charged with assault with intent to rob. I could not locate documentation to tell us how many years he received as a sentence, nor where he was placed into prison.

Courtesy New Brunswick Archives - Death Certificate, Catherine McMaster
Sadly, Harold's Grandmother and parental figure, Catherine McMaster, passed away on April 30, 1956. Her husband, William McMaster, had died in 1926 when Harold was 11 years old. It could not have been easy for her to raise 3 sons and a grandson on her own. It is not clear on how she earned a living since her husband's death, and I wonder if she knew what Harold was up to over the years. Had the family abandoned him? Or was Harold of strong will and left his family behind? We cannot be certain.

We next are brought to a crime Harold committed in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1957. This leads us to believe the crime in 1954 probably brought him 1-3 years in prison.
Courtesy - Leader-Post (Jul.26, 1957) pg05
Harold was caught in a bar buying everyone drinks. His crime, theft of a nurse's purse containing $115 Cdn (today that is $1030 Cdn) at a medical Arts Clinic at Indian Head, Saskatchewan. He took a taxi into Regina, where he was caught a few days later buying drinks. In court he states he's trying to get home to New Brunswick, but has never made it further than Fort William. The reason for this is due to his drinking. The Magistrate (Judge) was surprised he'd not been labled a habitual criminal. He was sentenced to 2 years in Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan.

I found a legal document advising us of Harold's next conviction.
Courtesy - April 14, 1960
On May 19, 1959, Harold found himself once again before the courts. This time it was for two charges. The first charge being "breaking and entering" and the second for "possession of housebreaking instruments". He was sentenced 18 months for the first, and 18 months concurrent for the second, to Oakalla Prison Farm. However, in April 1960 a review is made and put before the Province of B.C. that sufficient evidence showed Harold was deemed "mentally ill" and was recommended to be shifted to Essondale Provincial Mental Hospital (today known as Riverview in Coquitlam, B.C.). The recommendation was approved on April 14, 1960 and Harold was moved after serving just under a year in the prison. It was not long before he committed another crime.
Photo by Kati (2016) - Essondale (Riverview) Hospital, 1913-2012
Courtesy Government of B.C. - Oakalla Prison Farm - 1912-1991

Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Feb.03, 1961) pg02
The above article in 1961, tells us Harold was let out sometime later in 1960, or early 1961. This time he travels across the country to reach Niagara Falls, Ontario. He is caught breaking and entering with theft at a Synagogue and sentenced to 5 years in Kingston Penitentiary, one of Canada's notorious prisons.

Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Oct.27, 1964) pg08

Courtesy - Nanaimo Daily News (Oct.29, 1964) pg02
In October 1964, Harold is sentenced to two years less one day for breaking and entering into a church and stealing $1.24 (worth $10 Canadian today).
It appears to be a pattern. Harold resorts to theft and robbery in order to survive, and often finds prison the better option than living on the streets.
This also means he didn't serve a full 5 years at Kingston, and made his way back to the west. I wonder if he was released due to good behaviour? Often, when the prisons become overcrowded they consider letting some criminals with lesser crimes out.

A year later, Harold was transferred to Essondale Provincial Mental Hospital (now referred to as Riverview on the documents), and several months later is transferred back to Oakalla Prison.
Courtesy - Oct.14, 1965

Courtesy - Dec.21, 1965
The documents indicate the theft from the Church (on October 23, 1964) was not the only offence Harold had been sentenced for, but also "breaking and entering with intent" on October 27, 1964. The total time of his sentence was for two year less than one day plus six months, which would indicate his release approximately April 1967.

Harold found himself in trouble one last time.
Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Feb.19, 1968) pg27
From the above article it appears he was an inmate of the Mountain Prison, in Agassiz, B.C. on a 3 year sentence for breaking and entering. The news tells us he is found dead in his cell. Harold was serving time at the facility the B.C. Penitentiary had for its older prisoners (Mountain); the new medium security institution which was opened in 1966.

From the documentation on his Death Certificate, he died at Chilliwack Hospital at the age of 51 years, due to aspiration of stomach contents. In other words, he chocked to death. There are several reasons for this to occur, impaired mental status being one. The certificate also indicates a gastric ulcer, which may have been due to lengthy use of medication and/or infection and would have been very painful.
The certificate also confirms Harold had been in Matsqui, B.C. (which is in the area of Agassiz and the prison) at the time he was transferred to Chilliwack. 
Courtesy B.C. Archives - Death Certificate
His body was not collected by family; therefore, Harold Gordon McMaster was laid to rest at Boot Hill Cemetery in New Westminster, B.C. on February 20, 1968. He was the last inmate to be interred at the cemetery.

I thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery and education about the convicts buried at the old B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery known as Boot Hill. The cemetery has undergone a transformation with the long grasses, weeds and brambles removed, and the old grave markers replaced with new numbered stones. A path leads up to the sacred plot of land which sits on a slope overlooking parts of New Westminster, B.C. and the Fraser River below.

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

Please join us on Facebook and/or send us your comments via our Website. We'd love to hear from you, and certainly share any information you have about this graveyard. We are happy to learn what you know.
If you are interested in listening to the EVPs we captured at the cemetery over the years, go here (bottom of the page).

Lastly, if you visit the cemetery, please remember to be respectful. It doesn't matter who these men were in life, as everyone deserves to rest in peace. Hopefully our convicts have found that in their afterlife. If not, perhaps our stories about them will help them to move on.

Until next time,


Sources: New Brunswick Archives;;; Wikipedia; Google Maps;; BC Archives; UBC Open Sessions;; Vancouver Public Library; Vancouver City Archives; Canadian Encyclopedia;;; Provincial Archives of New Brunswick;; Four Walls in the West - Jack David Scott: Serving Life25, One Guard's Story - Neil D. MacLean; Government of B.C..
Photos by Kati - do not use/copy or distribute without written permission of Kati Ackermann Webb @

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