After much research, I bring you the case of a young Vancouver lad who chose to walk the wrong side of life, which put him in federal prison, where he died. This is our twenty-first blog about the convicts buried at Boot Hill Cemetery (nicknamed - properly named the old B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery) in New Westminster, B.C., which had been used between the years of 1913 to 1967, by the B.C. Penitentiary (razed in 1980), one of the toughest Canadian prisons in history.
Meet Convict #9511 - Henry Gordon Wichmann
|Photo by Kati - #9511 (east section, middle of 2nd to last row)|
taken 2016, January
I first discovered Henry in the B.C. Archives while searching for a birth or death certificates to aid us. The old records of the cemetery convicts had documented his name as a question. Is it "Wickman" or "Wichmann"? I carefully examined each item. As luck would have it, my amateur sleuthing produced the right man. I tell this young man's story as found through newspaper records, provincial documents and ancestry searches.
Henry Gordon was born in Vancouver, B.C. on August 14, 1928, to Harry Andrew Wichmann (born in Illinois 1879 of Prussian descent) and Rose Ann Elizabeth Wherley (born in Minnesota 1889 of German & Irish descent). Harry moved to Minnesota in 1900, and after meeting Rose, they were married in South Dakota in 1905, near the Canadian border. Within a year the Wichmann's moved to Canada, to the open prairies of Saskatchewan, where they set up home outside of Humboldt on a farm. Listed in the 1906 and 1911 Canadian Census, Harry was noted as a farmer with 5 horses and 2 milk cows. The first of their many children, Rose, was born in 1906. Margret arrived in 1909.
|Courtesy of SAIN - Humboldt, Main Street (circa 1910)|
Humboldt was also known to be the site of the first stagecoach robbery in Western Canada. The Canadian National Railways reached the area in 1905, and built a station. It was also known to attract German people as immigration was promoted by the German American Land Company. Most flocked to the area from the Northern Plains states of U.S.A., the German Empire and the Russian Empire. It grew to become the "Heart of Sure Crop District" for its reliable growing weather, and established itself as a centre for farming equipment and supplies businesses.
|Courtesy U.Alberta (Peel Library) - King St West, North Battleford (1913)|
By the time Henry Gordon was born (1928), he had 2 brothers (a 3rd brother had died in 1926) and 3 sisters, most born in Saskatchewan. Harry, Henry's father, had a brother living in Whatcom County, Washington U.S.A., which really wasn't that far from their new home.
The 1921 Census has the family living in South Vancouver, on their farm at 45th Avenue East, just off Victoria Drive. Today the area is a residential neighbourhood, with the Fraser River a few kilometers to the south.
Vancouver, in the early 1920s, was growing as a new city. It falls within the traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples; known as the Squamish, Tsleil-waututh, and Musqueam. What was happening in the city during that time?
--> The Polar Bear Club swim began in January 1920, where several hundred people leapt into the chilly waters of English Bay to welcome in the new year, and still do to this day;
--> the Vancouver harbour police were formed;
--> the first airplane to fly across Canada arrived in Richmond (municipality next door) on October 17, 1920, taking 10 days travel;
--> prohibition ended in 1920 (it began in 1917);
--> arrests for prostitution counted 500;
--> the first federal election where women had a vote was held in 1921;
--> the population of the city was over 117,000;
--> motor vehicles changed from driving on the left side to the right side on January 1st, 1922, without accidents;
--> 51 new government established liquor stores were opened in 1922, and flourished;
--> women were able serve on juries in 1922;
--> electric power came to West Vancouver after a battle in court;
--> a walnut farmer, Charles Edward Tisdall, became Vancouver's mayor in 1922;
--> and there was at least one automobile for every 12 people in the city.
|Courtesy Vancouver City Archives - LP No. 153.2 (circa 1948)|
aerial view, Fraser River below & English Bay above
with North Shore Mountains
|Courtesy of VPL.ca - City Directories listing the Wichmann Family|
Rose was found to be living in an apartment complex in East Vancouver by 1943. She remarried to Joseph Diederichs (originally from Wisconsin), who lived in New Westminster, B.C. We could not locate the marriage certificate, so the year has not been determined, but it was some time between 1943, and 1945.
On October 18, 1943, Henry was sent to live with his sister, Marguerite Smith, in Washington State, U.S.A. On the border documents, it indicates he was to live there permanently.
The documents also hold a brief description of Henry: 105.3 lbs, 5'11" tall, medium build, light brown hair, with blue eyes.
His mother paid the passage via railway. He had been registered and fingerprinted at the Consulate in Vancouver the year prior to his trip.
|Courtesy Ancestry.ca - Border Crossing document (Oct.18, 1943)|
|Courtesy Ancestry.ca - Border Crossing document, side 2 (Oct.18, 1943)|
So how did the confusion come about with the last name being "Wickman"? As a 1st generation Canadian of German ancestry, I can understand mispronunciations of our names, and often people will record it incorrectly. This could be the reason. "Wichmann", in German dialect, is actually pronounced "V - ik - man".
With the help of Ancestry, I learned that Henry enlisted in the Merchant Seamen in 1944 and left Vancouver's Port on the SS Leaside Park (a cargo ship, owned by the Anglo-Canadian Shipping Co.) and headed for Britain.
|History of the SS Leaside Park - Canadian Ship named after an Ontario Park|
Approximately 12,000 merchant seamen made it through WW2; some aged as young as 15 years, while most were in their 40s, and a few up to 70 years old. Over 25,000 were among the casualties, most of which were British. These men were not able to enlist in the armed services for several reasons, mostly due to age, physical shortcomings and/or had been enlisted but discharged. Therefore they joined the fight as Merchant Seamen.
Henry came home nearing the end of the war. We found information as to his arrival on the continent from England.
|Courtesy of Ancestry.ca - SS Leaside Park arrival in New York (1945, Apr.07)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg09 (1945, Aug.23)|
A year after the war ended, Henry is reported in the Vancouver newspapers to have committed a crime. What had happened to him? Did his time as a Seaman put him into a dark space he couldn't come out of? Regardless, Henry chose the wrong path in life, and may not have been able to put himself right. The following accounts from the newspapers are a testament to whom he had become.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg01 (1946, Nov.22)|
Further news indicated he was not always honest to the authority.:
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg22 (1946, Nov26)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg22 (1946, Dec.02)|
Henry and William McPherson broke into a private home, stole personal possessions (including jewelry, total value amounting to $7000 - in today's Cdn dollar = $98,700), took the home owners vehicle, and crashed it into a store in New Westminster about 17 kms away (10.5 miles). The young men also, on a previous occasion, stole two guns from a private home in an exclusive Vancouver neighbourhood, which were used several days later in the armed robbery of a drug store. Furthermore, they admitted to a robbery of narcotics at a different drug store. They were on a spree of trouble.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg01 (1946, Dec.06)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg02 (1946, Dec.02)|
Doesn't this sound familiar? Today we experience the same problems: theft of personal property, vehicle theft, gun theft, armed hold ups, narcotics theft and more. Time has not changed how people choose to make quick cash to gain their fixes.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Nanaimo Daily News, pg02 (1946, Dec.11)|
Several months after his release, Henry was in trouble again. It appears the penitentiary didn't change his attitude nor give him confidence to choose other options for his future.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg15 (1950, Apr.04)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg43 (1950, Apr.12)|
Henry's address, as reported in the newspaper, is that of his mother's and stepfather's. They lived in a small house in New Westminster, not far from the penitentiary. By this time, Henry's mother was aged 61. I can only imagine she was tired of what was going on and didn't know how to help Henry change his ways.
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg08 (1952, Feb21)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg08 (1953, Nov.26)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Calgary Herald, pg27 (1953, Nov.26)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg35 (1953, Dec.03)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg08 (1953, Dec.23)|
It is four years and nearly to the date, that Henry is caught a final time. It has us believing he didn't serve a full 5 year sentence. Often prisoners are released early due to good behaviour and/or overcrowding.
An excerpt from the book titled "Four Walls in the West - the story of the British Columbia Penitentiary" written by Jack David Scott, Chapter 11:
"After the Second World War, the Canadian Penitentiary Service's new look became even more noticeable. The emphasis now was definitely on reform. Prison must cease to be a place where a man or woman merely served time before being released to do the same kind of thing all over again. Prisoners must be so treated that they would come out, if not better, at least wiser, having been exposed to activities showing that a different way of life was possible."
Educational programs were being offered in the penitentiary. We do not know if Henry chose to attend classes, and therefore do not know how receptive he was to reform. With evidence of his arrest in 1957, he was most likely released early because of good behaviour. It's documented in the "Four Walls in the West" that a population explosion happened in the penitentiary between the years 1946 (365 inmates), and 1956 (692 inmates).
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg20 (1957, Dec.05)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Vancouver Sun, pg19 (1957, Dec.06)|
|Courtesy Newspapers.com - Surrey Leader, pg07 (1957, Dec.12)|
Several days later, an article in the Surrey Leader described a police (RCMP = Royal Canadian Mounted Police) chase of Henry Gordon "Wickman" in the area of Whalley, resulting in his arrest and a two year sentence due to breaking and entering of a second hand store.
How this can happen at the same time of the Stanley Park arrest? I wonder if Henry was released while waiting on sentencing for the Stanley Park incidence when he was caught in Surrey? Although the Vancouver Sun article dated Dec.06th indicated that a 3 year term had been imposed. Was the arrest in Whalley earlier, and he was charged after the crime in the park? Perhaps he was hauled out of prison to attend the matter of the crime in Surrey?
It happened previously when Henry was serving time in Oakalla Prison and had to appear in court due to further narcotics charges in 1953, which then had him transferred to the B.C. Penitentiary.
I have checked several times, while I was conducting my research, to ensure Henry Gordon Wichmann and Gordon Wickman were the same person. I am satisfied we had the correct man.
Sadly, Henry met his death the following month, on January 21, 1958, due to Coronary Thrombosis (heart attack). He was buried at 10am on Saturday, January 25, 1958. He was not quite 30 years young. A family history of heart disease, especially in men (fathers & brothers before age of 55, mothers & sisters before age of 65), would be the cause a high risk development in a son and/or brother.
|Courtesy B.C. Archives - portion of Death Certificate 1958|
|Photo by Kati - #9511 as Unknown (2018, Aug.29)|
part of the new plaque at the Cemetery
This concludes our account of Henry Gordon Wichmann. I hope you have learned something valuable. We will continue our series by bringing you the stories of other inmates buried at the small acre of land nicknamed "Boot Hill Cemetery" but known as the B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery.
If you visit the site, please keep in mind that this is sacred land, and no matter who these men were in life, their space should be respected.
You can comment on our Facebook Page, or send an email using our Website to connect with us. Know anything to help support this effort in finding out who the B.C. Penitentiary Convicts were? Contact us! We'd love to hear from you.
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
20) Meet Convict #6651 - Gordon Wallace
21) Meet Convict #9511 - Henry Gordon Wichmann
22) Meet Convict #3348 - Frank Wilson
20) Meet Convict #6651 - Gordon Wallace
21) Meet Convict #9511 - Henry Gordon Wichmann
22) Meet Convict #3348 - Frank Wilson
Sources: newspapers.com; ancestry.ca; familysearch.org; BritishColonist.ca; UBC Open Sessions; BC Archives; Vancouver Public Library; BC Directories; Saskatchewan Archival Information Network (SAIN); Humboldt Museum; U.Alberta Libraries - Peel's Prairie Provinces; vancouverhistory.ca; Vancouver City Archives; the Canadian Encyclopedia; Encyclopedia Britannica; inflationcalculator.ca; shipbuildinghistory.com; fortships.tripod.com; "Four Walls in the West - the story of the British Columbia Penitentiary" - Jack David Scott
Note: Photos by Kati are the property of Kati Ackermann Webb and Vancouver Spooks Paranormal Investigations (VSPI) and may not be used or copied without written permission.