Monday, May 27, 2019

Sentenced to Life... (Convict Interred at Boot Hill Cemetery)

Hello Friends,

Today I bring you the story of a man who was sentenced to life, released after 18+ years; then found himself in prison again. This is our twenty-third blog about the 49+ convicts buried at the once hidden B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery for many decades, nicknamed "Boot Hill" by the inmates, in New Westminster, B.C.. the cemetery was used between 1913-1967, as a sacred spot for the deceased convicts who's family did not claim their bodies. It has always thought to be "haunted" by the inmates, and countless paranormal groups have reported unexplained happenings from black orbs to voices calling out. The small acre is now accessible to the public, after a face lift replacing the old stones with newer ones, and a plaque describing who is laying beneath the soft sod.

Meet Convict #5920 - George Sydney Williams
Courtesy Find A Grave - Photo by Herbert Rickards (2007)
George Sydney Williams was born on January 29, 1882, in Haldimand County, Ontario.
His father, Isham (born 1852, Haldimand Township), was married to Emma Jane (born in 1859, Ontario). George was one of 9 children, all of whom were born in the Canadian province of Ontario, and are now deceased.
I found a record of his birth:
Courtesy - Birth Records of Haldimand Township
(Jan.29, 1882)
The Canadian Census of 1891, indicated the Williams' children were raised under Baptist beliefs, even though their mother was a Methodist.
It also indicated that Isham's father (a farmer) was American; while his mother was of English decent, and immigrated to Canada before 1848. Researching further, Isham's family line goes back to Jamaica and Wales.
Emma's father was American; while her mother was of English decent, and immigrated to Canada in 1842.

Northumberland County, in which Alnwick-Haldimand Township is situated, lays on the north side of Lake Ontario, and east of the city of Toronto. It is home of the Mississauga Ojibwas of Alderville First Nations, who returned in the early 19th Century and settled in the area they had inhabited 300 years earlier.
Courtesy Library & Archives Canada
- Circa 1891 Map Northumberland County West
The county was first settled by United Empire Loyalists fleeing from the 13 British American Colonies (who declared independence in 1776 & formed U.S.A.) in 1791. Following the war of 1812, European immigrants began arriving on steamers. Alnwick-Haldimand Townships were formed in the 1790's. The Loyalists were attracted to the area due to large unencumbered land grants. Agriculture became the main source of income in the region; from grain, milk, and livestock, to vineyards and apple farms.

The Williams family settled in the area, and in the 1901 Canadian Census, described George's father as a "blacksmith". All 9 children are indicated as living at home, including George's mother.
Courtesy - 1901 Canada Census, Haldimand Township
In 1911, George's sister, Gladys, dies. She was 16 years of age.

In 1920, circumstances changed for George. He had moved to the Province of Alberta, near Drumheller, employed by the City as a Labourer. There was coal mining in the area; and the below newspaper described him as a miner. When the news of George's arrest was announced (under the name of "Sydney"), it spread across the country quickly, for his crime carried with it a sentence of Life Imprisonment.
Courtesy - Calgary Herald (Oct.08, 1920) pg 11
In 1920, the Canadian Law clearly stated: "[Carnal knowledge.] 
7. Carnal knowledge is complete upon penetration to any, even the slightest degree, and even without the emission of seed. 55-56 V., c. 29, s. - 266. [Carnally knowing girl under fourteen years.] 301. Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life, and to be whipped, who carnally knows any girl under the age of fourteen years, not being his wife, whether he believes her to be of or above that age or not." (from the 1920 Criminal Code R.C.S. 1906).

The above newspaper article indicates George was "cool" during his entire trial and testified on his own behalf. He was under suspicion of a "revolting crime against a little girl, five years of age", as the paper explained. George was found guilty.
Courtesy Univ. of Alberta Libraries - Redcliff Review (Sept.09, 1920) pg 07
Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Oct.08, 1920) pg 03
Newspapers across the country brought the story to Canadians within a day of George's sentence. Above are two articles. One from September 1920, announcing that miners are needed in the Drumheller district. Could this have attracted George to the area? In the 1901 Census, George, at the age of 19, indicates he was not employed.

The second article was printed in the Vancouver Sun (British Columbia); however, similar articles were found in the Saskatoon Daily (Saskatchewan), Montreal Gazette (Quebec), the Free Press (London, Ontario) and Windsor Star (Ontario).
The crime of Carnal Knowledge was a brutal one, and still is today.

George Sydney Williams' sentence sent him to the Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan. Below is the Canada Census of 1921 which confirmed his fate.
Courtesy - 1921 Canada Census, Prince Albert Penitentiary
As luck has it, I found an index of inmates from the Penitentiary dated in 1923. George was listed as prisoner #2575, carpenter, sentenced on October 07, 1920 and received at the prison on May 22, 1923. I do not know why it says he's received 1.5 years later, as the Census from 1921 confirmed he was incarcerated at the prison.
Courtesy - List of Inmates, 1923 - page 01
Courtesy - List of Inmate crimes 1923, pg 02
Courtesy - Prince Albert Penitentiary
Prince Albert Penitentiary, or the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, was opened May 15, 1911, and built on a former site of a Residential School run by the Anglican Church of Canada. It is still operating today, with five of it's structures designated as Heritage Buildings. It's a clustered institution with minimum to maximum facilities plus a mental health unit, and is walled on 20 acres of land. It has a capacity to house approximately 700 inmates in total today. Like most institutions, it has had its share of riots, reported abuse and so on.

In the Canada Census of 1926, George was listed in the Manitoba Penitentiary at Rockwood, known as Stony Mountain Institution. This confirmed he had been transferred. For what reason, perhaps overcrowding, or a fight? We just don't know.
Courtesy - Stony Mountain Penitentiary
Stony Mountain Institution (Federal Penitentiary), is located 24 kms north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. This institution has been operational since January 1877. It is Canada's oldest federal prison still working today. The administration building, constructed between 1931-1947, is designated as a Heritage Building. In 1962, the Rockwood Institution was constructed adjacent to the old buildings. It serves as a medium-security facility. The institutions can house approximately 800 inmates in total.
Courtesy Library & Archives Canada - 1926 Prairie Provinces Census
While serving his sentence, George's father passed away in 1935 in Northumberland County, Ontario; and his mother passed away in 1938 in the same County.

In August 1939, George Sydney Williams was released after serving 18 years, 10 months and 9 days. He traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to set up home. His brother, Wallace Williams had moved from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1940, retired from the Canadian Pacific Railroad service. I could not be sure if they wanted to be close to one another, or it was just a coincidence. Wallace was George's older brother (born 1878), and certainly may have been a mentor. However, this was not confirmed.
In 1944, George's brother Charles passed away at the age of 65.

Courtesy Vancouver Public Library - Aerial of Steveston
circa 1956-57 (Accession No. 47913)
I found George living in Richmond, B.C. by 1945 as a labourer. One newspaper report indicated he lived in the Steveston area.
It was the municipality (now designated a city due to it's rapid growth) in which I grew up in the 1960's to 1970's. Once filled with blueberry and cranberry farms, and home to a large fishing community (Steveston); it is now a thriving city (designated in 1990). Richmond sits on Lulu and Sea Islands at the mouth of the Fraser River. The Coast Salish bands were known to have set up temporary camps to fish and collect berries; and were reported to have had villages in the Steveston and Sea Island areas. The first European Settlers in the 1860's were farmers. The delta soil was rich for agriculture.
As a child, I remember the dykes that were created to assist with the farming. This, of course, could not have been easy in the late 1800's to develop. Blueberry picking was a chore, but a great summer job to earn a bit of cash in the pocket so I could enjoy rollerskating at the local rink. Farms were everywhere back then; but now the Islands have changed, and manufacturing, service and technological industries have taken over.

Courtesy - Province (Mar.03, 1945) pg 15
Courtesy - Richmond Review (Apr.11, 1945) pg01
George Sydney Williams was once again in court facing charges of "indecent assault" on a 12 year old boy on March 31st. On May 1st, George elected for a jury trial when he appeared in the County Court. The trial was remanded to the summer assizes, later in the month.
Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (May 01, 1945) pg09
Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (May 26, 1945) pg05
Courtesy - Province (Jul.05, 1945) pg02
Courtesy - Vancouver Sun (Jul.07, 1945) pg01

He was found guilty and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in the penitentiary. As luck would have it, I found the Penitentiary Reception Card, which helps to explain a few details for us.

Courtesy - Penitentiary Reception Card (front)
Courtesy - Penitentiary Reception Card (back)
Information on his Reception Card provides us with details:
1) Date of Crime - March 31, 1945 (Orig. 1920)
2) Date of Conviction - May 25, 1945 / Original Conviction - October 07, 1920
3) Date of Admission: July 17, 1945
4) Nature of Offence: 1) Assault with intent to commit sodomy; 2) Wicket of Leave Violator (on original sentence, Calgary, Alberta. LIFE for Carnal Knowledge).
5) Term each Offence: 1) 2 1/2 years; 2) LIFE (being remanet of original LIFE Sentence dated October 07, 1920 at Calgary Alberta for Carnal Knowledge).
6) Concurrent or Consecutive - Consecutive
7) Number of Previous Convictions - 1
8) Time Served in Penitentiaries - 18 yrs. 10 mos. 9 days
9) Time Served in Reformatories - none
10) Time Served in Gaols - 2 mos. 18 days
11) Total Time Served - 19 yrs. 0 mos. 27 days
12) Urban or Rural pursuit - Urban
13) Name of Municipality - Steveston, B.C.
14) Was Convict ever in Asylum - No
15) Was Convict ever in Feeble-minded Institution - No
16) Was Convict ever in Tuberculosis Hospital - No
17) Was Convict ever inmate of any other Non-Penal Institution - No
18) Is Convict Normal or Abnormal Mentally - Normal
19) Physical defects if any - Nil
20) Does Convict use Alcohol, if so, how - Temperate
21) Does Convict use Drugs - No
22) Was Convict employed at the time of Crime - Yes
23) If unemployed, state period prior to Crime - "not answered"
24) {cannot make this out} - No
25) {cannot make this out} at time of Crime - Odd Job Carpenter
26) {cannot make this out} - Construction
27) Earnings when last Employed - $0.90 per hour
28) Number of Dependents - Nil
29) Age of Admission - 63
30) Marital Status - Single
31) Place of Birth - Grafton, Ontario
32) Place of Birth of Father - U.S.A.
33) Place of Birth of Mother - Canada

34) If Immigrant, year of arrival - "not answered"
35) {cannot make this out} - "not answered"
36) Nationality - Canadian
37) Racial Origin - Welsh
38) Can Convict speak English - Yes

39) Can Convict speak French - No
40) Mother tongue of Convict - English
41) Religious Denomination - Presbyterian
42) Education Questions - Yes / Reads & Writes + Yes / Common School

On the flip side of the card:
43) Weight - 157 lbs
44) Height - 5'8"
45) Complexion - Medium
46) Eyes - Grey, wears glasses
47) Hair - Grey
48) Where {cannot make this out} - 1) Vancouver, B.C.; 2) New Westminster, B.C.
49) By Whom Sentenced - 1) Mr. Justice MacFarlane; 2) Police Magistrate Harry Johnston
50) Court - 1) Supreme; 2) Police

51) Did Convict Appeal - No
52) Date Waiver Signed - Charge 1) July 17, 1945
53) Next of Kin - Brother: Mr. W. W. Williams, 1666 Beach Ave, Vancouver, B.C.
Remarks: {cannot make this out}
Date of Birth: January 29, 1882
(Correct Name) Sidney Williams

Ex-Sask Penitentiary - #508-Williams, & Transferred to Manitoba Penitentiary as #2575-Williams
(New Ticket of Leave Violator to serve remanet of Life Sentence)

Thankful for the extra information, I could now get a better understanding of George, as well as his description. It is more likely George committed other sexual offences against children but wasn't caught as they were never reported to the police.

In 1945, the Canadian Law states: [Part V: Offences Against the Person and Reputation: Assaults: 293 - Indecent assault on males. Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to ten years' imprisonment, and to be whipped, who assaults any person with intent to commit sodomy or who, being male, indecently assaults any other male person. R.S., c 146, s. 293.]

George was sent to the B.C. Penitentiary to serve out the 2 1/2 years for his crime in 1945; and to serve the remainder of his Life Sentence from the ruling in 1920. The question is, would prison reform him? Or was it used as punishment?

In 1945, the Warden of "the Pen" was Colonel William Meighen, assigned in February 1935. He had been transferred from Stony Mountain Penitentiary, and was a brother of a former Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen. He was described as a stern disciplinarian whose decisions would slightly favour the convicts, had a sympathetic streak, and was absent-minded at times. The Warden had completed 25 years of service that year, and in 1946 retired, appointing R.S. (Bob) Douglass (a Deputy Warden since 1930) as the new Warden. Along with a new Warden came a change of the prison's mandate. Instead of just serving time, inmates were opened up to new possibilities to help them see that they could be wiser upon their release. Education became a key focus, along with an increase in sports, exercise, public speaking, confidence-building classes, and a prison magazine (called Transition) began publication in 1952. Wage scales for prisoners went up to $0.20/day. However, as in past decades, a silence bell would ring at 6 p.m. telling prisoners they could not talk to their inmates in adjacent cells after that hour. Other changes involved the guards, providing them with new training at a College set up in Ottawa, Ontario.

With few incidences to his service (2 escapees, recaptured later; and one beating of a guard - not confirmed), Warden Douglass retired in 1955 after 42 years. The job was then assigned to Fred Cummins, with Tom Hall as his Deputy Warden. Both men had served in the militia. An increase of inmates was reported to be at a high in March 1946, at a number of 692. Two new dormitories were built, as well as renovation of the hospital, chapels and the kitchen. A canteen was also provided. Rehabilitative programs continued, and hobby crafts brought in over $12,000 in sales. Additions to the recreation programs were made.
Courtesy New Westminster Archives - 1950's Cells in B.C. Pen (ID-64264)
George's brother, Albert, died in 1954 in Clover Bar, Edmonton, Alberta.

George Sydney Williams' life came to an end in November 1956. It was ruled an accident. George had been in the Penitentiary's hospital when his bed caught fire due to smoking. He received multiple burns over 40% of his body surface, and died of congestive heart failure. His heart gave out as it was unable to pump efficiently and caused blood in his lungs; thus reducing his oxygen intake and caused shortness of breath. This led to a fatal heart attack. George was 74 years old.
Courtesy New Westminster Heritage - Funeral Records (Nov.1956)
George Sydney Williams was buried at the B.C. Penitentiary Cemetery, which lay west across the ravine from the prison, on December 07, 1945 at 3 p.m. Reverend D.J. Gillies held a short graveside service. Family did not claim his body.

This concludes the story of our convict. Remember, when visiting the cemetery to please respect those interred no matter of their crime(s).

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
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

Until next time,


Sources:; BC Archives; Library & Archives Canada:; UBC Library Open Collections; BC Directories;; Wikipedia; Google Maps; - A History of Canadian Sexual Assault Legislation 1900-2000 + Carnal Crimes;; Canadian Encyclopedia; Ontario Genealogy;;;;; Correctional Service Canada; "Four Walls in the West - the Story of the British Columbia Penitentiary" - Jack David Scott;

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