Turning Back the Pages: Judge Drake intended to stamp out disrespect for the law

By Colleen Palumbo

Late in 1997, I was asked to do some research work for a woman from Valemount who was interested in writing a book about the first Supreme Court trial that took place in Golden in 1899.

Soon, Margaret McMirdy and I were corresponding back and forth. Several times she was at a standstill and so was I, then out of the blue, some new piece of information would come to light that would spur us on again. Last week Margaret sent me a copy of her finished book, written in the style of fiction to make it a meatier story, but based entirely on fact. Below is an excerpt from The Color of Gold by McMirdy.

“On the morning of October 30, citizens of Golden strolled towards the Canadian Pacific Rail station. Men had dressed in Sunday suits. Women wore hats, gloves and fur stoles. Little girls walked decorously on patent leather slippers and tossed their curls at waifs and their unruly dogs. Little boys with hair plastered down, turned the back of their caps to the insults hurled at them by these same waifs. The fathers avoided sardonic glances from loungers.

Mr. William McNeish from the Columbia House drove his matched team of grays, silver and brass, jingling in tune with the clap of hooves while red trim and black harness danced in time. Buffalo robes on the carriage seats awaited the comfort of dignitaries from afar.

A haunting steam whistle echoed through the mountains and the assembly listened to clickity-clack, clickity-clack while the engine puffed steam, approached and passed. The baggage car stood opposite the station when the train stopped.

The baggage man threw off the leather luggage, mail bags and express. The engine steamed and puffed, and the train moved forward till the first class car stopped before the assembled crowd.

The porter stepped off, sat down two Gladstone bags and two briefcases, put down the step, and offered his assistance to Judge Drake. Dressed in great-coat, fur hat, canvas galoshes, a woolen muffler and woolen gloves, the judge impatiently declined the offer, climbed down from the car and planted his cane firmly on the station platform.

Judge Drake, with jaw clamped firmly and expression sour, had been on the circuit since early September and had just sentenced a man in Revelstoke to a year for stealing a horse. All through the southern interior, he had tried men for fighting, for trespassing and for theft. All of them were guilty. He had been heard to say disrespect for the law was everywhere and he intended to stamp it out. When Mr. McNeish stepped forward with the offer of transportation to the hotel, the judge declined.

“I wish to take my morning stroll,” Judge Drake said. “See that my bags are delivered to my room.”

After the judge moved away from the door, the porter offered assistance to MacLean, a younger man than the judge. MacLean politely accepted the offer.

MacLean had come from Victoria but appeared untired by the long journey; he walked firmly and briskly along the platform. He requested that his bags be taken to the hotel and asked for direction to the government office. When there, he introduced himself and asked for Griffith.

To this man from Victoria, the young clerk answered nervously, “I am sorry, sir. Mr. Griffith has stepped out for the moment. He was not expecting you so soon. Can I be of any help, sir?”

MacLean inquired whether an interpreter had been located and the clerk reassured him. MacLean was disturbed to hear that Hollings and Hostyn, witnesses at the first preliminary hearing, were not available.

“They left in July, Sir. I believe they live somewhere near Edmonton. They are prospectors and it would have been very expensive to locate them.”

“No, sir,” the clerk replied to the next question. “Mr. Cool will not be a witness for the defense. He is in Windermere not far away. He knows Mr. Hughes well, but nobody asked for him to be subpoenaed.”

“Yes, sir, there are witnesses for the defense, two of them. But I am afraid, sir, one of them isn’t an honest man. Well, sir, he stole from the store and lied about it. And he lived with a woman in a cheap hotel. The woman is not his wife.” The clerk lowered his gaze.

“A prostitute?” MacLean asked sternly.”

The original transcripts of this trial are held here in the archives at the Golden Museum.

Check out this book, The Colour of Gold. There may be a copy or two over at Bacchus books.

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