Turning back the pages: Thomas O’Brien

My first assignment at the Golden Museum in the spring of 1990 was a request from the Glenbow Museum in Calgary for information on a lawyer named Thomas O’Brien, who defended a murderer in Golden in 1900.

Having no idea what was in the archives yet, I set this request aside while I learned my way around. Within a few days, I had come across Thomas’ name several times, but not enough information to determine if he had relatives somewhere.

Two weeks after starting, I came across Thomas O’Brien’s obituary. It contained the information that the Glenbow Museum made the inquiry about. They were looking for a relative to whom the government could give a medal of recognition. It seems that Thomas had been an essential person in Manitoba’s history, and they wanted to say thank you finally.

I sent the information and received a thank you back. Since that time, I have come across a great deal of information, enough to become a friend to someone who died 47 years before I was born. Becoming friends with people who have passed frequently happens in my job, because when you spend so much time studying people from the past, you become acquainted with them on a personal level.

Thomas was born near Liverpool, England, in 1872. He came to Canada and became a private secretary to the Honourable Sir John Schultz, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba. Later he moved to Calgary, where he was associated with the law office of Senator J.A. Lougheed and was an alderman on the city council. He moved to Golden in 1897, and a check with the Law Society of B.C. shows he was admitted to the Bar in 1899.

His name began to appear in the police court, and this ad was a regular insert in the Golden Star:

“Thomas O’Brien, Barrister, Solicitor, Notary Public, Conveyancer, etc. Office in the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company Building, Golden, B.C.”

Thomas took an active part in all aspects of Golden’s social life. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge. He was also involved with the curling club, the hospital, the Board of Trade, and was politically active with the Conservative Association.

His exceptional ability as a lawyer helped him fulfill his love of travel, and he traveled all over Canada and the USA. He contributed money to many causes, but any that dealt with children were sure to get his attention. He was quite involved in the business as well and for several years, was the owner of the Golden Star. He also had interests in several mining companies and a hotel.

It sounds like a pretty good life until you look a little deeper. He suffered from terrible bouts of pneumonia and was often in the hospital both here in Golden and Vancouver. Thomas never married, nor did he have any family here, but from everything that I have found, he had many close friends here in Golden.

While on a trip to Spokane, Wash., in Sept. of 1908, Thomas died of pneumonia at the age of 36. His body was brought back to Golden, and buried in the Municipal Cemetery with a ceremony due to a V.l.P. I went to the cemetery looking for his grave and found it sits alone under a tree and reads, Thomas O’Brien – Died Sept 4, 1908, Aged 36 years.

Is it just me, or does it feel wrong that the old part of the Golden Cemetery has been neglected for so long?

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