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The Justice of the Peace that Got Away

In late 1913 Mirror Landing was anticipating the coming of the Edmonton, Dunvegan & British Columbia Railway. Up until that time Mirror Landing was a steamboat town located at the junction of the Lesser Slave and Athabasca rivers, and a major stopping place on the route north. It is across the river from present day Smith, Alberta.

The business men of the town were busy getting ready for the big economic boom that the railway was sure to bring their way. They had applied to incorporate as a village under the name Port Cornwall and the Royal North West Mounted Police had established barracks there. One thing was needed; a Justice of the Peace.

Enter William Mortimer Gardiner. He was highly recommended (at least in his own words) using Alberta Premier Sifton, Mr Harmen the Deputy Minister for Railroads and Telephones, and the Honourable Frank Oliver as references in his letter to the Attorney General’s office. J.L. Cote the area M.P.P. (M.L.A.) and Superintendent McDonnell of the RNWMP, “N” Division sent in personal recommendations.

On October 1st, 1913, Gardiner received a telegram confirming his appointment. He was told he could commence with his duties once he had taken the Oath and sent it to the Attorney General’s office. That Gardiner, and perhaps the local police, were not above cutting corners was immediately apparent, as his first fine was issued on October 1, and the Oath was sent in on October 3rd. 

Over the next year and a half Gardiner issued fines, primarily for having intoxicating liquor in a prohibited district as per the NWT Act and for possessing or selling moose meat under the Game Laws. There were drunk and disorderly charges, a few assaults, and even the occasional fine for visiting, or running, a house of ill fame thrown in. In one case a man was fined $5 for failure to provide for his wife compared to the $50 fine generally issued for illegal alcohol.

Around July 1915 Gardiner failed to turn in some fine money. It wasn’t long before the Attorney General’s office was looking for him. By January 1916 all Alberta police detachments were told to watch out for him. It was reported that his son-in-law, a bank manager in southern Alberta, had received a letter from Gardiner but he would likely deny it for family reasons as he was “keeping his mother-in-law.”

In October 1917 the Deputy Sheriff of Spokane County, Washington confirmed Gardiner had been in the area of Mead the year before and was wanted for larceny there. It was finally recommended that the charges against Gardiner be dropped. He had gotten away. 

At some point Gardiner returned to Canada, living in the Vancouver area. He and his wife celebrated their Golden Anniversary there in May of 1930, and Gardiner passed away at the age of 89 in March of 1941.

(This story is a short version of one contained in Sheila's Shenanigans Magazine, October 2023 Issue. The image below can be found at the Athabasca Archives, the Provincal Archies and Glenbow (U of Calgary).

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