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If you would like to use any of the following stories marked as a History Handout for your customers and guests, or for other reproductions, please contact the author, Sheila Willis, through this form. References for historical content available upon request. 

The Light Fingered Justice of the Peace (William Mortimer Gardiner)

An image of Mirror Landing, circa 1913 when Gardiner was the Justice of the Peace. Credit: Glenbow Archives A-2318-9.The Athabasca Archives also has images of Mirror Landing. 

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. 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.

NoteL: Thanks to L. Carmicheal, the Provincial Archives of Alberta, and others who helped me with info on this story.

The Murder of Edward Hayward by Charles King (aka The King Murder)

In September of 1904, Edward Hayward and Charles King, set up camp on the Sucker Creek reserve at the west end of Lesser Slave Lake. Hayward was friendly but King kept to himself. On their third night there, Joseph Keesaynees heard a gunshot coming from their camp.

The next morning, Sophia Cardinal, went to the camp to deliver a pair of moccasins Hayward had asked her to make. King was throwing sticks on a large fire and made motions for her to leave. Sophia, who had experience cooking moose meat over a fire, recognized the smell of burning flesh - and the absence of Hayward. She left, probably as fast as she could.

Later that day King was seen on the trail alone. People were getting the idea that things were not good for the missing Hayward. They went to the campsite to look around and in the ashes of the campfire they found burnt pieces of clothing and other suspicious items. The most telling of these were three bones that fit together, and formed what looked to be part of a human skull. Chief Moostoos, took these bits of evidence home and put them in a baking powder tin.

When he told Sergeant Anderson of the Northwest Mounted Police, that they thought Hayward had been murdered, Anderson thought the story to be a fabrication based on the ‘superstitious nature’ of the Indigenous residents. Bones that look like they came from a skull are hard to ignore though and soon the camp was being searched for more evidence. After more gruesome finds were made, Charles King was arrested and charged with murder.

In Edmonton, the preliminary hearing took place on February 20th, 1905. The crowd of onlookers was so big that they had to move the hearingfrom the police barracks to City Hall. After this hearing, King went on trial where he was found guilty. He then appealed to the Supreme Court, and again, was found guilty.

For each of the court proceedings the witnesses from Sucker Creek were brought to Edmonton to testify, often through an interpreter.

King’s first date with death was May 10th, 1905 but it was delayed for the retrial. His second scheduled date to hang was August 31st. The inauguration for the new province of Alberta was to be the next day. It would ‘never do’ to have a hanging discolour the festivities and the hanging was delayed again. On September 20th, the hanging finally took place.

King’s body was placed in a rough coffin, facedown. The death warrant was put on his back with his hands over it. His coffin was carried to the southwest corner of the fort enclosure by three other prisoners. After he was buried they levelled the spot leaving no mound to mark the spot.

Had the residents of Sucker Creek not reported the suspicious circumstances, assisted with collecting the evidence, and offered clear and unwavering testimony in the trial, King may have easily gotten away with murder.

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Starved on the Pembina

From the Jarvis, Fawcett & Athabasca Region


When Jack (Buck) Chapman and George McMillan left to trap along the Pembina River in September of 1887 they had no idea of the hardships they would face. They planned to trap together, yet run two trap lines, with two separate camps. This way they could cover twice the territory, hopefully catch twice the animals, yet ensure each other's safety on a daily basis.

When they reached the Pembina they found a camp used by two other trappers the year before and set up their first camp there. Leaving half their food, and other supplies there they set off a day’s travel downstream to set up their second camp.

Everything was going pretty good through the winter. Their fur catch included 30 fisher and other fur bearing animals. At the end of February things took a drastic turn for the worse when their food supply ran out. They resorted to eating the carcasses from the animals they trapped and when those were gone, the pelts were next up on the menu.

Their new diet did not sit well with them. George McMillan was the first to get sick but recovered fairly quickly. When Jack Chatman got sick though he did not recover. Whatever he had paralyzed him from the waist down. He was totally reliant on McMillan for two months.

On the 26th of April, their luck seemed to be changing when the ice went out on the Pembina. On the same day McMillan managed to shoot a partridge and made a soup out of it. With his belly full, and the ice gone, Chatman’s spirits were raised. There was an end to his ordeal in sight. It was quicker than he thought as after eating the soup, he went to sleep and died.

McMillan, being weak as he was, took an axe and chopped a grave in the frozen ground. He wasn't able to get it very deep so placed brush and poles on top to protect the grave.The next day, McMillan got in the canoe and started going downstream on the Pembina and then the Athabasca rivers. The ducks had arrived so he was able to shoot some and feed himself.

When he reached Athabasca, half starved, he told Leslie Wood of the Hudson’s Bay Company what had happened and reported Chapman's death. He reported that he buried Jack “Buck” Chatman where the fifth Meridian crossed the Pembina the second time. He then went on to say that as soon as he was back in shape he was going to go to the Great Slave Lake and hunt and trap there. personally I think it shows the fortitude of some of the early explorers looking to make a new life in the north.

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Weddings | Events | Vacations

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Fred Brewers Diary

In 1912, Fred Brewer, along with two other men, started from Edmonton with the intnt of going to the Peace River country. The trio went by way of the Athabasca Landing and Lesser Slave Lake trails. With Fred Brewer were Thomas E. Denning from Iowa, and Williard Martin from North Dakota. Later, along the trail they joined the outfits of F. Olsen from California and O. & E. [Eddie] Johnston from Minnesota. Mr. Brewer, who turned back after reaching Grouard, kept a diary of the trip which is a wealth of information - and humour.

In 2017, I met Brewer's grandson Ron Payne and his wife Marlena, who had come to northern Alberta to follow the path of Ron's granfather. They have given me permission to share the diary. Click here to read the diary. (Some grammar is edited for readability.)

If you would like to use any of the following stories as a History Handout for your customers and guests, or for other reproductions, please contact the author, Sheila Willis, through this form. References for historical content available upon request. 

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