By Dale Darychuck
On May 2, 2015, I led a walk along the Glenbrook Ravine. A stream runs through the ravine, which is adjacent to the old B.C. Penitentiary, which closed down about 25 years ago. I had learned from a local senior that her father and uncle had had a very interesting experience in the Ravine back in 1905, when they were just 8 and 10 years old. At that time, the penitentiary housed Billy Miner, a train robber whose life was the subject of the movie The Grey Fox. He was well known as a “gentleman train robber” and was a favorite of the locals, who hated the railway companies. The boys used to dam the stream in the ravine to make themselves a little pond to skinny dip in during the summer.
On August 8, 1905, Billy Miner escaped from the Pen, and found the boys enjoying themselves swimming. They recognized him immediately from his posters. He liked kids, so he spent a few minutes talking to them. When he left, he said to the boys, "Now, if anyone asks you whether you have seen anybody, what are you going to say?" They replied in unison, "Nobody!" He left, and was never recaptured in Canada. The boys kept their secret till they were well into adulthood, partly because of his implied warning and partly because they were not supposed to be playing near the penitentiary.
Bill Miner in 1906 (public domain photo)
This story was so intriguing that I asked my daughter, Katrina Darychuk (now a director at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto), to write a mini play about the interaction between the boys and Billy Miner. Her boyfriend, Robert Garry Haacke, a professional actor, played Billy Miner, and Caleb Guthrie, an aspiring young actor, played the boy. We had about 75 people on the walk, and they did not know what was going to happen. The play unfolded before them and they enjoyed it very much. We then met the woman who had told me about this incident, and she described the event and the area in more detail. It was a delightful day.