History · Pacific Northwest · Vancouver

All That Hanging About…

…a cobblestone courtyard, where apparently, a hangman’s scaffold once stood. In full view of gathering public, the noose was pulled tight many times over, taking over 40 people to the grave.

One of the more popular Gastown myths wrapped around Blood Alley Square is the so-called Court House and a gallows that supposedly dispatched large numbers of convicted men to the hereafter. Unfortunately for ghost hunters, hangings were only carried out in New Westminster and after 1912, at Oakalla prison in Burnaby.

Some stories mention that the first person to be hung on Blood Alley Square’s ficticious gallows was an indigenous man known as Stakai. I was curious to know where this name came from and the circumstance of his demise because there is nothing in any of the early volumes on Vancouver or in Major Matthews collection of notes and jottings.

So after a bit of digging it turns out the starting point is John Deighton, better known as Gassy Jack. He wrote to his brother in June of 1870 and the letter said in part “I can assure you it was a loathsome place when I came here first, surrounded by Indians, I dare not look out doors after dark. There was a friend of mine about a mile distant found with his head cut in two. The Indian was caught and hung.”

A search of the available newspapers turns up one item in the Daily Colonist from July 29, 1869 which reported that the coroner had pronounced that the death of a man found near English Bay was a murder, committed with an axe blow to the head. So this would be the event Deighton writes about. The newspaper article mentioned that the presumed suspect was a Squamish man. Further digging in available newspapers did not reveal any additional facts.

However, researchers have compiled an excellent resource on capital punishment in Canada including the territories and colonies such as British Columbia,* and digging into the list reveals a hanging in New Westminster in 1869 of an individual named Stackaye (also known as Charley), his victim was noted as Alfred Ferry.

Stackaye or Stakai was hung in New Westminster as were 12 other men between 1863 and 1891 – the sum total of the capital punishment meted out in the Lower Mainland in that period. So stories of 40 plus people meeting their fate on the gallows is way off the mark and can’t be substantiated from the official records and again, those to be hung were done so in New Westminster not Gastown.

*http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/canada.html – a chronological list
https://data2.archives.ca/pdf/pdf001/p000001052.pdf – very comprehensive

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