Looking Back: The real story behind Maple Ridge and Mission’s famous train robber

Whonnock, Ruskin, major parts of 1904 holdup

Billy Miner now has a local pub bearing his name. (Contributed)

By Fred Braches

Looking Back

Much has been written about Bill Miner’s famed 1904 holdup of a Canadian Pacific Railway train. The usual tale is that Bill Miner and his accomplices stopped and robbed the train at Silverdale, in west Mission, but that is not really what happened.

Published only in Victoria’s Daily Colonist of Sept. 13, 1904, is an eyewitness account by train engineer, Nat Scott, given hours after the ill-fated train arrived in Vancouver.

As the Colonist proudly proclaimed: “Unfortunately, for the Vancouver newspapers, all their staff were in bed when the train arrived from the East, so they missed the best story of the holdup that there is to be told.”

Here is an extract of Scott’s story:

“I was going at a pretty good clip about three miles out of Mission Junction. It was 9 o’clock Saturday night [Sept. 10, 1904]. I had got to the top of the ascent and was running down the decline when I felt a tap on the side. I turned around and in the indistinct light saw a man’s face covered with a coarse, black handkerchief. I was then commanded in a very quiet voice to stop the train. I replied ‘Oh, get out.’ I thought it was someone joking me and I stepped over to pull off the handkerchief. I then saw that the man had a revolver pointing at me and I saw the shining barrels of two rifles covering myself and the fireman from above the cab.

“As I stooped over to pull the lever to stop the train, the quiet voice stopped me. ‘Don’t pull up now. You know that little bridge near Silverdale? Stop there, and if you do as you’re told from this on, not a hair of your head will be injured.’ Not a word was said until we reached the bridge across the creek.

“Here, the man told me to go slow over the bridge and leave the passenger coaches on the east side. Conductor Ward came forward to see what was up but one of the men shoved a rifle into his face and told him to go back where he belonged. Ward lost no time in obeying the order, and going through the cars told the passengers that there was a holdup. But the passengers were not molested.

“I was told to go full speed ahead to a place near Ruskin siding. I then uncoupled the engine and stood her a few feet up the track. I carried a torch and we all went back to the express car. The messenger was inside totally oblivious to what was happening. On my calling him he threw open the door and the first thing he saw was a revolver close to his face.

” ‘Throw up your hands,’ came the command, and up went his hands. The ringleader took the messenger’s revolver out of his pocket. From a safe, the messenger took two packages of gold dust, one containing $4,000 in gold dust and the other containing $2,000 in gold dust. He also threw down a valise said to contain bank bills.

“Then they moved along to the mail car where the two clerks were told to hand over the registered mail. This they did, when the ringleader said: ‘Now boys, get back in your cars and go to bed.’ The fireman and myself were then marched to where the engine stood.

“The ringleader said to me: ‘You know that creek just this side of Whonnock siding? I said I did and as we only had the engine we made good time. When I got to the creek [Cook Creek close to the Whonnock wharf] our guests got off the engine. They were heavily laden. They said ‘Good night’ as they moved off. I replied, ‘Good night; I hope you have a pleasant journey,’ and the ringleader replied, ‘We hope so.’ ”

The railway bridge where the passenger coaches were left was across what is today called Jamieson Creek about where today McLean Street crosses the rail tracks.

The actual looting took place near Heaps mill in Ruskin – there was no railway station at Ruskin yet.

From Ruskin, without any wagons attached, the engine sped away to Whonnock. Bill Miner and his friends were dropped off at “the creek just this side of Whonnock siding.” That was at Cook Creek, right at the Whonnock wharf. There they “borrowed” a rowboat to cross the Fraser and vanished in the night.

The locomotive then headed back to pick up the rail cars left at Ruskin and Silverdale before steaming on to Vancouver.

Fred Braches, a local historian who lives in Whonnock.

 

Just Posted

Maple Ridge musician finds inspiration in Thailand

Bob Westfall has recorded many songs and music videos in Asia

Super 30 screening at ACT in Maple Ridge

Movie is based on international best-selling book by Maple Ridge doctor

Camp closing means it’s time to heal and move on, says MLA

Watershed moment for Maple Ridge, says D’Eith

Local rink wins King Cash Spiel

Ryan Rink wins World Curling Tour event in Maple Ridge

Several charges after arrest Friday in Maple Ridge

Court appearance Monday in Port Coquitlam

‘It’s almost surreal’: B.C. fire chief, sidekick Sammy recap rescue mission in Bahamas

Chief Larry Watkinson and Sam the disaster dog spent 8 days assisting a search and rescue team

Woman held at gunpoint during carjacking in UBC parkade

University RCMP say the vehicle is still missing, and two suspects are at large

VIDEO: Angry B.C. cyclist starts shaming dangerous drivers online

‘You motorists deserve all your costs and misery’

‘Time to take action:’ Children advocates call for national youth suicide strategy

Council wants Ottawa to make reporting of suicides and attempted suicides mandatory for data collection

Canadian inflation decelerates to 1.9% as gas prices weaken

August was the sixth straight month that price growth was 1.9 per cent or higher

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

B.C. population on pace to fall behind Alberta

Provincial population could reach almost seven million in 2043, but Alberta is growing faster

Most Read