Historical Poems by Poet Laureate Candice James


Guest Poet Candice James

© 2009 Candice James – Poet Laureate

(The BC Penitentiary was British Columbia’s main prison, situated in the heart of New Westminster, BC overlooking the mighty Fraser River,  from 1876-1980.)

On the old Pen property spirits lurk and hide,

Ghostly voices whisper in the pale moonlight.

A heavy door slams shut with a thunderous clap.

A frayed noose dangles above a floor trap,

As yesterday’s ghosts still walk these grounds at night.


Built in 1878 she was a fortress strong,

A bleak home for felons who did the law wrong.

Her tall cement walls loomed large inside our town.

A daunting human cage that never let her guard down.

She stood at full attention an ominous landmark,

Foreboding, gray and dark, harsh and stern and stark.


The murderer and thief  laboured side by side.

With leg irons and secrets, they were tethered and tied.

On hot sultry days, sweating with the heat.

Through their prison dog days on Cumberland Street


1976 was the Pen’s worst riot date,

The east wing was destroyed in this meeting with fate.

In the aftermath she was scheduled for tear down.

She’d overstayed her welcome in a residential town.


She closed in 1980 on the 10th day of May.

But, believe me and hear what I say…..


On the old Pen property spirits lurk and hide,

Ghostly voices whisper in the pale moonlight.

Heavy doors slam shut with thunderous claps.

Frayed nooses dangle above floor traps.


AND…Yesterday’s ghosts

Still walk these grounds at night.


The Hanging Judge
© 2010 Candice James – Poet Laureate

(Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie lived in New Westminster from 1860 to 1870. He was Chief Justice of all British Columbia in 1870.  Knighted in 1875,  he retained his position until his death on June 11, 1894. His total tenure on the B.C. bench was 36 years. His name remains a cornerstone in B.C. history.)


Outside the New West courthouse there looms a large statue,

A man bound by integrity, steadfast, strong and true.

In 1858 he came to shape our history.

They called him the hanging judge, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie.

He was the first magistrate to roam our wild west coast,

Bringing law and order to his new found frontier post.

His influence was felt far and wide across the land.

His statue stands impressive, big and tall like the man.


Bearded and 6 foot five, he was a daunting presence.

With a  “justice for all”  spirit, he handed out each sentence.

The wild west, gold rush era was a shrewd outlaw’s delight

Til Begbie’s law arrived in town to teach them wrong from right.

He walked or rode on horseback to the outback settlements.

In British wig and black hat, he heard cases in his tent.

He used the law and used the noose to tame this great province.

He was a man of morals, born and raised by Providence.

He brought law and order to a new and untamed country.

The hanging judge was civilized and civilized B.C.


During his fourteen years on the bench as magistrate,

Twenty-seven men were hanged and kept their date with fate.

A bronze sculpted statue standing seven feet tall

Is a tribute to the hanging judge who answered duty’s call;

Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, harsh, stern, austere, yet fair.

A monument to this great man still stands tall in Begbie Square


The Outlaw Billy Miner
© 2010 Candice James – Poet Laureate

(Back in the 1880s the outlaw Billy Miner was either breaking the law or breaking out of jail. Up in these parts in the City of New Westminster. He wound up in the BC Pen for robbing CP Rail.)

Bill spent some time in New York in the social climbing game.

Dressed up in a three piece suit he used different name.

When his cash supply was gone back out west he came.

An outlaw riding through the land was his claim to fame.

He held up stages in the states and trains in Canada.

Always travelling with a gun and running from the law.

There never was a prison that could hold him very long.

He’d find a way to break out and then he’d be long gone.


In 1904 Canada’s first train robbery

Was pulled off by Bill Miner making history.

He held up the CPR with outlaw Shorty Dunn.

Ten thousand worth of gold and bonds put them on the run.

Again In 1906 he robbed the CPR in May.

In June he was sentenced to a lifetime prison stay.

He told the sentencing judge “No jail can hold me sir.”

In August of the next year he’d back up his word.


He dug a thirty-five foot tunnel underneath the fence,

He escaped long before he served his life sentence.

He broke out of the BC Pen in 1907,

Was back in jail in Georgia by spring 1911.

He busted out of Georgia pen two more times and then

In this life here on earth he never escaped again.


On September 2nd 1913 Billy Miner drew his final breath

And made his last escape arm in arm with the angel of death.


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