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Archival description
Piers Island “Sons of Freedom” Doukhobor Imprisonment collection Cultural groups
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Correspondence and other documents

Series documents the imprisonment of Sons of Freedom convicts at Piers Island Penitentiary between 1932 and 1934, from its initial stage in search for an island to set up the prison to determining the conditions for release of the prisoners. The records, the majority of which consist of correspondence between senior officials, shed light on the construction and management of the prison, as well as the problems that the federal prison system encountered regarding both personnel and prisoners.
Series consists of textual records including correspondence, telegrams, and memoranda, most of which were written to or by H. W. Cooper. The remainder of the records were created by other authorities, prisoners, and relatives of prisoners. Series also contains a warrant written by J. Cartmel and a chronology written in shorthand by H. W. Cooper. Also included in the series is an empty manila envelope. The records in this series have been arranged into the following three files: 1932; 1933; and 1934.

Photographs

Series displays photographs taken on Piers Island showing the officers, guards, and matrons; male and female prisoners visiting through a fence that separates men’s and women’s compounds; female prisoners working; penitentiary buildings; penitentiary perimeter; vessel used for transferring prisoners; and a patrol boat. As there are no dates recorded for these photographs, it is not possible to determine the exact dates they were taken; however, based on the subject matter, it is assumed that dates of creation are between 1932 and 1934.

Piers Island “Sons of Freedom” Doukhobor Imprisonment collection

  • MsC 147
  • Collection
  • 1932-1934

The collection offers insight into the imprisonment of the “Sons of Freedom” between 1932 and 1934 at Piers Island Penitentiary. The “Sons of Freedom” Doukhobors began as a small, radical movement to reinvigorate the faith, restore traditional Doukhobor values, and protest the sale of land, education, citizenship and registration of vital statistics. They would achieve infamy through civil disobedience, nude marches, and burnings. In 1932, over 600 Sons of Freedom protestors were convicted of public nudity. As B.C. Penitentiary was unable to handle such a rise in inmate population, a satellite prison under the authority of B.C. Penitentiary was constructed on Piers Island to house these prisoners. The records document how the prison was set up and run and the problems that the federal prison system encountered regarding both staff and prisoners. The correspondence and telegrams shed light on the internal discussions of senior officials concerning the management of the prison and its prisoners.
Fonds consists of correspondence, memoranda, telegrams, and other textual records pertaining to the Piers Island Penitentiary created or accumulated by H. W. Cooper during his career as the warden of B.C. Penitentiaries. The fonds also contains photographs which were all taken at Piers Island. The textual records predominantly consist of letters to and from H. W. Cooper regarding the penitentiary, staff, and prisoners. The records have been arranged into the following two series: Correspondence and other documents (1932-1934); and Photographs ([between 1932 and 1934]).

[1932]

File consists of correspondence to and from H. W. Cooper pertaining to the construction of the penitentiary and matters regarding the personnel and prisoners; a warrant prepared by J. Cartmel pertaining to Mike Woiken, one of the prisoners; a chronology written in shorthand by H. W. Cooper regarding a search for an island to set up the penitentiary; the translation of a letter from Russian to English from an inmate to his wife; a report on the refusal of some prisoners to work; telegrams regarding the construction of the penitentiary; and an empty manila envelope belonging to B.C. Penitentiary.

[1933]

File consists of correspondence to and from H. W. Cooper regarding prison guards; conduct of convicts; matrons; absence of acting deputy warden; and the appointment of Major Poirier to Temporary Deputy Wardenship. Other correspondence includes a letter from Superintendent D. M. Ormond to Major I. A. Poirier regarding his transfer to the Deputy Wardenship of Piers Island Penitentiary; and a letter to a prisoner from his sister regarding the well-being of his children and lack of sufficient funds for their care. File also contains three memos; one telegram regarding the purchase of water tanks; as well as a list of construction costs.

[1934]

File consists of correspondence to and from H. W. Cooper regarding the release of Doukhobor convicts; the sequence of events from the arrival of the “Sons of Freedom” at the penitentiary; and Deputy Warden R. S. Douglass, his responsibilities at Piers Island Penitentiary, and his successful performance of duties . File also contains one letter from G. Sloan, Attorney General of B.C., to Hugh Guthrie, Minister of Justice, pertaining to policies towards the “Sons of Freedom”.

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