Upcoming book: 1914 Union Bank robbery

dead robber
(left) Dead bank robber in the back of a cart, Hazelton, British Columbia, 1914
“Image B-01393 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives”

On April 7, 1914, the Union Bank in New Hazelton, British Columbia was held up by seven Russian robbers. The robbers, some of whom were hardened criminals and some of whom were just desperately unemployed, had timed the robbery carefully. Because on that same April day, the last spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was being hammered in 300 kilometres to the east in Fort Fraser. It was likely that the ringleader expected the Union Bank to hold the final payroll for the workers on the railway.

Within minutes of the robbery, citizens had opened fire and with an hour or so more than 500 rounds had been shot, and two bank robbers were dead on the boardwalk. One more bank robber was taken to hospital, where he later died of his wounds. The ringleader took off and headed into the bush and was never found. The three remaining robbers were tried and sent to jail.

This book traces the history of the robbers from their origins in the Caucasus mountains in South Ossetia, Russia, to their immigration to Canada as labourers, and finally, to their fateful trip to Hazelton, and then to either their deaths or to jail.

Using archival sources, historical newspapers, and numerous first-hand accounts of the robbery, this book presents a new and in-depth look at an intriguing historical story.

I’m pleased to say I have a first draft of the book done, and I’m doing the first read-through edit now. I had such an exciting find last week when doing some research. The oldest of the robbers, Adeku Smaijloff, left a small note in his medical file with the name and address of his brother. The note was handwritten in Russian and I finally got around to getting it translated. In my next blog post I’ll tell you what I found!