Monday, August 1, 2022

The Hintonburg Horse Thief of 1910

Hintonburg in the early 1900s had a lot of similarities to what you might imagine an old west town on the frontier would look like. There were no cars, no paved roads. Electricity and running water were still a novelty reserved only for the newest houses and buildings occupied by only the most affluent residents. Residents traveled in and out of the village by horse or by foot, travelling mostly on the one main street entering and leaving Hintonburg, the Richmond Road. 

Hintonburg had a village constable, a doctor and a volunteer fire brigade. There were small grocery stores, butchers, blacksmiths, carriage makers, and a flour and feed shop. Residents largely worked at the nearby mills or the train yards. There were no restaurants or really any recreational facilities. There were also two hotels that catered to travelling farmers or part-time labourers looking for a short-term stay, and these hotels featured a large tavern for locals and visitors alike to have a drink (or two). 

One of the longer-running hotels of early Hintonburg was James Byers' hotel, the Hintonburg House. Located directly across from the St. Francois D'Assise Church, in the middle of what is today the Wellington Towers apartment building at 1041 Wellington Street West, the hotel featured a large number of rooms, and stretched all the way back to Armstrong Street, where large stables allowed travellers to "park" their horses for the night. 

The fire insurance plan below from around the turn of the century shows the original footprint of the hotel (at what is labelled #61 with "Sal." for saloon). 

1895 Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa, updated to
about 1900-1901

In the early morning hours of Tuesday February 8th, 1910, these stables were the scene of what was called a "daring theft", when a drifter took the opportunity to steal the village doctor's horse and sled, which was stored inside. This set off a lengthy investigation that would take an Ottawa police constable across eastern Ontario to solve the crime.

Ottawa Journal
February 8, 1910

The village doctor was Dr. Israel G. Smith (the subject of my upcoming column in the Kitchissippi Times - September edition), and he resided in a large greystone house on Wellington just east of Parkdale Avenue, where the Grace Manor stands today. Why the Doctor's horse and cutter were being stored in the Byers' stable is a bit of a mystery to me, as the Doctor lived 1,500 feet to the east, and had a sizable shed or stable of his own behind his house where he could have stored his horse. 

Regardless, on the night of the big theft, at three in the morning, the thief entered the Byers' stable, harnessed the horse, hitched up the cutter, grabbed a handful of musk-ox robes and horse blankets, and then unlocked and opened the stable doors. Nearby residents heard the horse being taken out, but apparently didn't think it strange because the Doctor had occasionally called for his horse at 3 a.m. to visit a sick patient.

This is not Hintonburg's Dr. Smith, but is a representative
photo showing a County Doctor on his horse and cutter. It
is actually Dr. Arthur Sutton of Port Credit in 1912.

However, at sunrise the theft was discovered, and the police chase began through the country roads, looking for the broncho chestnut horse with four white feet and white face, and a brand reading "F.H." stamped on the right shoulder, along with a red shanty jumper containing the robes. The entire haul was estimated at $800. The search was led by both the City of Ottawa police and the Carleton County Police, with Ottawa detective Joseph O'Meara, an 18-year veteran of the force, leading the investigation.

Later, it was discovered that a collie dog, described by the Ottawa Citizen as a "friend of the horse" had followed the horse and was also missing.

Local police alerted police throughout eastern Ontario, to keep an eye out for the stolen horse.

24 hours after the theft, on Wednesday morning, Carleton County Constable Hamilton was called out to a farm on Montreal Road, five miles from the city to investigate a report of a missing horse, which was thought to perhaps have a connection to the Smith horse case. However, on arrival, the Constable discovered the horse and rig had been found up the road, having strayed away after a family member of the horse's owner had only loosely tied it up.

Finally, on the morning of Friday February 11th, three days after the horse was stolen, a phone call came from the Chief of Police for Perth, Chief White, informing Ottawa Police that Dr. Smith's horse had been seen at a farm a few miles back of Perth, and that the cutter and two of the three robes had been located.

Perth police were working with the farmers who had purchased pieces of Dr. Smith's property, to attempt to identify who the thief was, and to locate the horse. It was mentioned that it would be difficult owing to the fact that the thief had sold the horse, traded the cutter and sold the robes at all different places between Ottawa and Perth. 

The Journal wrote that the cutter and robes that had been located would be "taken from their present owners who will not be recompensed, and who, if they refuse to hand over the stuff, will be charged with receiving stolen goods."

Detective O'Meara left that Friday morning to investigate in Perth and along the way. He successfully tracked the horse as far as Carleton Place, but by the following Tuesday had been unable to track it any further.

However, some good news was announced the following Friday (February 18th) when Detective O'Meara found the horse on a farm in Smiths Falls.

Ottawa Citizen - February 18, 1910

It was not until Monday morning that O'Meara returned to Ottawa, and shared some of the details from his nine day hunt with the local newspapers that day. O'Meara battled heavy snow in the country, but also had to work through what the Citizen called a "troublesome tangle" investigating backwards through a couple of horse trades the thief had made. Also making things difficult were farmers in the Perth area, who were apparently reluctant to share information. He was only able to track down the stolen horse after he found the horse for which the thief had traded Dr. Smith's horse. 

He claimed that horse, and then rode around the country until he met a man who recognized the horse and knew its old owner. The detective then drove to the farm suggested by the man, and "up a cross road came upon the missing horse." Thus he was able to undo that first trade, and bring home Dr. Smith's horse to him.

Tracking down the thief was a harder challenge, one which initially eluded the city and county police. 

However, either months later, on Tuesday October 18th, 1910, police got a break when a livery rig and horse had been stolen from Kemptville, and the man matching the description of the thief, who also matched the description of the Hintonburg horse thief, was seen in Richmond. He was having lunch at the Rielly House hotel in Richmond, with a "fancy carriage and horse" parked outside. Perth police phoned Detective O'Meara, who asked to have hotel staff to keep an eye on the man, and he quickly took an automobile out to Richmond and nabbed the thief as he was eating.

The arrested man was Christian Olsen, who was also known with an alias of L.M. Larsen, "who is recorded in police annals as a horse thief and general bad man", hilariously wrote the Citizen.

Olsen was 36 years old and a stonecutter by profession. He was of Danish descent, but apparently resided at Baker's Bush, which was an old cluster of homes in the Richmond Road and Woodroffe vicinity at the time.

He had arrived in Canada in 1898, but had spent 11 of his 12 years in Canada in jail. In November 1898 he had been given five years for cattle stealing in Ottawa, and in 1903 was sentenced at Kingston for seven years, also for cattle stealing. "He has been the terror of many of the farmers of the district between Smith's Falls and Kingston", wrote the Citizen. He had last been released April 3rd 1909.

Olsen was charged with the Hintonburg theft, the Kemptville theft and for other crimes he had been wanted for, including two additional charges of horse stealing, and a charge of arson (it was alleged he had recently burned a barn near Smith's Falls after stealing a horse to make it appear as if the horse and carriage had burned in the fire). Police stated that Olsen had regularly been stealing horses, and then selling them within a 25 mile radius of Perth.

The justice system worked quickly back in these days, and so it was the next day, Wednesday October 19th, that Olsen was in court for his plea. Olsen pled not guilty, and was remanded for a week at the request of Detective O'Meara. He was charged with the theft of Dr. Smith's horse, cutter, lap robe, halter and two robes, all valued at $400, and a second charge of theft of a musk-ox robe and a set of single harness from James Byers. 

Christian Olsen, from his sentencing photograph
(source: LAC Kingston Penitentiary collection)

The case was heard one week later, on October 26th, and Olsen's lengthy criminal history was shared, along with the details of the case. Detective O'Meara and Inspector Ryan also gave testimony, and a "big array of witnesses" were on hand as well, though they proved not to be needed as Olsen changed his plea to guilty. He asked the judge for another chance, blaming alcohol as the cause of his downfall, and offered to "take the pledge". 

"You have probably told this same story in other courts", said Deputy Magistrate Askwith in imposing the sentence, which he did without further comment. Olsen was given seven more years in Kingston Penitentiary for the theft of Dr. Smith's horse and cutter, and was also given two and a half years for the theft of Byers' property, though it was to run concurrently with the seven year sentence. The other charges, for his crimes in Smith's Falls and Kemptville, he apparently was going to be charged with after he served his seven years in Kingston (I guess law officials could chose to do that back in the day). 

Thanks to the fantastic addition of the Kingston Penitentiary archives being uploaded to LAC's website a year or two ago, Olsen's photograph and sentencing file can be found! Above is the photo from his 1910 sentencing, and below is the entry from the log book about him, noting that he was just shy of 5'6", 152 pounds, with a fresh complexion, light hair tinged with grey, hazel eyes, with a scar on his left buttock and 5 vaccination marks. 

Christian Olsen's file notes from the
Kingston Penitentiary (source: LAC)

In attempting to find out what happened to Olsen later in his life, I quickly searched the newspapers of 1917 (when his sentence would have ended), and was not surprised to find that in September of 1917, there was a story of the same man, then going by Larsen Olsen, being found guilty of stealing half a set of double harnesses, 20-30 hens and 3 bags of potatoes from a far in Osgoode. Olsen was then sentenced to 18 months in the Central prison.

From there, the trail goes cold, as I could not easily find any information where life took Olsen beyond that jail sentencing. 

What a neat story from the early days of Hintonburg!

Keep an eye out for the September issue of the Kitchissippi Times where I'll be profiling the life of the horse-theft victim, long-time Hintonburg village doctor, Dr. I. G. Smith!