The big-busted sex worker who carried a Chihuahua in her cleavage when shopping; the jailer with a heart of gold who in winter arrested First Nations women with nowhere to go so they'd have shelter and food; the American thief and murderer who was angry he was caught by ranchers near Penticton who's said to haunt the old courthouse.
Meet some of the characters of Kamloops's past; people who Sylvia Gropp tries to bring to life when she gives her historic walking tours for the Kamloops Museum and Archives.
Gropp is a native Kamloopsian with a bachelor's degree in archeology and geology, but even she has been surprised at some of the stories and people that have come to light as the museum has set up walking tours of varied themes.
As she has learned more about her hometown's history, her view of Kamloops has changed.
"We were dubbed the hanging capital of Canada" for having 19 hangings in 29 years between 1886 and 1915, she said.
"I look at Kamloops completely differently now."
She has worked on contract for the Kamloops Museum and Archives for a dozen years. The walking tours she has led have often netted her new tidbits of information from participants, or suggestions for other tour themes.
So the museum's walking tours that started with a focus on architecture and historic buildings have shifted into looking at cemeteries and ghosts, brothels and now, criminals.
Those sordid and less-than-upstanding characters still attract attention — who doesn't love a juicy tale involving crime, especially one that's safely in the long-gone past?
Through research and interviews with old-timers, the museum tours have compiled all sorts of information about Kamloops. You can even find out where the city's skeletons are buried — literally.
Three of those skeletons were found at the site of the current courthouse on Columbia Street. Criminals were hanged and their family or friends were responsible for collecting the bodies. Apparently, a few people didn't have anyone to do that, so they were buried on the spot.
Gropp said Walter Boyd James was one of those three skeletons. He was an American thief who killed a shopkeeper and was nabbed by ranchers in the south Okanagan.
"He was quite mad he was caught by Canadian ranchers," she said.
James was found guilty in the old courthouse and hanged. It's said he still haunts the old courthouse. Gropp has heard stories about old printing machines in the back of the building suddenly coming to life.
"One woman told me she was working late one night. The printers turned on, printed off a lot of gobbledygook, and then turned off," she said.
For some years, hangings were public events and some people even took picnic lunches. Then they became more exclusive and those who attended had to get an invitation. Hanging in Kamloops faded out in the 1930s.
While the latest tour looks at the city's criminal past, Gropp herself would like to create new ones focused on the military presence in town and backcountry rural properties such as ranches and homesteads.
The walking tours are not physically strenuous, but they are mentally stimulating. She has had participants add tidbits of information that she didn't know.
"There's more than that surface layer of our history," said Gropp, who is working on a history book about Kamloops with the museum and the Thompson Rivers History and Heritage Society. It's due out before Christmas.
As tour topics have diversified (and become a little seedier) they've become more popular. The red lights and black hearts tour that looked at brothels and sex workers garnered a lot of interest.
"It's like watching a soap opera in your backyard," she said.
Each new tour topic means a lot of research on the part of the museum staff. Even old topics get updated. Often new information gets added to tours over time.
And the tours don't focus just on dishing dirt and sordid details; there are some humorous stories included, too.
Like the bone-headed criminals who tried to blow up a safe inside a west end hardware store in 1893. All the surrounding buildings were made, of course, from wood.
"They almost burned the whole town down," she said.
Gropp used to worry when people on the tour were quiet. She was afraid she was boring them. Now she has realized they're often fascinated by what they're hearing.
"I want to get these stories out. I want them to be told."
WALKING TOUR DATES
The Kamloops Museum's Criminals of Kamloops Guided Walking Tour is set for three Saturdays this fall.
Those dates are:
* September 15, 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Course no. 199299
* September 29, 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Course no. 199300
* October 20, 1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Course no. 199301
The cost for each tour is $8. Register by calling 250-828-3655 or go online to www.kamloops.ca/ezreg.