Friday, 13 May 2011

Murders at Shaunavon’s Grand Hotel

On March 16, 1940, Mah Sai, a Chinese baker in Shaunavon, was playing solitaire in a sheltered corner of the Grand Hotel lobby when he witnessed the fatal shooting of RCMP Sergeant Arthur Julian Barker by Victor Richard Greenlay. As Mah Sai watched, Greenlay fired three shots at Sergeant Barker who was putting on his boots at the foot of the hotel stairs. The policeman crumpled to the floor with a groan, and the baker ran for his life. Mah Hop, the proprietor of the Grand Hotel, was another witness to the murder on that fateful Saturday night. When he heard what sounded like firecrackers, Mah Hop ran to see what was going on. When he reached the second step of the stairs, Greenlay ordered him to get back.  “I went back fast,” Mah Hop said later.

Two months later, on the identical spot in the lobby of the Grand Hotel where Sergeant Barker died, both Mah Hop and Mah Sai were stabbed and killed in a knife fight.

The Grand Hotel, Shaunavon’s third hotel, was built in 1929 under the ownership of Fred Mah and Mah Hop. The two-storey brick hotel with 38 guest rooms was the scene of three brutal murders before it was bought by George Baird and converted into an apartment building. The Grand Hotel received Municipal Heritage Designation in 1999.

The old Grand Hotel, now an apartment block in Shaunavon, 2003. Image source

Officer Down

Victor Richard Greenlay was the 30-year-old son of Colonel and Mrs. G.L. Greenlay, highly respected ranchers in the Climax district. An officer of the non-permanent militia, Victor was formally charged on March 18, 1940 with the murder of his friend, Sergeant Barker, RCMP veteran and cattle country investigator. Barker had been visiting Greenlay in his room at the Grand Hotel just prior to the shooting. 

Shortly after the murder, it became clear that Greenlay was insane, suffering from schizophrenia. Victor Van Allen, another rancher in the south country, testified at the coroner’s inquest on March 18th that he took Greenlay to Shaunavon that Saturday afternoon. On the way into town, some of the things Greenlay said made Van Allen realize he was not “normal.” Greenlay told Van Allen that was going to Shaunavon to see Sergeant Barker because together they would be able to prevent the Canadian government from selling horses to France. Greenlay said he feared trouble was to break out, and that “within a week there will be troops in the saddle,” adding that “Christ will appear in Germany in the form of a woman, and will turn the forces against Germany.” 

Photo of Sergeant Barker from the Leader-Post, March 19, 1940.
When they arrived in town, Greenlay phoned Sergeant Barker at about 7 o’clock and asked him to come to his room at the Grand Hotel. Barker, his wife, Gladys and their son Kenneth walked downtown, and while his family went to the library, Barker visited with Greenlay in his hotel room.  According to his later testimony, during their visit Greenlay apparently asked the RCMP officer to intervene for him with a girlfriend, and Barker demurred. When Barker left Greenlay’s room around 9:00 PM, Greenlay said he “heard a voice tell me to go out and shoot the evil beast.” He headed down the hotel stairs where he saw said he saw that Barker was not a man, but “a devil,” and he pulled the trigger of his .38 revolver three times.
After the funeral service in Shaunavon, Barker’s body was transported by train to Regina, where he was interred in the cemetery of the RCMP barracks. “The body was placed in the baggage car,” the Regina Leader-Post reported on March 19th. “In the day coach was Victor Richard Greenlay, charged with the murder of Sergeant Barker, and in the third coach was Mrs. Barker and her son, Kenneth.”  Greenlay was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to a mental institution.

Bloody Night at the Grand Hotel

“Jack” Toy Ying, a young waiter in Shaunavon, was upset. He was so upset that on Friday, May 3, 1940 he called Constable Robert Roycroft of the Shaunavon police force. Toy Ying laid a charge against the Grand Hotel, apparently involving a woman. He asked Roycroft to remove the woman in question from the hotel, and to get her out of town. So, at about 10 PM, Toy Ying, accompanied by a nervous Constable Roycroft, went to the Grand Hotel and searchted all the rooms. The woman was not found. 

With the town policeman still in tow, an angry Toy Ying confronted Mah Hop, the owner of the hotel, in the lobby. Their argument started out quietly, and then Roycroft noticed that the lobby was slowly filling up with other Chinese men. All of a sudden, the crowd of men jumped Toy Ying. Arms and legs were flying. In the melee, Roycroft wrestled some of the men off Toy Ying, who then saw his chance, ran out of the hotel, and headed off down the street. Behind him, Toy Ying left two dead and two injured, all as a result of stab wounds from a weapon he had concealed in his coat pocket. Police arrested Toy Ying the next day in Admiral, 25 miles east of Shaunavon.

Dead were Mah Hop, the 50-year-old hotel owner, and Mah Sai, the 45-year-old town baker. Mah Sai died on the exact spot where he had watched Sergeant Barker die from his bullet wounds just eight weeks earlier.  Both men had wives and children in China; Mah Hop also had a son in Nova Scotia. Mah Sam was in serious condition in the Shaunavon hospital with deep gashes in his leg and arm. Mah Yok had a surface wound.

Funeral services for Mah Sai were held at the United Church in Shaunavon on May 6th. Mah Hop’s son, Mah Tun of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, arrived the following day to take charge of his father’s funeral. Both men were buried in Hillcrest Cemetery near Shaunavon.

On May 16, 1940, Toy Ying was put on trial on two charges of murder. When defense counsel, C.H.J. Burrows, K.C., Regina, asked Mah Sam through an interpreter whether he knew the woman Toy Ying wanted removed from town, Mah Sam said he had seen her in a local cafĂ©, but not in Mah Hop’s room. Three other Chinese witnesses denied any knowledge of the mystery woman.

© Joan Champ 2011

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  1. Very interesting story. I'm enjoying all your posts.


  2. i was wunndering if anyoneknows about a francis himmelspach who was a well digger around scohgard and shaunavon sask who diedaround 1932 or 1933 falling down a well he is next of kin if anyone knows please e mail me at hopeso thanks jim