BC Train Robber Bill Miner Inspires Art in All Its Forms

Bill Miner is a legendary name in parts of British Columbia, particularly in the interior of the province, where the notorious train robber was apprehended by police over 115 years ago.

Her story has inspired several books, an award-winning movie, and even a few songs.

Known as Gray Fox and the Gentleman Bandit, Miner’s life of crime began in the United States in the 1800s. He was known to rob stagecoaches, which sometimes carried packages on long journeys, and was arrested and finally sentenced to 25 years in a California prison in 1881.

By the time he was released from prison in 1902, trains had largely replaced stagecoaches. And so, he replaced his typical target with a new one.

According to the federal government, Miner stole CP Rail trains in British Columbia in 1904 and 1906. In the spring of 1906, he was captured near Kamloops, British Columbia, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment in a maximum security federal prison in New Westminster. .

But, on August 8, 1907, Miner escaped. He returned to the United States, where he continued to rob trains.

Miner was eventually caught and died in prison.

movies, songs

A feature film about the train robber’s exploits was released in 1982, starring Richard Farnsworth in the lead role.

The gray fox won seven Genie Awards, recognizing the best in Canadian cinema from 1980 to 2012.

Farnsworth was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role.

« When [director Phillip] Borsos thought of the kind of mythical landscapes of British Columbia and Western Canada, this figure of Bill Miner emerges…like a folk hero, » said film critic Tom McSorley.

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He was considered a sort of Robin Hood. It’s kind of this folk hero mythology that I think surrounds it because it’s like sticking to the man. »

The film explored how Miner’s shift from theft of stagecoaches to trains exemplified this particular period in technological history.

« As Bill Miner himself says, ‘A professional always specializes,' » McSorley said.

Canadian folk singer Paul Valdemar Horsdal, known professionally as Valdy, also became interested in the legend of Bill Miner. He teamed up with songwriter Gary Fjellgaard, and just two days after deciding to write a song honoring Miner, they had one.

« Billy was definitely one of my heroes, » Fjellgaard said. « He just represented freedom. »

The song appeared on a collaborative album by Valdy and Fjellgaard, Contenders Two: Still in the running.

In 2017, the Kamloops Music Collective commissioned composer Robert Buckley to write a song about Miner for possible use in teaching music and local history to music students.

The result was an orchestral number titled The Legend of Billy Miner.


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