The Gentleman Bandit

When American outlaw Bill Miner crossed the border to stage one of Canada's first train robberies, people were impressed with his manners.

Written by Brian Brennan

Posted March 6, 2016
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Bill Miner after his arrest in 1906. / Glenbox Archives

Canada’s frontier West was never as wild as the American West. But the region still attracted people who lived beyond the boundaries of convention and the confines of the law. One of them was Bill Miner.

In 1904, this soft-spoken American would stage what is considered Canada’s first train robbery. It happened at a railway junction sixty-five kilometres east of Vancouver. Miner and his two accomplices got away with $6,000 in gold dust and $1,000 in cash.

Dubbed “the gentleman bandit” because of his polite demeanour during holdups, Miner was credited with inventing the phrase, “Hands up!”

He had spent more than thirty-five years in American prisons for stagecoach robberies before moving north to B.C. when he was about sixty years old.

Since the CPR was so unpopular, Miner became a folk hero to some and managed to live quietly on a farm near Princeton, B.C., for two years after the 1904 train robbery.

In 1906 he and the gang struck the CPR again, but bungled that robbery attempt and were captured by the Mounties. This NFB Canada Vignette tells the story of his arrest.

Sent to the New Westminster Penitentiary, Miner somehow managed to escape custody and flee to the U.S. in 1907. Prison authorities were initially accused of aiding his escape, which created a political kerfuffle that lasted for years.

An award-winning Canadian film, The Grey Fox, was loosely based on his career north of the border.

A story about more of the outlaws of Canada’s Old West appeared in the April-May 2016 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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