TALES AND LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: Judge Plewman, hiker, chess champ, mountain's namesake!
Once in a while I do a big giant whoops. Sometimes I get injured, sometimes my pride gets injured, and sometimes I look like a bit of an idiot. I accept that, and I gratefully also accept constructive feedback and criticism when my whoopsies are public. I made a pretty big mistake with my previous article about Richard Plewman and his namesake mountain, and as I am lucky enough to have a well-researched fellow in my corner as I write this column, I found I was led astray by one of my main resources, that pesky piece of literature known as “The First History of Rossland…etc. etc.” by Harold Kingsmill.
The well-researched fellow in my corner is Ron Shearer, who has been kind enough to share with me a lot of his work, and who discreetly pointed out to me after the publication of the Plewman piece earlier this month that Kingsmill’s sketch on Richard Plewman was not actually about the Plewman the mountain is named after, but rather Richard Plewman Senior, the father of “Judge” Plewman. I have often shaken my fist at Kingsmill and his overly effusive sketches, but after receiving the email from Mr. Shearer telling me of my mistake, I wanted to throttle him.
But Kingsmill is long-dead, I can’t throttle him, and ultimately, I am responsible for my own research and fact checking, and I made a pretty significant error – an error I am going to rectify in this article, wherein I straighten out the Plewman mess and, thanks to Mr. Shearer, who sent me no fewer than four obituaries for Richard Plewman Junior, I reveal more details about a man who was a big Rossland personality for the 50 plus years he was a resident here.
Richard Plewman Senior was born in Athy, Ireland (I still don’t know the year), educated in England, and spent his younger years as a leather merchant in England. He married a woman who had a career as the principal of an English ladies’ college, and this woman (whose name I don’t know) would eventually bear Richard Sr. a dozen children, including their firstborn, Richard Jr. He came along in 1874 in the city of Bristol.
But Richard Sr. wasn’t satisfied eking out a living as a leather merchant in the U.K., so he packed up his clan and emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto in 1887. Richard Jr. was 13 at the time, and being educated at a Bristol Merchant Ventures School. He was apparently a brilliant student, and the school was keen to keep him on even though his family was leaving the country. They wanted him to be left behind because he was “an outstanding credit to the school.”
But Richard Sr. wasn’t having that, and Richard Jr. was on the boat with his family in 1887, heading for a new life Canada. The family didn’t appear to stay in Toronto long, as Richard Sr. was keen on heading west to check out the gold mining booms of British Columbia. The family of 14 found themselves in the Cariboo in 1895, where Richard Sr. managed a mine for Sir William McKenzie. After that, they were drawn to Kaslo, and by 1897 the Plewmans were settling down in Rossland, and that is where Richard Sr. solidified his new career as a very trusted mining broker, as told by Harold Kingsmill.
Richard Jr., by this time 23 years of age, had been contributing to the family’s income for several years–doing what, I don’t know–but he did finish his education in the evenings, according to one obituary. Upon arriving in Rossland, he set upon his own path and began working in one of the Mountain Kingdom’s first law firms, McDonald, Clute, and Cronyn. He was not a lawyer; he had no legal training at all. After a few years there, he worked for the law firm of A.H. McNeil. He was never a leather merchant, as I had stated in the previous Plewman article.
I don’t know what happened to Richard Sr. but his family eventually dispersed either back east, or in the case of one son, to China as a missionary for the United Church. But Richard Jr. stayed in Rossland.
In 1908, at the age of 33, Richard Sr. was appointed police magistrate for Rossland, and eventually earned the nickname “Judge” Plewman. He was known for being fair and compassionate and rarely were his decisions in court appealed in a higher court. By all accounts he was a trusted, well-thought of member of the community.
But the obituaries all have another theme to them besides accolades for his tenure as magistrate. They all tell of his love for the outdoors and his many hobbies. He was a very well-rounded individual with numerous interests outside of the law, and it’s easy to see why Rossland attracted him so much. He was an avid hiker well into his 70s, known for epic treks around the local mountain ranges. In the winter, he was an avid skier, but an even more avid snow shoer.
Additionally, he was also an accomplished musician and played the organ at church and then learned to play the piano in his twilight years when his sight began to fail. To add to that, he was also a local radio personality, a chess champion, a pretty decent amateur photographer, and a member of the Masons, eventually becoming the district’s deputy grand master.
In 1907, he married Pearl Willoughby, but there is no record of the couple having any offspring.
Unfortunately, Plewman was a diabetic, which slowed him down in his later years. Though a cause of death was not printed in any of the four obituaries, one does say that he died of complications to a recent surgery. He passed away at the age of 74, on January 15, 1949 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital.
He had two funerals; one was Masonic, held at Rossland’s Masonic Hall, and the other was at St. George’s Church, where he used to play the organ on Sundays. In the January 20, 1949 edition of the Rossland Miner, reporter Laurie Hamilton offered a lovely tribute to Richard Jr, saying, “The judge had the mark of greatness allright, and there are many of us who will miss his good company for he was a fine gentleman. Young at seventy or seven, the Judge has taken his last hike. With him it’s bound to be a “mountain top” experience.”
So ends the story of Richard Plewman Junior. How appropriate that a mountain in Rossland’s local range was named after this great man. He is buried in a spot with a mountain view, too…in the Mountain View Cemetery.
1. Harold Kingsmill, “First History of Rossland…etc. etc.”
2. Obituaries provided to me digitally by Ron Shearer appearing in the Rossland Miner, the Trail Times, the Nelson Daily, and a provincial newspaper whose name is cut off in the picture