Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Local historian, Alan Wade, researches true tales of old Thunder Bay. This is one of his best.

On September 25, 1921 at his summer camp at Loon Lake, Col. Little attacked his 69-year-old gardener, Jan Neilson.

In Neilson's words: "First thing I knew I was getting beaten up. I was lying down and getting beaten. I thought if he keeps on he'll kill me."

Not only was the Colonel the commanding officer of the 96th Lake Superior Regiment from 1909-1921, he was also a very influential businessman. J. P. Mooney called him "the hero of a hundred payrolls." He had interests in railway tie and lumber production, exclusive fishing rights on Lake Nipigon, and owned the Thunder Bay Harbor Improvement Company and the Empire Hotel which he bought "dirt cheap" when Prohibition came to Ontario in 1916.

As well, Little had powerful political connections. He was "in tight" with J. J. Carrick, former Port Arthur mayor and Conservative M.P. and M.P.P and "go-getting" real estate promoter. Little was also very close to Donald Hogarth, local mining magnate (with interests in Steep Rock and several other mines) who took over Carrick's position after he left for federal politics. J. P. Bertrand in his book Timberwolves tells us Little was a member of the "Old Tory Timber Ring," which controlled all pulp leases and appointments to the Department of Lands and Forests in the province.

In March 1913 the Colonel purchased Hillcrest, a house which still stands at the southwest corner of High Street and Red River Road, from John Meikle, who had a fancy goods (i.e. department) store at the corner of Park and Cumberland St. (unoccupied today).

Neilson was a Danish immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 36 years and for the past eighteen months in Canada. At the Bank of Montreal a clerk had referred him to the Colonel and the two had taken the train to Loon Lake on Sunday, May 18. They did not establish a rate of pay. Neilson: "He asked me how much I wanted and I told him we'd better wait and see what I could do." They never did reach an agreement on this matter. Later Neilson said he wanted $100 per month but the Colonel insisted he would only pay half that amount. Neilson: "When I found out he could pay only fifty dollars a month I got kind of hot and said he'd better pay me in full. I went back but only worked half a day." He then went to work for Dr. Spence but refused to give up the key to Little's cottage where had been boarding.

On Sept. 25 Neilson and Little came face to face.
Little: I said Neilson, where are the keys.

He said, “They're right here and I'm not going to give them to you.”

I said, “Neilson, do you mean to tell me on my own property you won't give me my keys?” I told him if he didn't he'd get into trouble mighty quick. I struck him with the back of my open hand. That unbalanced him. He got up and handed me the keys."
The Colonel insisted he never kicked him or struck him when he was down.

Neilson had a different version of these events. "I saw Col. Little, all red in the face and looking drunk. First thing I knew I was lying on my belly; his knees on my back and he was pounding my head. I thought if I don't give him the keys he will kill me. I got the keys out and he took them and left me."

(to be continued)

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