Coffee and Conversation returns to Museum with one of Prince Albert’s most famous cases

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Harris May speaks about 'Murder at the Saskatchewan Cafe: The Story of Hoo Sam' during Coffee and Conversation at the Prince Albert Historical Museum on Sunday.

The Prince Albert Museum’s popular Coffee and Conversation has returned for the fall season.

The opening discussion was ‘Murder at the Saskatchewan Cafe: The Story of Hoo Sam’, which was presented by longtime Historical Society member and volunteer Harris May on Sunday.

Coffee and Conversation has now moved to Sunday to give more people a chance to participate.

May gave a PowerPoint presentation about the case, which he has long had a passion for.

“(It’s) just the mystery of it,” he said.

May had a little help from his family in digging into the case. His passion for it goes back to 2011.

“There were all kinds of stories about how this event happened, and none of them really made sense to me, so I started looking into it at the time my daughter was working for Archives Canada,” May said.

“She ended up sending me the file, so that was the start. I did a presentation back in 2011 with what material I had. Since then, I have been collecting information and it turns out Sam Woo appealed the sentence because he wasn’t read his rights,” she added.

The story is more than 100 years old. Hoo Sam, the owner of the Saskatchewan Café suspected his associates Mark Yuen and Mark Yin of stealing money from the business. On Aug. 26, 1911, he purchased a revolver, on that same day at approximately 5 p.m., Hoo Sam shot Mark Yuen in the heart killing him quickly in the back lane of the restaurant. Sam was later executed for the crime.

Following the shooting, Mark Yin, who also worked at the restaurant, heard the gunshot and went outside to see what happened. Upon seeing Sam with the gun, Yin ran North, chased by Sam who fired several unsuccessful shots.

The two men got as far as the building now known as the Arts Centre on Central Ave. where Sam shot Yin. May theorizes that the chase went by the current Arts Centre because it was City Hall and the Police operated out of the basement so where they ended up was possibly deliberate.

At that point, bystander John Frank stepped in and tackled Sam, restraining him until police arrived.

The Miranda Rights that exist in the United States do not exist in Canada.

“In this case, he sat down in the Police Chief’s office with the Police Chief and one of his countrymen by the name of Pon Yin. Sam proceeded to confess in Chinese.

The Police Chief did not know a word of Chinese and had no idea that the confession took place.

“Everybody, including this Pon Yin agreed that there was no coercion, no threats, no anything. Sam just started talking, and this was all, of course, written down at one point after it was done and he was convicted, sent to appeal,” May said.

The appeal was heard by three judges including Chief Justice Edward Wetmore, the first Chief Justice of Saskatchewan, who served until 1912. Wetmore affirmed the conviction, along with two other judges, May said,

Yin survived his injury and later testified at Sam’s trial in November, 1911 and then according to May’s presentation, disappeared into history. Sam was found guilty of murder and was executed by hanging on March 26, 1912.

“Then that goes back to the judge in Prince Albert and that judge had to write up summary and all of the evidence and send it to the Minister of Justice in Ottawa who sent it to Cabinet, who gave an order in Cabinet to the Governor General, and the Governor General then acceded to the execution, so it all came back down to the City Sheriff who wanted nothing to do with it,” May said.

The Sheriff had no idea how to do an execution but they found the person who could,

“They ended up with Arthur Ellis, Canada’s hangman,” May explained. “There were only three hangman in Canada and I think we’ve got two narrowed down to Arthur. He (Sam) was executed in the backyard of the old jail.”

The original jail was located on 19th Street and Central Avenue, the current location of Court of King’s Bench. May explained that Sam could be buried anywhere from the location of the Court of King’s Bench to Kinsmen Park.

During the presentation, Historical Society President Fred Payton eliminated the possibility of his body being on the grounds of PACI, as it was constructed in 1910.

“In any event, the tradition had it that rarely did a family get awarded the executed, so jail officials would bury the deceased. Sam is somewhere between 19th and 20th and Central Avenue-ish.

The case still has other parts that need to be solved and May will continue to pursue it.

“I’ll just keep adding,” she said. “The archives are a storehouse of information and then once you get sucked into the vortex, you end up with all manners of things that show up. I just tend to record them as they come along, and then you build a case like this.”

His passion for the Historical Society also came about because of his daughter.

“I showed up here about 2004, and again, I have to blame my daughter for this because they hired her as an interpreter,” May said. “I thought, well golly, I better volunteer and help out a little bit, so through the years, I ended up to be president of the society and then treasurer.

“My office was on top of the photocopier.”

The restaurant Sam owned, the Saskatchewan Cafe, is long gone however the building itself continues to be used by a number of different agencies including Catholic Family Services and A2Z Safety and Training.

Mark Yuen is buried in an unmarked grave in South Hill Cemetery. The revolver used by Sam Hoo was formerly on display at the Police and Corrections Museum but has since been removed from circulation.

The next Coffee and Conversation is scheduled for Oct. 15 with the tentative subject being the history of 911 in Prince Albert.