Murders at Shaunavon’s Grand Hotel

Joan Chase

On March 16, 1940, Mah Sai, a Chinese baker in Shaunavon, was playing solitaire in a sheltered corner of the Grand Hotel rotunda when he witnessed the fatal shooting of RCMP Sgt. Arthur Julian Barker. According to the Regina Leader-Post, as Mah Sai watched, Victor Richard Greenlay fired three shots into Barker who was putting on his boots at the foot of the hotel stairs. The policeman crumpled to the floor with a groan, and the baker ran for his life. Mah Hop, the proprietor of the Grand Hotel, heard what sounded like firecrackers and ran to see what was going on. When he reached the top of the stairs, Greenlay ordered him to get back. “I went back fast,” Mah Hop said.

Victor Richard Greenlay, the 30-year-old son of Col. and Mrs. G.L. Greenlay, highly respected ranchers in the Climax district, was formally charged on March 18, 1940 with the murder of his friend, Sgt. Barker. Shortly after the murder, it became clear that Greenlay was suffering from schizophrenia.

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Earlier that evening, Greenlay had phoned Barker and asked him to meet with him at the Grand Hotel. At about 7 p.m., Barker visited Greenlay in his hotel room. Barker left Greenlay’s room around 9 p.m. Greenlay later testified that he “heard a voice tell me to go out and shoot the evil beast.” He headed down the hotel stairs where he said he saw that Barker was not a man, but “a devil,” and he pulled the trigger of his .38 revolver three times.

After the funeral service in Shaunavon, Barker’s body was interred in the RCMP cemetery in Regina. Greenlay was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to a mental institution.

Two months later, on the identical spot in the rotunda of the Grand Hotel where Sergeant Barker died, both Mah Hop and Mah Sai were stabbed and killed in a knife fight.

On May 3, 1940, Toy Ying, a young waiter in Shaunavon, called Cst. Robert Roycroft of the Shaunavon police force. Toy Ying laid a charge against the Grand Hotel, apparently involving a woman named Alice Thompson. He asked Roycroft to remove the woman in question from the hotel, and to get her out of town. At about 10 p.m., Cst. Roycroft, accompanied by Toy Ying, went to the Grand Hotel and searched all the rooms. The woman was not found. 

With the town policeman still in tow, an angry Toy Ying confronted Mah Hop, the owner of the hotel, in the lobby. As their argument progressed, the lobby filled up with other Chinese men. Suddenly, the crowd of men jumped Toy Ying. In the melee, Roycroft wrestled some of the men off Toy Ying, who then ran out of the hotel and headed off down the street. Behind him lay two dead and two injured, all from stab wounds from a weapon Toy Ying had concealed in his coat pocket. Police arrested the waiter the next day in Admiral, 25 miles east of Shaunavon.

Dead were Mah Hop, the 50-year-old hotel owner, and Mah Sai, the 45-year-old town baker. Mah Sai died on the exact spot where Sgt. Barker was murdered just eight weeks earlier. Both men had wives and children in China, and both were buried in Hillcrest Cemetery near Shaunavon. On May 16, 1940, Toy Ying was put on trial on two charges of murder.

The two-storey, 38-room Grand Hotel was Shaunavon’s third hotel. Built in 1929 by Fred Mah and Mah Hop, the Grand Hotel was later converted into an apartment building, which received Municipal Heritage Designation in 1999.

Correction — Elaine Hunchak from Blaine Lake has asked for a correction to my article about the hotel in Blaine Lake, published July 26. I had written that Walter and Julia Krewniak purchased the Commercial Hotel in 1965, but this date is incorrect. She went so far as to contact Land Titles and they sent her a copy of the Certificate of Title. Walter Krewniak became sole owner on Dec. 3, 1953.

 

 

 

 

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