A Cariboo Tale – of judges, horses and cotton

Posted to: 

The year was 1984. The Office of the Chief Judge had asked Administrative Judges around the province to have photographs taken of the judges in their districts. The judges in the Cariboo District convened a meeting to discuss the project. This meant that Judge Tom Smith walked down the hall in the Williams Lake courthouse to the office of Administrative Judge Cunliffe Barnett for a chat after their court lists were finished.

Judge Barnett sat as a Provincial Court judge from 1973 to 2006; Judge Smith from 1981 to 2003. Neither retired judge remembers whose idea it was, but they came up with a concept that appealed to their shared sense of humour and swashbuckling Cariboo spirit.

Chapter 1

A few days later they donned their judicial robes, mounted horses at the Smiths’ place outside town, and had their picture taken. The third judge in the district, Ray Cullinane, presided mostly in Quesnel. He was unfortunately not well and couldn’t attend the wild west photography session. Nevertheless, the Williams Lake judges wanted to include him in the photo.

Now this was in the days before digital cameras were widespread and before Photoshop was invented, so some Cariboo creativity was required.

Administrative Judge Barnett took a photo of Judge Cullinane against a white background in the Quesnel courthouse. Once the photo was developed, he carefully cut out the image of Judge Cullinane and glued it to the original photo. In the crowning touch, Judge Barnett added some cotton around his colleague’s feet and then photographed the result. The final product graced the Office of the Chief Judge for many years after all three judges had retired.

It bore the caption: “Judge Cunliffe C. Barnett on “Big Shot”, Judge Tom C. Smith on “Saskabud”, Judge Ray Cullinane (Quesnel) Winter 1984, Rose Lake”

Chapter 2

Fast forward 35 years. During that time, eight Provincial Court judges followed Judges Barnett and Smith as “resident judges” in Williams Lake.

The first, Judge Jakob de Villiers, was appointed in 1990 and sat for nine years in the Cariboo. Relishing the idea of establishing a Williams Lake tradition, he happily posed on horseback at his log home near Horsefly.

On his retirement in 1999, Judge Jane Woodward (later McKinnon) was the first woman appointed a judge in the Cariboo Chilcotin. As she observes, “From a 2020 perspective, that might not seem very interesting, but for the Cariboo in 1999, it was pretty mind boggling!”.

Judge Woodward later became the Administrative Judge for the Cariboo District.

Judge Elizabeth Bayliff joined her in 2001, and they happily adopted what was now a tradition. In 2002 they were photographed together in the Chilcotin Valley on “Quiet” and “Denver”, horses belonging to Judge Bayliff’s sister-in-law, Marion Bayliff.

Ms. Bayliff also took these marvellous photos of the Cariboo’s first women judges, robed and astride on a beautiful day. Retired judge Bayliff comments, “My sister-in-law deserves credit: first, for having such lovely, tractable horses willing to put up with strangers in flapping robes posing aboard them; and second, with taking such flattering photos of us and of the horses.”

Judge Rory Walters also served as a judge in the Cariboo for nine years in the 2000's. Asserting judicial independence, he resisted efforts to get him astride a horse! Nevertheless, his photograph, taken with his infant son at the time of his appointment, has assumed its rightful place in this collection, even though he has his feet firmly on the ground

Judge Marguerite Church spent five years as a Provincial Court judge in Williams Lake before being appointed to the BC Supreme Court in 2016. Somehow, no equestrienne photo was taken of her until 2019, when she donned her former robes and posed on "Phantom", a horse belonging to friends, on their remote ranch.

Judge Victor Galbraith was appointed in 2012 and became Regional Administrative Judge for the Northern Region, which now includes the former Cariboo District, in 2020.

And Judge Karen Whonnock was appointed in 2016 - the first member of a First Nation to become a resident judge in Williams Lake.

That year, she and Judge Galbraith were both photographed near Williams Lake on Marion Bayliff’s Appaloosa gelding "Diamond Jim" (known as "DJ" to his judicial friends). By now, Ms. Bayliff had become the official photographer for the project and took their photos.

Finally, Judge Peter Whyte, the most recent Provincial Court appointment to Williams Lake, shares his experience: “I recall Judge Galbraith sending me a congratulatory email when I was appointed in 2018. In it, he mentioned the need to have my picture taken on a horse. No context, just that cryptic comment, in brackets. It left me mystified.

But I soon learned of the Cariboo tradition. In April 2019, Elizabeth Bayliff borrowed “Ward” from local stock contractors and arranged for her sister-in-law to take my picture. We all met one Saturday morning, and fortunately both Ward and the weather cooperated.

It was something of a spectacle, of course - we were at the back end of the Indoor Rodeo that begins the Cariboo rodeo season each year, and curious onlookers wondered what this odd photo shoot was all about.

Luckily the courthouse is located near the arena where the indoor rodeo is held, and we were able to get the courthouse in the background of the shot.”

It was Judge Whonnock and retired judge Bayliff who arranged for this unique photographic record of the judges assigned to sit in Williams Lake during the last fifty years to be collected and hung in the judges’ chambers of the local courthouse last year.

A lifelong Cariboo resident with an appreciation of the region’s history, retired judge Bayliff had the idea. But she says, “Judge Whonnock deserves credit for buying frames, expressing interest in the project, and urging me to get it finished! I am not sure that I would have actually pushed ahead and done it without her encouragement. I am really grateful to her for believing that it was worthwhile.”

The photographs are a testament to the good humour and collegial spirit of the judges, past and present, who have presided in the Williams Lake Provincial Court. That spirit was also demonstrated by the alacrity and enthusiasm with which they contributed the photographs and recollections that make up this Cariboo Tale.

May their tradition and that spirit continue “happily ever after!”