Nelson Courthouse Hero’s Bravery Commemorated

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On February 4, 1962, David "Buster" Wigg saved the Nelson Courthouse from destruction by fire bombs. Half a century later, Mr. Wigg’s bravery has been commemorated in a memorial hung inside the Courthouse.

The Nelson Courthouse was designed by Francis Rattenbury and opened in 1908. At the start of 1962, the Courthouse stood in the eye of a storm of unrest. The Sons of Freedom, a Doukhobor sect, bore grievances arising from their rejection of government regulation and their opposition to government education policies. In November 1961, the RCMP arrested 40 people on charges of arson and counselling criminal acts. In the two months following the arrests, there were at least eight more incidents, including the bombing of a railway bridge near Nelson, and the attempted arson at the Nelson Courthouse.

Nelson Courthouse: photograph by Gary Linn, District Registrar

Buster Wigg was a Nelson cab driver. He and his family were well-established in the city. Mr. Wigg’s mother, Mabel Shannon, was the first newborn child whose birth was registered in Nelson.

On February 4, 1962, Mr. Wigg was waiting for his next fare at the Red Top taxi stand, outside Wait’s News on Baker Street. Suddenly, someone shouted that the Courthouse was on fire. Wigg and another cab driver ran down the street. They got to the Courthouse long before the fire department, who had responded to another alarm at the Bank of Montreal. The alarm at the bank was probably pulled to draw the firemen away from the Courthouse.

Mr. Wigg kicked out the broken glass in the front door of the Courthouse, and crawled into the foyer. The other cab driver would not follow him. The foyer was filled with smoke, and flames were racing up the walls. More alarming still were the four bombs in half gallon cans on the entrance floor and the staircase to the Sherriff’s office in the basement.

With his bare hands, Mr. Wigg snuffed out the first two bombs and threw them outside. He tried to snuff out the third bomb as well, but he burnt his hand in the process. Wigg grabbed a shovel and scooped up the smouldering fire-bomb. He threw it onto Ward Street in front of the Courthouse, just as the firetruck pulled up. The firemen put out the fourth bomb, in front of the crowd that had gathered outside the Courthouse.

Mr. Wigg went back to work. His wife Chrystal only learned of his bravery when a reporter from the Nelson Daily News phoned to ask about it. When he was interviewed at the time, he said, "It just made me mad. When I thought of that beautiful building being gutted, I didn’t think about anything except saving it."

Judge Richard Hewson & Inspector Iris Steffler with memorial to Buster Wigg

Buster Wigg passed away in October, 2012. An honour guard from the BC Sheriff Service attended his funeral. The new memorial is a framed copy of a news article about the incident, along with copies of letters of commendation sent to Mr. Wigg by the Premier and the Provincial Secretary. When the memorial was hung outside the Sheriff's Office, near the scene of the fire, Inspector Iris Steffler said, "Buster was always promised a plaque in the Courthouse, but it was difficult to do for a variety of reasons. I'm very happy today to see his bravery commemorated."