1921 The Trial of Albert LeBeau

Near the end of June in 1921 the first Northwest Territories’ court was convened to hear charges of murder brought against Albert LeBeau, a Slavey Dene accused of murdering his wife.

In the fall of 1920 LeBeau, an employee of the Fort Providence Roman Catholic Mission, and his pregnant wife, were on their trap line outside Fort Providence (map). After a few weeks Albert LeBeau returned to Fort Providence to say that his wife had given birth, abandoned the child then committed suicide. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer examined the scene and could see that the suicide was obviously a setup and charged LeBeau with murder.

Prior to 1921 crimes of this nature would have gone to trial in Edmonton but the government decided to hold his in the North. The Commission negotiating Treaty 11 was planning to be in Fort Providence near the end of June 1921 and the decision was made to hold LeBeau’s trial immediately after the signing of Treaty 11.

Not only would the trial judge, prosecutor, defence lawyer and court clerks be able to travel north with the Treaty Commission but because of the treaty negotiations there were many Dene in the community. It was the government’s intention that these Dene would learn a valuable lesson about the long arm of the Canadian judicial system.

In front of a very large crowd gathered at the Fort Providence Mission Albert LeBeau was tried, found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. The trail judge recommended that LeBeau’s death sentence be commuted but the Department of Justice would hear nothing of it and they proceeded with making arrangements for the sentence to be carried out on November 1st at the Fort Smith jail.

Albert LeBeau was transported to Fort Smith and by mid-October of 1921 the Dominion Hangman was on his way north. He made it as far as Fort McMurray when he decided to head back south, apparently not liking the prospects of not being able to get out of the north before the Athabasca River froze over.

The government was then forced to bring an elderly hangman out of retirement and they sent him north by special boat from Fort McMurray. His arrival in Fort Smith on October 31 barely gave the RCMP time to set up a makeshift gallows between two towering pines and at sunrise on the morning of November 1st, 1921 the sentence of the Northwest Territories’ first court was carried out.