Those who misbehaved were once in danger of being “whitecapped” by their neighbours—dunked in a well, or walked in snow, and thrashed. When a group of vigilantes whitecapped a leading citizen in the town of Wheatley in southwestern Ontario, they were brought to trial in nearby Chatham. Penalties were urged. Instead, the whitecappers were acquitted and celebrated.
The Advertiser, London, Ontario, reported on July 22, 1905 on the whitecapping of Thomas Dulmage:
“Dulmage, from all accounts, is a hard drinker, but it is said that he is not in other respects a bad citizen. He is a merchant and was thought well enough of to be made president of the local Conservative association. While walking in the street the other evening, he was seized by a party of men, who dipped him several times in a well of cold water and then flogged him.
“Many will say that this treatment served Dulmage right and will applaud his punishers, but whoever they are, and they are said to be prominent residents of the town, they should be disciplined for having taken the law into their own hands. It was a resort to “whitecapping,” a practice which must not be permitted in this country. Six or seven years ago a similar outrage occurred in a town not far north of London. The victim, who was accused of gross immorality, was walked in the deep snow on a bitterly cold night by a party of men in disguise, and died from the effects of the exposure… Local feeling is apt to run strong against any efforts to punish the perpetrators of these outrages, but the authorities should be made to do their duty.”
Three days later, it was revealed in the Advertiser that the whitecappers included a doctor, a police constable, and Mrs. Dulmage, all of whom were generally thought to have acted quite properly. Once again, the Advertiser called for punishment:
“Before applauding the chivalry of the Wheatley whitecaps, it may be asked whether their example is one to be encouraged. If a man’s neighbors are to constitute themselves the judge of his manners and morals, and be allowed to carry out their sentence on him, who will be safe?… In this law-abiding province, it has no excuse or justification. The Wheatley vigilantes should be made to understand this.”
Alas, it was not to be. The final report on the incident, filed from Wheatley on August 5, noted that:
“The home coming from Chatham of the seven men acquitted of having taken part in the whitecapping of Thomas Dulmage was made the occasion of much rejoicing here. A large number of people met the party at the station and escorted them to the village, where supper was spread at the village hotel by the women of the place.”
Unfamiliar Canadian history