Guest Commentary

Karen Mahoney

The Gambler

Parliament has repealed a 129-year-old law that sent my grandfather to prison. Grandpa was a bookie. I never knew him, but found an old Polaroid snapshot of the two of us when I was an infant. The narrative was mysterious and vague.

I’m an amateur genealogist and enjoy researching topics that range from British Home Children to the pioneers of Upper Canada. As a girl, my mother shared fragments of family stories about my grandfather.

Earle Whyte was born around 1900. “Whytie,” as he was nicknamed, once told my mother he came from Batavia, New York. Another time he said he was born in Winnipeg. Earle married in 1930 in Guelph, Ontario and supported his wife and two children with a small painting business.

A scan of the newspaper library at the Guelph Mercury told another story. A 1956 front page article said my grandfather went to prison. The arrest warrant stated Earle Whyte “did unlawfully become custodian or repository of a sum on money staked upon the result of horse races.” Archives of Ontario records say he was sentenced to three months for “betting and bookmaking.” He served his time at Burch Industrial Farm near Brantford, Ont.

Over the years I have spoken to people who knew of these events, but none really told me anything. My grandmother received payments to install a new kitchen. An unknown person paid the family grocery bill each week. Earle Whyte was released and died in 1972.

All families have skeletons. Ours is illegal betting. My grandfather’s incarceration was an embarrassment for my mother. This year Parliament wrote an epilogue to Earle Whyte’s story. Now if someone in Canada wants to bet on a boxing match or hockey game, it will be as simple as downloading an app.

(Editor’s note: The Senate on June 22 by a 57-20 vote passed into law Bill C-218 An Act To Amend The Criminal Code. The bill repealed an 1892 ban on “bookmaking, pool selling or recording of bets…on any race or fight or on a single sport event or athletic contest.”)

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