Hugh Miller often showed Thistle Ha’ visitors a fancy, well-worn cane given to his grandfather, and told its story below. The cane was destroyed in the house fire at Thistle Ha’ in 1985.
As told by: Hugh Miller

A local widow came to Thistle Ha’ and asked John Miller for help. Her son had just been convicted of murder, and was sentenced to hang. She explained that two men and her fifteen-year-old son had broken into a farmer’s house in the middle of the night, looking for liquor. The farmer had come downstairs to investigate the noise, and in the ensuing struggle, the farmer was struck and killed.

She felt her son’s penalty was too severe: he was a youth who had become influenced by bad men since her husband’s death, he was a bystander during the fight at the farmhouse, and the family couldn’t afford to pay for an adequate defense at his trial. John Miller said he would see what he could do.

One morning shortly afterwards, he went to Pickering station and took the train to Ottawa. Once there, he made inquiries about how to get to a specific house. Arriving at the door of this address by late afternoon, he explained that although he didn’t have an appointment, his business was an urgent matter of life and death. So he was invited in to have supper with Canada’s second Prime Minister, Alexander Mackenzie.

There’s a slight possibility that the Prime Minister had heard of his guest. John Miller was very active in federal politics, although it was in support of the Leader of the Opposition, John Macdonald. In any event, Miller was allowed to explain the widow’s plea for justice to the Prime Minister during the meal. Mackenzie agreed to ask his officials to study the circumstances of the case, and to make a recommendation to the government. Federal cabinet subsequently reviewed the case and commuted the youth’s death sentence to a long term in federal prison.

After his release from the Kingston Penitentiary, the man visited Thistle Ha’. He had learned a trade during his stay in prison. To thank John Miller for what he had done, the man presented him with a fancy cane that he’d made while at Kingston. John Miller told the man that his life would be difficult if he remained in the community, since some people would never let him forget about his past crime. He wrote the man a cheque to help him start a new life. Years later, the family heard that the man owned a prosperous hardware business in the United States.