Thirty-fourth in a series of pioneer profiles
David (Buster) Wigg, whose brave actions saved the Nelson courthouse from destruction half a century ago, has died at 88.
His impulsive, heroic feat of February 4, 1962 came after several bombs were planted inside the building.
Wigg, a cab driver, was sitting in the Red Top taxi stand at Wait’s News that evening when someone came in shouting that the courthouse was on fire.
Fire trucks responded within seconds, but went the wrong way, turning onto Baker Street instead of continuing down Ward — an alarm had been set off near the Bank of Montreal, probably as a distraction.
Wigg and fellow cabbie Bill Morris ran down to the courthouse and found the top panel of glass in the front door blown out. With a doormat, they kicked out the rest and Wigg went inside.
He found the foyer filled with smoke, and flames racing up the walls and ceiling. Worse, four bombs in half-gallon cans lay on the entrance floor and basement staircase, about to go off.
With his bare hands, Wigg snuffed the first device, then wrapped a piece of plastic from a light fixture around it, went outside and threw it over the stone wall.
He repeated the procedure with the second bomb, but then a police officer pulled up, believing Wigg to be the culprit. After exchanging a few choice words, Wigg sent him to redirect the fire department.
Back inside he dealt with the third bomb, but this one was in a glass jar, and as he tried to put it out, flames shot out, singeing his fingers.
When the fire truck finally arrived, Wigg grabbed a shovel, scooped up the burning jar and threw it onto the pavement, where it exploded. Firefighters then defused the fourth bomb and put out the blaze, which caused $1,500 damage (about $11,500 in today’s currency).
A large crowd gathered, but Wigg couldn’t stick around: he had to get back on shift. His wife only learned of the incident when the Daily News phoned.
No one was ever charged with the bombing, but the Sons of Freedom were blamed, as it came on the eve of sentencing for three radical members.
Investigators found whoever did it got in through a basement window — and actually prevented the fire from spreading by closing a door.
Wigg suffered only minor burns. “It just made me mad,” he said at the time. “When I thought of that beautiful building being gutted, I didn’t think of anything else except saving it.”
Interviewed at his home in 2001 — coincidentally the day of the US terrorist attacks — he was still reluctant to take much credit, as though defusing explosives was an everyday part of his job.
“It’s just something you do,” he chuckled. “I’d have done it again regardless. That’s my nature. I’m not one to sit by and let it happen.”
Wigg received commendations from the mayor, premier, and fire commissioner’s office, but a plaque promised in his honour never happened. (Not everyone thought so highly of his actions; Morris, his co-worker, called him “a damn fool.”)
Wigg had long Nelson roots. His grandparents were among the first permanent settlers on the West Arm, and his mother, Mabel Shannon, was the first registered birth in Nelson. She married Albert Wigg, who worked for the CPR, and they raised ten children at 413 Silica Street.
After retiring from the taxi business in 1985, Buster and wife Chrystal wintered in Arizona.
He passed away Tuesday. Funeral services are planned for November 3 at 2 p.m. at the Nelson cemetery.
Previous installments in this series