Sophie May "Diamond Queen" Ryan
(1876 – 1952)
Sophie May Ryan is a trailblazer mainly for her notoriety as the North’s fabulous Diamond Queen. Born in London, England in December 1876, she was tiny in height but apparently beautiful and possessed a lovely singing voice.
She performed in music halls in London in her early teens and then took off on a tour into South Africa where she was taken on a tour of the diamond fields of Kimberley. This is where she was first given her name the Diamond Queen after she was showered with rough diamonds following her performances on stage.
Ryan returned to London, married Captain Law and in 1902 they settled in Toronto. When he died, Ryan moved to the Pas, arriving in 1911. Why, is a mystery. The town in those days was not exactly London, England or Toronto. The mining boom was years away and it was still a very tough frontier town with main activities of logging, hunting and trapping. But Ryan made it her home for 40 years.
The Diamond Queen quickly became a bootlegger. Northerners were tolerant of bootlegging in those days and the Manitoba Provincial Police had a difficult job enforcing an unpopular liquor law. When town council ordered a raid on Ryan’s place, news of the raid was leaked. According to legend, the police were greeted by a large crowd who stood around to watch the fun.
According to the Northern Mail, when the police squad started pounding on the door and demanded admittance, some of the Diamond Queen’s guests became worried that their names might appear on the court docket as “found-ins.” “Relax and enjoy your drink,” the Queen said. “I can handle this situation.” As she headed for the door, she began removing various pieces of clothing, and when she opened the door and, making out that she was being assaulted, grabbed one of the policemen and yelled: “Rape! Rape!” The cops, startled by this unexpected counterattack, retired in some confusion to the jeers of the spectators.
In 1915, Ryan formed an alliance with a local blacksmith Gilbert Lacroix and they became a couple. Together they opened a roadhouse on the Hudson Bay Railway to service two mines in the boom district until the railway siding was moved. There were some rumours that they were deliberately cut out of the business because of Ryan’s unladylike behaviour and liquor sales.
Ryan died in 1952 and she is buried in the Lakeside cemetery.