Emily Murphy's opium scale


“Several years ago, with two plain clothes men known as ‘dope cops,’ I visited Chinatown in Vancouver, that queer district where men seem to glide from nowhere to nothing.”
- Emily Murphy, writing as Janey Canuck in The Black Candle, 1922.

The visit to the opium dens of Chinatown described above was one of many events which inspired Justice Emily Murphy to write The Black Candle, a virulent tract against drug use and traffic in Canada during the early 20th century. Murphy was a judge in Edmonton, Alberta. Her position deepened her knowledge of and disgust for drug use, while leaving her racial prejudices unchecked.

Murphy collected this scale, as well as other examples of drug paraphernalia, as part of her research for The Black Candle. The scale, which would have been used to measure dose of opium, has two parts: a brass dish which hangs from a bone rod. The tarnish on the dish and the chipped wooden case suggest rough use and handling prior to its arrival at the museum.

Though Murphy was always a staunch critic of drug traffic and a crusader in the early war on drugs, today she is better known today as one of the “Famous Five” women who successfully lobbied the federal government in the 1929 Persons Case, which gave equal rights of personhood to women.

Date Range 
Early 20th century
Place of Manufacture 
Place of Use 
38.1 cm long, 7.9 cm wide, 3.2 cm high
Museum Location 
Catalog Number 
DA 1011a-b
Emily Murphy