Over 40 people, including 1 woman, were hanged in Canada from 1860 to 1866. After Confederation 1,533 death sentences were passed between 1867 and 1976, resulting in the executions of 691 men and 11 women, between 1867 and 1962. From 1869, only murder, rape and treason were punishable by death. Only two men were executed for treason.
They were Thomas Scott, an Irish Protestant, who was hanged on the 4th of March 1870 in Red River in present day Manitoba.The other man was Louis Riel who led an uprising in what is now the province of Saskatchewan. Riel was convicted of high treason and hanged in November 1885.
Between 1892 and 1961, the mandatory penalty for any conviction for murder in Canada was death by hanging. Canada’s last fully public execution took place in 1869 when Nicholas Melady was hanged for the murder of his father and step-father.
The law changed – by decree on January the 1st, 1870 and future executions were in private.
The public continued to be allowed to attend hangings up to 1935, by invitation. However, after the decapitation of Thomasina Sarao at the Bordeaux Jail in Montreal on the 28th of March 1935 it was stopped. Sarao had murdered her husband to collect the insurance but she did not deserve ‘the ending’ she got. Due to the hangman being given the incorrect weight for her, she went to meet her maker in two pieces. It marked the end of Arthur Ellis’s 22-year career as Canada’s “Official” Hangman and Ellis died three years later alone in his Montreal hotel room.
In 1961, an act of Parliament divided murder into capital and non-capital categories, as in Britain. The last executions took place at Toronto’s Don Jail, on December the 11th, 1962, when Ronald Turpin was hanged alongside Arthur Lucas for two unrelated murders. The last person sentenced to death was Mario Gauthier on the 14th of May 1976 for the murder of a prison-officer in Quebec.
On July 14, 1976, the House of Commons passed Bill C-84 on a free vote, abolishing capital punishment from the Canadian Criminal Code and replacing it with a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for 25 years for all first-degree murders. The death penalty was removed from the Criminal Code in 1976 and Canada totally abolished capital punishment in 1998.
Postcard from BANQ-Cote :CP 030068 CON-N° de notice :0004436423
The Official Notice
On Friday, Sept. 6. 1858 Alexander Burns of Bolton Township, Quebec, who was convicted of murdering his child, was hung in front of the Montreal jail at 10 o’clock. An immense crowd witnessed his execution.
Author and Executioner Notes:
Why am I even sharing public hangings with you? It seems old Thomas Easby from Lanark County wasn’t the only horrible person around. When you read history, sometimes you do not expect to see horrific events happen, let alone where you used to live. History isn’t all flowers and sunshine.
Reading a book about the Eastern Townships it was mentioned briefly that Alexander Burns from Bolton Townships in Quebec had caused an incident that was soon not to be forgotten. Being the inquisitive person I am, I dug further and realized that this local man was right up there with quite a few I have written about.
Alexander had several children and had gotten one of them pregnant. When the child was born the devout Methodist took the newborn into the woods and killed it. Someone reported it, and he was found guilty of murder.
Alexander Burns from Bolton Townships in Quebec and Dr. Jesse Patterson were supposed to be hung at the same time for unrelated offences in Montreal that day in 1858. It was to be a public double-hanging but one of them received a last-minute reprieve and this resulted in the spectators rioting.
A large crowd had shown up at the gallows which was erected at a street corner outside the jail. Unknown to the crowd Patterson’s sentence was commuted that morning. When the jail gate opened and only Burns was brought out the mood of the crowd turned ugly.
The hangman quickly dispatched Patterson but the crowd started shaking the gallows and throwing debris at the staff. Police from a nearby station arrived to help. The mob left the scene and caused great damage to the area shops.
Photo from BANQ-Cote :CP 030055 CON-N° de notice :0004435942
Quebec historian Penny Redmile was looking for anyone with connections to Mr. and Mrs. Burns of Bolton Township, or any of their 10 children. She had found a tutorship which had listed all their names and ages as well as the group of men that were called together to choose a tutor and a sub-tutor of the children.
Why is this important? This particular tutorship was the first one ever found for a condemned man’s family. Redmile was interested in knowing if the children continued living in the Eastern Townships with the tutor, or in Vermont with the sub-tutor. After the horrific family events, did the children keep the last name of Burns? As Penny said, it was rather a tough tale to tell to the ancestor looking for information.
I couldn’t find any other hangings in Lanark County but I did find these for the Eastern Townships area.
If you really really want to read more..
Bitten by the Kissing Bug — A Shocking Conclusion to the Life of Carleton Place’s Daniel E. Sheppard
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun