Under Lock and Key: The Don Jail

Under Lock and Key: The Don Jail

Since the mid-1800s, the Don Jail has left its stamp on the skyline, and the psyche, of Toronto. Over the years it developed a fearsome reputation as a dehumanizing snake pit where tuberculosis and other diseases caused by overcrowding were rife. And between 1872 and 1962, thirty-four men were hanged there. But, it all started off with such great promise.....

Drop Dead Book Launch Revisited: The Door Prize

Drop Dead Book Launch Revisited: The Door Prize

The easy part was deciding on the contents of the door prize for the official book launch of Drop Dead. Dundurn Press kindly donated three books...[we included] a trio of notebooks designed by Toronto artist Kate Austin, and, appropriately, a bottle of The Hanging Man wine. More difficult was to decide how to package the prize appropriately. This is where the considerable flair of gift stylist Corinna vanGerwen came into play......

The Official Book Launch: An Evening With The Hangman

The Official Book Launch: An Evening With The Hangman

The heavens opened. Traffic slowed to a crawl. Nevertheless, people from all walks of my life turned up on Thursday evening, August 17 at Ben McNally Books in downtown Toronto to celebrate the launch of Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada.

CBC Daybreak Alberta Interview

CBC Daybreak Alberta Interview

Death by hanging. That was the fate of more than 700 people in Canada between Confederation in 1867 and the abolition of capital punishment in 1976. How did this affect individuals caught up in the criminal justice system during this dark chapter of our history? The family of Elizabeth Popovitch was devastated when she was hanged in 1946 for the robbery and brutal slaying of her benefactor. Cook Teets was hanged for poisoning his wife, but he could not have administered the poison. A youth was hanged a second time after recovering from his first hanging. These and other sad, horrific, bizarre, but sometimes uplifting stories of people involved in the criminal justice system formed the basis of my recent conversation with Russell Bowers on the CBC’s Daybreak Alberta.

JOHN ROBERT RADCLIVE

JOHN ROBERT RADCLIVE

The Hangman

The main players are all assembled….And standing by on the sidelines, waiting for his turn, is the most contentious participant of them all: the hangman.

The game is on.

THE FEDERAL CABINET

THE FEDERAL CABINET

When someone was convicted of a capital crime, the presiding judge was required to submit a detailed report to the minister of justice in Ottawa. The federal Cabinet and officials of the Department of Justice would review the case.

JAMES CHALMERS MCRUER

JAMES CHALMERS MCRUER

The Judge

In court, the judge, invariably a man, became the most powerful player in the game. Inspiring fear and respect, he swept into the courtroom in his black robes...

ERNEST CHARLES DRURY

ERNEST CHARLES DRURY

The Sheriff

......if you think of a sheriff as a dude in the Wild West walking down a dusty road with a shiny star on his chest, spurs clanking on his heels, and a pair of six-shooters on his hips, think again.

TOMMASINA TEOLIS

TOMMASINA TEOLIS

THE MURDERER

For every victim, there has to be an aggressor — a man, woman, or child who pulls the trigger or plunges the knife or slips arsenic into a cup of tea.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Thomas D'Arcy McGee

The Victim

First, there had to be a body: spread-eagled on a city street, slumped over a desk, buried in a shallow grave in field or forest....

Meet The Hangman at Fairview Library

Meet The Hangman at Fairview Library

On Wednesday evening, May 17, at an event co-sponsored by the Toronto Public Library and the North York Historical Society, I invited the gathering to "Meet the Hangman.” To be more specific, I introduced them to John Radclive, Arthur Ellis and John Ellis, the three most famous executioners in Canada from Confederation in 1867 to the abolition of capital punishment in 1976.

What was the effect on these individuals of their grim job?

Drop Dead at Fairview Library

Join me at the Fairview Branch of the Toronto Public Library on Wednesday, May 17th (7:30-9pm) for a FREE talk!  

I'll focus on the colourful characters and fascinating stories that make up the hundred years of capital punishment in Canada. It's the story of alcoholic executioners, cowardly sheriffs, hanging judges, wrongful convictions, unruly mobs, and perhaps even a botched execution (or two)...

The Hangman's Awards

The Hangman's Awards

Arthur Ellis isn't just Canada's most famous hangman.  He's also the namesake behind the Arthur Ellis Awards, which has honoured the best Canadian crime writing since 1984!  

This year's nominations cover non-fiction, mysteries, thrillers, short stories, novellas, and stories for younger readers. Each winner receives the "Arthur" award--a condemned wooden man who flails around when a string is pulled.  It's definitely the grisliest of the literary awards...