Saturday, April 7, 2018

Remembering A Statesman

Today I am marking an anniversary in Canadian history. I'm starting with a photograph of the Library of Parliament, taken at sunset one day in February while on Parliament Hill. The statue at the left is that of one of our Fathers of Confederation, the esteemed speaker and writer, Thomas D'Arcy McGee. One of our finest and most eloquent founders, McGee had been a radical in Ireland in his younger days, ultimately becoming a journalist and writer in Canada. He acquired a law degree, moved into politics as a Member of Parliament from Montreal, and became a close friend to John A. Macdonald, who would wind up as our first Prime Minister. McGee changed his views on Irish nationalism over time, going from a radical to a firm defender of constitutional monarchy, gaining the animosity of those he once stood with in the process. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the night of his assassination. Have a look at links on McGee and the events of that night.

I came back one day in March, late in the afternoon.

McGee left Parliament after debates in the House of Commons that night, bound for the boarding house where he resided, which was on Sparks Street, a block south of Parliament Hill. Today on Sparks Street, this modern building bears his name, and houses several federal courts, fitting given his legal credentials.

East along Sparks, where it meets Elgin Street, a pub also bears his name. D'Arcy McGee's occupies the ground floor of this building, which happens to be part of the trio of buildings collectively called The Chambers. The Chateau Laurier is reflected in its windows.

Heading back west along Sparks takes us to the scene of the crime. Where a Subway shop stands today, in McGee's time, this was the site of the boarding house that served as his in-town residence. Walking home late in the evening, he was just at the front door when a gunman shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. His shift in views had made him enemies among the Irish nationalist cause and the Fenian movement in the United States. A plaque can be found alongside the current day building explaining the significance of the location. Some years ago, a writer, Gordon Henderson, wrote a book, Man In The Shadows, that wove fictional characters with fact, recounting the events of the assassination and trial in a novel form.

Patrick James Whelan, an Irish immigrant, local tailor, and a Fenian sympathizer, was tried and convicted of the assassination, though there is good cause to doubt his role in the matter. He was hanged publicly here at the old Carleton County Gaol, which today serves as a youth hostel.

The hostel is linked to the building at its left, which was once a courthouse. Today it houses Arts Court, a hub for studios, workshops, and other artistic ventures. Arts Court has been expanding in the last few years in partnership with the University of Ottawa and a developer. A complex is in its final stages taking up what had been the empty back lot behind these two structures. A condo tower takes up part of the project, while Arts Court and the university's theatre program will have plenty of extra space for their operations here. Whelan was buried on the grounds after his hanging, and whatever's left of him is still here, though some years ago a box of earth was taken from the site, consecrated in a Catholic ceremony, and buried with Whelan's wife in a cemetery in Montreal. That same cemetery, Notre Dame des Neiges, is the final resting place of Thomas D'Arcy McGee.


  1. ...thanks for the history lesson, my Canadian history is a bit rusty!

  2. You got some nice light in these photos and told a fascinating story. People want their "heroes" to be real and that means heroes cannot change their mind. And someone with a gun always wants to play god.

  3. Your post is very interesting because things like that you don't learn at school !

  4. The library photo is spectacular.

    I didn’t realize McGee was so young when he died. Imagine what he could have accomplished given length of years.

  5. @Tom: you're welcome.

    @Lowell: I admire that he could change his world view.

    @Gattina: thank you!

    @Marie: the setting of the statue is right. A scholar by the library.

    @Regine: thanks!

  6. A very informative post, William! I love your first pic!

  7. Nice post using McGee as a theme. I always look at losses like McGee and wonder what would have happened if he continued to serve.

  8. love the cool lighting outside the pub. neat-O!!! ( ;

  9. McGee appears to be well remembered!

  10. @RedPat: that is the best time of day to photograph the Library- sunset, from that angle.

    @Maywyn: thank you.

    @Lois: I certainly think so.

    @Marleen: it definitely is. And since it survived the 1916 fire, McGee would have known it.

    @Red: it's a tragedy- he had a lot of good to offer, and snuffed out just like that.

    @Beth: thanks!

    @Cloudia: that it is.

    @Sharon: especially today.

    @Francisco: thank you.

  11. Interesting history lesson. Thanks, William

  12. Interesting post, William, Thomas D'Arcy McGee must have been quite an important man for Canada.

  13. Many thanks for the photographs and the history ... always good to read.

    All the best Jan

  14. Hi William, What a great post. Thank you for the history and for these amazing photos. Love the reflection of the building in the window and how interesting about the book, too.

  15. Quite a history lesson. An Irishman might think the pub a fitting memorial.

  16. I wonder if the wrong person was convicted for the murder.

  17. I've never been much of a history buff, but this was interesting.

  18. Beautiful shots of the statue. Nice light.

  19. "The Troubles" have long been just that.

  20. Interesting history on a great stateman!

  21. That library is so beautiful. As you might expect, my Canadian history is sorely lacking so I really appreciated all you shared in this post. Most interesting.

  22. Thanks for mentioning my novel MAN IN THE SHADOWS. May I suggest it's a good place to start to learn about D'Arcy McGee, James Whelan, the Fenians and Ottawa in the 1860s. I also recommend David Wilson's two volume biography of McGee.

  23. @Bill: you're welcome.

    @Jan: he certainly was.

    @Jan: thank you.

    @Mildred: thanks!

    @Mari: McGee certainly wasn't one to pass up a drink.

    @Shammickite: at the very least the trial wasn't fair, with the PM putting pressure on things.

    @Norma: I love history. I'm planning on featuring McGee and Macdonald for a theme day later in the year on friends.

    @Klara: late afternoon is the perfect time to photograph around there.

    @Kay: that's true. Irish radicalism has taken many forms, and has a complicated history.

    @Nancy: thank you!

    @Jeanie: I've picked up a lot aside from what I learned in school.

    @Gordon: thank you! I enjoyed your book.