The hanging of Patrick Whelan at the Carleton County Jail on February 11 1869 for the assassination of MP and Father of Confederation D'Arcy McGee [left] is mistakenly claimed to be the last public hanging in Canada. Ten months later, on December 7, 1869, Nicholas Melady was hanged in Goderich at the Huron District Gaol for the murder of his father and step-mother. A recently published book detailing the crime and hanging, by Melady's descendant John Melady, is titled Double Trapped: Canada's Last Public Hanging.
However - in 1869, Canada only included the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Hangings continued in public in areas that had not yet entered Confederation, such as the prairie provinces and BC.
While hangings were performed behind prison walls, the public was often still able to watch.
- The Sheriff could and often did invite interested spectators and newspaper reporters.
- Spectators were known to climb any nearby structure that would allow them to see into the yard. At the Montreal execution of Timothy Candy in 1910, dozens of people viewed the hanging from the roofs of adjoining houses. In this photo of the 1904 execution of Stanislau Lacroix in Hull, you can see the crowds on the nearby rooftops and telephone poles.
- Crowds of excited spectators were hard to stop. In March 1899, 2,000 uninvited guests stormed a Montreal gaol to witness a hanging, joining the 200 witnesses already inside the prison yard.
- The law was not always followed.
- The hanging scaffold was sometimes built taller than the prison walls to allow for public viewing.
An elderly museum patron noted several years earlier that he recalls watching gallows being built in public in Hamilton while riding the streetcar. Was this a case where the gallows were built higher than the prison walls to allow curious spectators a view? or was the law simply ignored? I'm not sure I can claim for certain that the hanging of Melady in Dec. 1869 was the last public hanging even in the provinces within Confederation at the time.