This Week in History


Murder on Sparks Street

This story was initially published in 1999

April 13, 1868, was proclaimed a day of public mourning in Montréal for the funeral of Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Six days earlier McGee was shot from behind on his way home from Parliament in Ottawa. He was the first Canadian politician to be assassinated.

Reward poster for capture of McGee's murderer

Reward poster for capture of
McGee's murderer

© LAC / C20565

McGee grew up a radical in Ireland where he took part in an 1848 uprising against the British. To avoid capture McGee fled to the United States disguised as a priest. While there, he established several newspapers and spoke out strongly for Irish Americans.

On the encouragement of the Irish community in Montréal, McGee moved his family there and entered politics. Representing Montréal West, McGee won election to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1858. He was the Minister of Agriculture, Immigration and Statistics, becoming a member of the Canadian House of Commons after Confederation.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Thomas D'Arcy McGee
© Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of
Archaeology and History

McGee was a talented writer and a powerful speaker. He wrote many historical books, poems and articles through which he expressed his ideas of 'New Nationality' and expanding Canadian culture. Remembered as one of the leading Fathers of Confederation, he helped persuade the Maritime provinces to join Canada. As he grew older, McGee lost his radical edge and promoted loyalty to Canada first. This angered many of his Irish supporters, especially the Fenians, an extreme Irish Nationalist group, who labelled him a traitor.

After the shooting, the mayor of Ottawa offered a $2000 reward for the capture of the unknown murderer. Although proclaiming his innocence, a suspected Fenian, Patrick Whelan, was hanged outside the county jail, now an Ottawa Youth Hostel. An extravagant funeral took place in Montréal for McGee on what would have been his 43rd birthday.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has recognized Thomas D'Arcy McGee. A plaque on Sparks Street and a statue on Parliament Hill commemorate McGee's importance in the formation of Canada.

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