Friday, March 27, 2015

# 48 ~ Toronto & the First World War, Part I - Declaration

The Second Battle of Ypres, by Richard Jack.


This is the first in a series of nine posts leading up to the centenary of John McCrae's writing of In Flanders Fields, on May 3, 1915.  I've planned for articles to be posted over the next several weeks, and to culminate with actives commemorating the centennial of McCrae's poem.

Images of John McCrae or the poppy, or recitals of the poem, In Flanders Field, are usually just relegated to Remembrance Day.  We have come to associate certain images so much with November 11th, that they seem out of place during the rest of the year.  As I publish these posts, I hope that you will find enough about Toronto's history, to make the articles of interest.

John McCrae wrote his poem during the Second Battle of Ypres, which took place between April 22nd and May 25th of 1915.  The battle saw the first massed use of poison gas by German forces on the Western Front.  It was a important engagement for Canadian troops ~ for the first time, a group of "colonial" soldiers defeated a European power, on European soil.  Military experts often refer to how engagements like the Battle of St. Julien or Kitcheners' Wood helped to usher Canada into national adulthood.  

However, instead of focusing on an analysis of military activity in Europe, my series of posts will mostly follow how the war was "fought" on the Toronto home front.


Canada's entry into the First World War was a direct result of the United Kingdom declaring war on Germany.  The British had vowed to defend Belgium’s sovereignty, and when Germany invaded Belgium, the United Kingdom issued an ultimatum, threatening war on Germany.  This ultimatum expired at midnight, on August 4th, 1914, without a German retreat.  Britain therefore declared war, and Canada entered the conflict.

The three photographs, above, show German troops entering Belgium in the summer of 1914.

In 1914, Canada was a self governing Dominion, but did not control its own foreign affairs.  The Canadian government would decide the nature and extent of its involvement, but the country was legally at war the instant that Britain’s declaration took place.  When the British declared war on Germany, they drew the various Dominions and colonies of the British Empire into the war, as well.

The constituent Dominions and colonies of the British Empire, united under King George V, entered the war together.  Although Canada was a self determining Dominion, the country's foreign policy was still controlled by Britain.

In 1914, most Canadians – though not all – would have agreed with a statement that Sir Wilfrid Laurier had made in 1910 – “When Britain is at war, Canada is at war.”  The contributions that Canada would make to the war, and its ongoing relationship with the United Kingdom, would be debated throughout and after the conflict.

Canadian propaganda art, produced to stimulate civilian support for the war, often drew on iconic images, like the “Union Jack” and the bulldog.  A large number of those living in Canada had emigrated from Britain, but many Canadians who were born here identified themselves as British, too.  These Canadians would have felt emotional ties to what we today think of as British symbolism. 

The propaganda postcard in the centre of the image, above, represents the "Mother Country" of Britain, flanked by Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa, all depicted as bull dogs.

Just like plenty of people in many cities around the world, those in Toronto followed the events leading up to the declaration of war with great interest.  Most were aware what would happen if Germany did not withdraw from Belgium by the time it was midnight in London on August 4th. 

In a day before individuals huddled around televisions or computers to get their news, crowds began to gather downtown, congregating around Toronto’s 1899 City Hall.  Because of the time difference, those in Toronto would not have to wait till midnight to mark Canada’s entry into the war.  When the bells of Toronto’s City Hall struck seven o’clock that evening, it was midnight in England, and there was no news of a German evacuation of Belgium.  The people of Toronto went wild. 

The events leading up to the outbreak of the war made headlines in Toronto and around the world.

News of the war’s start was read out on stages of theatres and vaudeville houses, like Loew’s Yonge Street, which had opened in December of 1913, just eight months before the war.  Crowds also swarmed around Shea’s Hippodrome, across the street from City Hall, where Nathan Phillips Square is today.  Shea's Hippodrome was one of the biggest vaudeville theatres that was ever built in North America.  It could sit an audience of almost 3,500 people.  

Crowds outside Loew's Yonge Street Theatre (marquee at right), better known today as the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre.

Shea's Hippodrome was opened in 1913, and held 3,200 seats.  It was demolished in 1957 to make way for Nathan Phillips Square and the New City Hall complex. 

Restaurants, theatres, taverns, hotels and homes started to clear out, and huge crowds swarmed along Queen Street, King Street, or up Yonge Street, waving the Union Jack and singing “God Save the King”.  The majority of people in British Toronto were tremendously excited about the war, and felt that it would be over by Christmas, with minimal cost or casualties.  Although support for the war was not universal, there was little apparent hostility to a voluntary war effort, even in places like Quebec, where pro-British sentiment was traditionally low.  The party went on well into that night, but soon, the lights would go out all over the world.  Little did the people who were celebrating know that the war would last for more than four years, and cost the lives of thousands of  young men from Toronto. 


Coming up : My next instalment of the "Toronto & The First World War" series is entitled "Mobilization".  It explores the recruitment and, later, conscription of soldiers for the war effort.


Friday, March 6, 2015

# 47 ~ Toronto's Birthday, Then and Now

March 6th, 2015, marks the 181st anniversary of the Incorporation of the City of Toronto, from the old Town of York.  

The story is a pretty basic part of Toronto's history.  The old Town of York had been established by John Graves Simcoe back in 1793.  When the Province of Upper Canada (now Ontario) was created back in 1791, Simcoe was appointed as the province's first lieutenant-governor.  He set sail with his wife, Elizabeth, who was an incredible woman.  It was custom at the time for a woman of her social position to stay at home, back in England, while her husband fulfilled whatever position he was posted to.  But, it is due to her rugged determination to travel with her husband, that we know so much about early history in Toronto and southern Ontario.  She was a keen diarist and painter, and her writings and illustrations illuminate what society and nature were like in the dwindling years of the 18th century.

York would eventually become the provincial capital, replacing Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). Although the provincial government met in York pretty consistently from 1796, there was no actual government to run the town.  The difference between "town" and "city" was an important one.  It would be forty years before there was enough of a population to qualify the Toronto region as a city.  A clutch of bureaucrats, known as the Home District Council, settled matters pertaining to the Town of York.  In many cases, matters may have been sent to the Executive Council of Upper Canada, or even the lieutenant-governor, if the Home District Council could not form a decision.  Looking back, it seems like a case of splitting hairs, as whoever was on the Home District Council probably served on the Executive Council, too.  In some cases, certain matters may have been passed back to the Colonial Office, in England.  This was of course a time when communication between the Toronto region and England could take two months, at least - one way.  So, it may take six months for any political decree to return from England.

Tories versus Reformers

A lot of local and provincial affairs were dictated by a small cluster of a few dozen wealthy and powerful men.  Nicknamed the "Family Compact", they were the politicians, judicial figures, bankers and government appointees who held sway.  Through the 1820s and 1830s, there was a growing Reform Movement  - a group of individuals who began to oppose the Family Compact.

Several of these prominent Reformers began to petition the provincial government in 1833.  They demanded that the Town of York become incorporated into a city, which would mean a broadened electoral system, and therefore, an increase in democracy.  The Tory-controlled provincial Parliament sought a way to lessen the chances that Reformers would get elected.  The bill to incorporate into a city passed on March 6, 1834.  The old Town of York passed away, and was now the City of Toronto.

This is often heralded as a great triumph for democratic elections.  But who could vote?   Women did not have the franchise in Canada, at this point.  The provincial Tories had set the bar high in terms of qualifications for voting for an alderman.  There were conditions stipulating that only those who owned a certain amount of land could qualify to have a full vote.  Out of an adult male population of 2,929, only 230 of these grown men could vote.  No one from the general population could vote directly for the mayor.  He (and of course, it would be a "he"), was chosen, or appointed by the elected aldermen, from among their own number.


Late in 1833, not too long before Toronto's first election was called, there was a brewing labour dispute.  The Tories of the Family Compact had alienated a large number of the city's construction tradesmen, who went on strike.  This created a sympathy for labour and Reform, and led to a landslide victory in our first municipal elections.  Reform candidates chose William Lyon Mackenzie from their own number.  Mackenzie needs little introduction in Toronto historical circles - unless, of course, the introduction serves to dispel some of the rumours about him!  For a lot of greater detail about Mackenzie I would refer you to his entry at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.  

THEN : Proclamation of the new City of Toronto, 1834.


The Town of York was named for Frederick Augustus, the Duke of York and Albany, and second son of King George III.  He was also remembered in Frederick Street - one of the streets to make up the early town.  The Duke of York was principally a military figure who had led British troops to victory just prior to the naming of our Old Town.

THEN : Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, circa 1793 - the same year that our town was named after him.

As plans were being set for the incorporation of Toronto, there was great debate as to whether we should keep the ancient aboriginal name from which "Toronto" stems, or hold fast to the British sounding name of York.  John Graves Simcoe had been fond of renaming settlements with sold English sounding appellations, and there were those in the 1830s who felt strongly that the name "York" should remain.  Others suggested reverting to "Toronto".  The name of our current city has been so strongly corrupted from the traditional aboriginal tongue, that it's hard to tell exactly where it comes from.  For years, it was accepted that it came from an aboriginal word for an area near the mouth of the Humber River, where aboriginal people used to gather, trade and communicate.  This belief set the definition of the word as "Place of Meeting".

In the last decade, it has been conjectured that the word derives from an aboriginal term that describes a method of fishing, where sticks are plunged into the waters to form fishing weirs.  This definition would have Toronto mean "Where Sticks Grow In The Water".

Obviously, despite debate, the name "Toronto" won out.  The name York lives on in today's Royal York Hotel, York University, and in other institutions.  Back then, we also had York Township, York County, and according to folklore, one of the big reasons we opted for Toronto over York was because we were nicknamed "Little York", in a rather demeaning fashion, after the big New York that lay south of the border.

That's the basics.  Our city governance has grown and changed a lot in the past 181 years.  I wanted to leave you with a number of illustrations that shows you what Toronto looked like during it's 40 year life as the Old Town of York.

THEN : Ships in the harbour fire a gun salute to commemorate the victory of the Duke of York at the Battle of Famars, and the naming of Toronto as York, on August 24th, 1793.  This was one of the many paintings made by Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe that illustrate life in our early province.  

THEN : This map of York, the surrounding region and the harbour was made in 1793 by surveyor Alexander Aitken, for Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.

THEN (AGAIN) : I've taken the liberty of editing the above map to highlight the position of Fort York, and the Old Town of York.  The town took up 10 blocks, from today's Jarvis Street east to Parliament Street, and from Front Street up to Adelaide Street.  Also marked is today's Queen Street, which was the first Concession Road north of the town.  The street was originally dubbed "Lot Street" as all the park or farm lots were measured north from there.

THEN : A view of the harbour at York, looking west from the military blockhouse at the base of Berkeley Street in 1812. 

THEN : "Plan of the Harbour, Fort and Town of York, the Capital of Upper Canada, March 16th, 1816"

THEN : Looking north across the harbour from the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1817.  The lighthouse had been built by 1808, and despite its remote location it is one of the more well known of Toronto's Georgian remnants.

THEN : A map of the Town of York from 1818.  By this time, the area between Yonge Street west to Bathurst Street had started to be filled in.  Here you can see which early luminaries got which properties.  At the time this was still largely farmland and countryside, but imagine the property taxes today!  Also, some street names have changed over the years.  Graves Street, which was named after John Graves Simcoe, was changed to Simcoe Street.

THEN : Another view across the harbour from Gibraltar Point.  This one dates from 1828.


THEN : Scadding Cabin, originally built in 1794, is credited as the oldest surviving building in Toronto today.  It was built for John Scadding, a pioneer and aide-de-camp to John Graves Simcoe.  Originally built near the Don River and Queen Street, it was taken apart and reassembled on the grounds of today's  Canadian National Exhibition.  It is maintained and operated by the York Pioneers Historical Society.

NOW : How Scadding Cabin looks these days.

THEN : Castle Frank is more than just the name for a subway station.  This was the "summer home" of John Graves and Elizabeth Simcoe.  Built in 1794, it stood in the wilds north of York, just south of today's Bloor Street, overlooking the Don River.  The Simcoes abandoned it when they returned to England.  When the Americans invaded York in 1813, they saw Castle Frank on a map.  Mistaking it for a real castle, worthy of plunder, they tramped through the woods only to find a rotting wooden cabin.  Castle Frank was accidentally destroyed in a fire in 1829.

THEN : The birthplace of noted Canadian politician, Robert Baldwin, was built on the northwest corner of King and Frederick streets, just prior to Baldwin's birth there in May of 1804.  Robert Baldwin would go on to lead the moderate reform movement in Canada and usher in "responsible government" in the 1840s and 1850s.  The Baldwin family only lived in the house for a few years, but a later inhabitant of note was William Lyon Mackenzie.  He lived here with several members of his family and several apprentices, too, but was down in New York State, evading his creditors, in 1826.  The sons of several of those Family Compact clans broke into his home, which was also where he printed his radical newspaper "The Colonial Advocate".  They did their best to bust up his operation and destroy his equipment.  This became known as "The Types Riot".  The subsequent trial (called "The Types Trial") saw Mackenzie awarded enough money to fight off insolvency and launch his political career.  Mackenzie later moved out of the house, and it was eventually destroyed by fire, by 1849.  Today a Starbuck's stands on the site.

THEN : These were the grand "Palaces of Parliament" that stood along Front Street, between Front and Berkeley streets.   Constructed in the 1790s, they lasted for less than 20 years, before being infamously torched by invading Americans.  A second set of parliament buildings were built on the same site, before they too were lost to fire - this time, accidentally.

THEN : An early sketch of the original St. Lawrence Market.  The original market was build on the north side of Front Street, running up to King Street (where today's "north market" stands).  The very first market opened in November of 1803.  Several incarnations and additions later, St. Lawrence Market is today a very popular destination with both locals and visitors to the city.  In this drawing you can see the town well, centre foreground, as well as the harbour, in the back of the picture.  The harbour, of course, extended south from Front Street at the time.  

THEN : The first church of St. James was constructed on the site of today's Cathedral Church of St. James in 1807.  After several fires, and restorations, we have the Victorian spire that we know today.  But this original church was a very simple wood frame building - and the only church in town in 1807.

THEN : Built in 1822 on Adelaide Street, at the top of Frederick Street, and nearly lost to demolition, Campbell House was saved and moved to the northwest corner of Queen Street and University Avenue.  The home of Sir William and Lady Hannah Campbell, the house was a jewel in the Crown of Georgian York.  We are blessed that it still survives.  Today it operates as a public museum, and if you've never been for a visit, you should!

THEN : This map was produced to mark the incorporation of the City of Toronto on March 6th, 1837.

THEN : A new city was seen as a reason to celebrate.  Here we see revellers gathered around the windmill owned by the Gooderham and Worts families - this windmill was the precursor to today's Distillery District.  Party goers would have gathered on the frozen over harbour - where the parking lot for the Distillery District is today - to skate, ride in sleighs and enjoy a bonfire.

Friday, February 6, 2015

# 46 ~ The Massey Murder, Then and Now

THEN : Charles Albert "Bert" Massey, 1880 to 1915.

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 marks the centenary of what would become an iconic story in the annals of True Crime in Toronto.  One hundred years ago, on February 8th, 1915, Charles Albert "Bert" Massey was wandering up the street to his home at 169 Walmer Road.  Standing on his own door step, he was greeted by his 18 year old English maid, Carrie Davies, who lifted Massey's own revolver, and fired two shots.  The second bullet struck Massey in the chest, and within moments, he was dead.

For those of us who are interested in Toronto's history, the Massey family name is one that needs little introduction.  The legendary Hart Massey was considered to be the family's patriarch.  It was Hart Massey who built up his own father's family run blacksmith into the giant farm equipment company that would become the Massey Harris Manufacturing Company.  With Hart at the helm, the Massey family would eventually stand at the top of Toronto society, and in fact, as Bernard Sandwell, a noted Canadian editor, journalist and academic quipped : "Toronto has no social classes - only the Masseys and the masses."

THEN : Hart Almerrin Massey, 1823 to 1896.

Hart Massey's children and grandchildren would go on to build on Hart's own legacy, making "Massey" into a household name.  The family put their stamp on Toronto by building cultural institutions, like Massey Hall.

THEN : Massey Hall in 1925.  As Methodists, the more traditional members of the Massey clan were against both alcohol and stage plays.  These beliefs were held up within the walls of the Massey Music Hall.  Concerts and assemblies could be held in the hall, but any sort of play was forbidden.  If you look at the performance listings for Massey Hall today, this still holds true, though more by tradition than religious "law".  Similarly, when Massey Hall opened in 1894, there was a 99 year lease that prevented the sale or drinking of liquor on the premises.  The lease eventually expired of course, and when a basement was added as part of a restoration of the hall, a bar - dubbed "Centuries Bar" - was included.  One wonders what Hart Massey would have thought of audience members sipping on booze during the intermission of a performance by Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper.

NOW : Massey Hall today.

Both Massey College and Hart House, at the University of Toronto, were also part of the Massey family legacy.  

NOW : Massey College, University of Toronto.

NOW : Hart House, University of Toronto.

The family were members of Toronto's "Cathedral of Methodism", known today as the Metropolitan United Church.  The Massey family quietly exerted their influence, so the righteous, conservative moral tones of Methodism could be set forth from the pulpit and pews of this congregation, across the city.  

THEN : Metropolitan Methodist Church, as it was known, circa 1900 when this photograph was taken.

NOW : Metropolitan United Church, today.

Vincent and Raymond Massey were brothers to one another, and grandsons of Hart Massey.  Vincent was best known for his academic, political and diplomatic pursuits, which culminated in his term as Governor General of Canada, from 1952 until 1959.  Raymond Massey was a popular actor, appearing live on stage and in film and television productions.  Vincent and Raymond Massey represented one branch of the family that expanded on their grandfather's iconic and stolid reputation.  But there were other branches of the Massey family tree ... 

THEN : Vincent Massey, 1887 to 1967.

THEN : Raymond Massey (1896 to 1983)

Hart Massey had five children.  Vincent and Raymond were born to Hart Massey's second son, Chester Daniel Massey.  Hart's oldest son, Charles Albert Massey, had managed the family business through the 1870s.  His son, also called Charles Albert, but known more simply as "Bert" by most of the family, wasn't so highly regarded as his father, grandfather, or cousins, Vincent and Raymond.  Eschewing the family business, Bert took a job as a car salesman for York Motors.  The automobile industry was a booming and glamorous business, and Bert Massey seemed to be in love with sports cars and "fast" women.  The owners of the car dealership considered it a feather in their caps to have a Massey working for them, but Bert Massey's own family looked down their noses at Bert's choice of career.  Bert Massey soon found himself ostracized by people like his cousins, Vincent and Raymond.  Bert Massey had soon established himself as something of a cad and a "ne'er-do-well".

A century ago, in February of 1915, Bert Massey was living with his wife, Rhoda, and their 14 year old son, also named Charles Albert Massey, in a house at 169 Walmer Road.  The home was located in the western half of the Annex.  It wasn’t a run down neighbourhood, but was not considered as respectable as the grander mansions of families like the Gooderhams or the Eatons, which were located a few blocks east. 
Bert Massey’s home on Walmer Road certainly didn’t compare to his brother Arthur’s home at 165 Admiral Road, or the home that his cousin Vincent had, at 515 Jarvis Street.  At the time, an address on Jarvis Street was considered to mark one’s position at the pinnacle of society, and the most prominent members of the Massey family had their homes on that boulevard.

THEN : Before it became perhaps the most well known location in the "Keg Steakhouse" franchise, the building at the northwest corner of Wellesley and Jarvis streets served as home to the more refined members of the Massey family.  The greenhouse to the right was, sadly, lost, and a gas station now stands on that part of the property.

Bert Massey was wandering home from work on the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915.  As he approached the front door of his house on Walmer Road, his young English servant, Carrie Davies, burst out of the front door, surprising Massey on the front step.  Brandishing Massey’s own revolver, the young woman was said to exclaim “You ruined my life”.  She raised the weapon and fired.  Her first shot went wild, but her second shot struck Massey in the chest. Attempting to flee, he stumbled to the sidewalk, falling as neighbours, who’d heard the gunfire, rushed to give assistance. Within minutes, he was dead.
THEN : Carrie Davies, the woman who shot Bert Massey.  Did she do wrong, or was she wrong done by?  She made a full confession, and let the courts decide.

A young newspaper delivery boy named Ernest Pelletier was said to have been a witness to the murder.   He and others raised the alarm.  When police constables arrived, they found the 18-year-old maid in her attic quarters.   She claimed to be getting properly dressed so she could set off for the nearest police station to confess her crime. She admitted her actions, alleging that her wealthy employer had attempted to rape her the day before.
THEN : The murder of Bert Massey made headlines in the Evening Telegram, on February 9, 1915.  Every Toronto newspaper ran with the story, of course, and headlines that screamed of the murder of Bert Massey were front page news, along with those telling of the fighting that Canadian soldiers faced overseas during the Great War, which had started the previous summer.  Thousands of soldiers from the Toronto area would die in the First World War, but in the second week of February, 1915, it was the death of one man, Bert  Massey, that captured the city's attention.

The irresistible storyline of a poor but virtuous maiden defending herself from disgrace made the ensuing trial a sensational affair, attracting reams of newspaper coverage and packing the courtroom with blue-collar workers and society matrons alike.

THEN : Images of Carrie Davies, Bert Massey, his son Charles Albert Massey, and the family home at 169 Walmer Road were repeated again and again in Toronto's newspapers, as the news of Massey's murder broke, and the city waited for Davies to go to trial.

Young Carrie Davies had been born in impoverished conditions in Bedfordshire, England.  Her father, a Boer War veteran, had died when she was 16.  She had arrived in Toronto at a time when the Canadian government was recruiting young, respectable, trustworthy, and chaste unmarried working-class women to work in Canada.  These women helped to fill the shortage of domestic servants.  She rarely went out or socialized, and spent little of her wages on herself, in order to send $5 or $10 from her pay back to her partly-blind mother and three younger sisters. It was supposed to be more respectable work for women than that found in public locations like factories, shops, or hotel bars.

Davies was brought to trial for the shooting later that same month, before Chief Justice William Mulock.  Among the usual assortment of prostitutes, drunks, and vagrants in the women’s court, Davies stood out, looking “like a mild and gentle Sunday school pupil,” in the words of the Telegram.
To begin the trial, the prosecuting attorney, E.E.A. Du Vernet, argued - incredibly - that because Massey had not succeeded in his assault, his murder was not justified.  Du Vernet implored the jury to find her guilty of manslaughter.
Davies’ own lawyer, Hartley Dewart, did not dispute the prosecution’s factual reconstruction of the killing, but begged for mercy. He emphasized her modesty and virtuous reputation.  Dewart even established Davies’ virginity, according to the standards of the day, by calling to the stand a doctor who had examined her physically.
She was from a respectable working-class family, he argued, and had been instilled with wholesome British values. Davies was an innocent, vulnerable young woman, who fell prey to a wealthy but dishonourable brute, who nearly succeeded in ruining her. “We have placed upon ourselves as Canadians the duties of trustees and guardians for girls who come from homes such as this to Canada,” he told the all-male jury, calling upon their sense of chivalry, fatherly instincts, and British gentlemanly values.

THEN : Toronto Star coverage of the Davies trial, February, 1915. 

Finally, as proceedings wore on Davies took the stand herself, marking the culmination of the already dramatic trial as she recounted the circumstances leading up to the crime.
On Sunday, the night before the murder, Massey’s 14-year-old son went out after supper. Massey’s wife, Rhoda, was away visiting her family in Connecticut. This left Davies alone in the house with her 34-year-old employer, who, just days earlier, had drunkenly made lewd comments to her.
Seemingly intoxicated again, Massey now excitedly but awkwardly tried to offer her a ring in appreciation of her services. “Then,” Davies testified, “he caught me round the waist and kissed me twice, and said he ‘liked little girls.’”  Resisting, she managed to escape. Not long after, Massey called her to his bedroom to make his bed.  When she complied, Davies said, Massey grabbed her and threw her onto the bed. He tried to force himself on her until she wrestled free and escaped to her own room.
Davies managed to slip out of the house, and made her way across town to Cabbagetown, where her sister—her only relation in Canada—lived, and told her sister and brother-in-law of the incident. They advised her to return to work and fulfill her duties as employee. While they told her to be careful, they did not encourage Davies to report the attack to the police. The three knew intuitively that a servant girl had little chance of courtroom success against the scion of the powerful and wealthy Massey family. Between 1880 and 1930, not a single Toronto domestic who laid a complaint of indecent assault against her master saw him punished.
For Davies, therefore, the stakes were high if she didn’t return to work. So, divided between her sense of duty to her employer and her fear that she would be ruined if he succeeded in his advances, Davies arrived back at the Massey household at 11:20 p.m. on Sunday night.
The next morning she prepared breakfast for her attempted assailant, then hid in the cellar until Massey had left for work. “I was alone in the house all day Monday,” Davies testified, “and was worrying about what had happened on Sunday, and was not able to do all my work. Being my master, I thought it was a disgrace for him to kiss me.”
“When I saw Mr. Massey coming down the road I lost all control of myself,” she testified. “Everything became misty before me,” she continued. “I only thought of his doing me harm, and knew I would have to defend myself in some way or other. I could only think of the revolver ...” She continued: “He started to run and I kept on pulling the revolver, but the trigger did not seem to work. I could only think of his doing me harm.”
“The attack gave the girl only one alternative,” Dewart argued in his closing statement. “If she did not defend herself against this man she would have been a fallen woman, an outcast, one more sacrifice. Let that sink into your mind. It was not manslaughter. It was brute-slaughter.
Du Vernet countered in the prosecution’s closing argument that, by slaying her unarmed employer without his having a chance to give his side of the story in court, Davies had issued a death sentence. It was a penalty, he noted, that was out of balance with Massey’s alleged crime.
Carrie Davies would be tried in a special court for women that had been established (prior to the Massey murder) in Toronto.  However, women themselves were not able to sit on a jury at this time.  The jury was comprised solely of men.  Staggering debates over the role of women were being heard in 1915, in public forums, government councils, and family homes.  Often, those who opposed gender equality expressed a paternalistic view that women were "delicate creatures" who needed to be "sheltered".  If any of these men felt that women needed to be protected, well, Carrie Davies and her nearly ruined reputation certainly had the capacity to appeal to them.
THEN : One of the courtrooms at Toronto's 1899 City Hall, where the trial of Carrie Davies took place.  Toronto's "Old" City Hall is used for Provincial Court Cases today, but it has had a longstanding participation in the city's legal history.

The jury arrived at their decision in under half an hour of deliberation. Verdict: not guilty.  The crowd in the court-room was jubilant. The elderly judge had tears in his eyes as the admitted killer was pronounced innocent. “Thank you, Judge,” Carrie Davies responded, “and thank you gentlemen of the jury.” She had played the part of the deferential maiden perfectly.

THEN : Toronto Star coverage of the verdict.

Upon her acquittal, Davies received numerous offers of employment. She turned them down, refusing to accept work in any private home, ever again.  Decades later, author and journalist Frank Jones tracked down Davies’ daughter and uncovered what happened next to the once-famous defendant. Davies married Charles Brown, an older English farmer based in the Brampton region.  Moving from farm to farm in Ontario, Davies and her family lived at the edge of poverty.  Davies spent much of her time on charitable work, volunteering at church and dedicating her time to children’s charities. She never told her two children of her notorious crime and trial before her death in October 1961.

NOW : The murder scene at 169 Walmer Road as it looks a century later.  Today, the house has been subdivided into a number of smaller apartments.  One wonders as to whether or not the current inhabitants have any knowledge of the infamous history that took place on their doorstep.


The notorious case of Bert Massey and Carrie Davies was re-introduced into mainstream knowledge with the publication of Charlotte Gray's book "The Massey Murder" (published in 2013).  The book has been exceptionally well reviewed - I read it myself and like everyone else who has done so, I found it compelling.  The book weaves in other things that were going on at the time, including the quest for gender equality in Canada, and Canadian participation in the First World War.

I mean no copyright infringement in referencing the book, or posting an image of it - in fact, I highly recommend purchasing your own copy!