Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Case of Valentine Shortis

The Case of Valentine Shortis: A True Story of Crime and Politics in Canada

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 324
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Case of Valentine Shortis
    Book Description:

    Martin Friedland has vividly reconstructed one of the most dramatic criminal cases in Canada's history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2753-6
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-1)
  4. 1 Tragedy at Valleyfield
    (pp. 3-15)

    Francis valentine cuthbert shortis was born in Waterford, Ireland, on St Valentine’s Day 1875.

    Valentine, as he was called by his family, was the only child of exceptionally wealthy parents. His father was one of the leading cattle dealers in the south of Ireland, exporting to the British mainland a million dollars worth of livestock each year. His mother had had a number of miscarriages before her son was born and was extremely devoted to him. Valentine had difficulty at school and later in learning his father’s business. Many thought his mother was spoiling him with too much care and...

  5. 2 Pre-trial Manoeuvres
    (pp. 17-29)

    A change of venue was crucial to the defence. Greenshields told the press: ‘He won’t be tried in Beauharnois if we can help it.’ His first approach was to Macmaster, who in turn reported to the attorney-general: ‘I stated to him that I would have to await your instructions; that on general principles the system of jury trial was an educational factor in the community, that it made the people of the localities in which crime was committed responsible for the just administration of the law, and that punishment for violation of the law becomes a potent object lesson to...

  6. 3 The Crown’s Case
    (pp. 31-45)

    Judge belanger would not be trying the case. TheProgres de Valleyfieldexpressed surprise at this decision and claimed it was insulting to Bélanger and to the people of the district. Instead, Judge Michel Mathieu of the Quebec Superior Court was assigned the task. A highly respected senior jurist, Mathieu had been appointed a judge in 1881 by Sir John A. Macdonald, and had sat in the Quebec legislature, having previously been a Conservative mp in Ottawa in the early 1870s. Sir John A. had declared that if his friend Mathieu had not chosen a judicial career he would have...

  7. 4 The Defence
    (pp. 47-57)

    He defence was called on to present its case within minutes of the closing of the case for the Crown. There were no opening statements by defence counsel. The first evidence would be that of the Irish commission, consisting of 575 handwritten pages of statements made by the forty-eight witnesses. Macmaster told the court that he objected now, as he had done in Ireland, to most of the evidence as irrelevant. He wanted his protest to form part of the record.

    The official translator, Alexandre Cotté, commenced reading the evidence in English. By noon the testimony of only two of...

  8. 5 The Psychiatrists
    (pp. 59-73)

    The psychiatric evidence would be the key to the case.¹ All four defence psychiatrists would of course support the insanity defence, but how strongly would they give their evidence and would they be able to withstand Macmaster’s cross-examination? Throughout their testimony; three Crown psychiatrists took notes to assist Macmaster and to be available to give evidence in rebuttal.

    James V. Anglin, the most junior of the four; was the first to be called. He had graduated from Queen’s medical school at Kingston in 1887, where he had studied under C.K. Clarke, and had then worked with Clarke at Rockwood asylum...

  9. 6 Rebuttal
    (pp. 75-87)

    The defence case was closed late Friday afternoon, 18 October, on the sixteenth day of the trial. Shortis could have been, but was not, called as a witness (the 1892 Code had changed the previous law which had prevented an accused from giving sworn testimony). Then, as now, however, it would have been very unusual for the accused to give evidence when the defence was one of insanity. After a short adjournment, Andrew Robertson, the first of the Crown’s many rebuttal witnesses, was called by Macmaster. Robertson, the secretary-treasurer of the Globe Woollen Mills, testified that he first met Shortis...

  10. 7 Towards the Verdict
    (pp. 89-117)

    The largest crowds since the beginning of the case showed up at the courthouse on Monday morning, 28 October 1895, hoping to hear the addresses to the jury. Two minutes after the doors were opened the room was filled. Some seats near the counsel table had been reserved for special guests, such as Mrs Greenshields and Mrs St Pierre and a group that had travelled from Montreal that morning on businessman W. Barclay Stephens’ steam yacht,Dama. Mrs Shortis remained sick in bed at the convent. The accused did not appear in his usual spirits, theHeraldreporting that ‘he...

  11. 8 After the Trial
    (pp. 119-131)

    Shortis was to be hanged at the Beauharnois jail on Friday, 3 January 1896. Counsel and the judge returned to Montreal. The next day Greenshields was asked if any further proceedings would be taken on behalf of Shortis. ‘The only thing we now intend doing,’ he replied, ‘is to petition the Minister of Justice for commutation of sentence from the death penalty to imprisonment for life.’ An appeal to the Quebec Court of Appeal on a point of law would have been possible, but it required the consent of the attorney-general of Quebec.¹ Even if consent had been granted, an...

  12. 9 December 1895
    (pp. 133-145)

    Shortly after the Aberdeens returned, Mary Shortis and her solicitor, George Foster, arrived in Ottawa. On Thursday morning, 12 December, Mrs Shortis drove from the Russell Hotel to Rideau Hall and had a private interview with Lady Aberdeen, joined later by her husband. Lady Aberdeen was not keeping her journal during this period – she did not take it up again until the new year – and so there is no record of what took place. There is no question, however, that the scene would have been a touching one, with the mother pleading for the life of her only...

  13. 10 Cabinet Meetings
    (pp. 147-163)

    On tuesday afternoon, 24 December, the cabinet met to discuss the Shortis case. Mackenzie Bowell, the prime minister, presided as usual.

    Bowell, it will be recalled, had become prime minister a year earlier. Lady Aberdeen described him in her diary on the day her husband asked him to form the new government: ‘Mr. Mackenzie Bowell himself is 75, rather fussy, and decidedly common place, also an Orangeman, at one time the Grand Master of the Orangemen of North America and also presided at one of the tip-top grand Orange affairs at Belfast – but he is a good and straight...

  14. 11 Repercussions
    (pp. 165-173)

    Word reached valleyfield on New Year’s eve that the sentence had been commuted. An angry mob of about a hundred and fifty men, who were clearly in the mood for a lynching, seized a train at the deserted Grand Trunk station and attempted to start it and drive to Beauharnois; but without success; the fire to power the engine was lit, but the one person in Valleyfield who could actually drive it refused to do so. Horses and carriages could not be used, for a severe snowstorm that day (‘caused by the Liberal supporters in Montreal Centre and Jacques Cartier,’...

  15. 12 Political Turmoil
    (pp. 175-187)

    While shortis was being transferred from the Beauharnois jail to St Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, some of the most dramatic events in Canadian political history were unfolding. On Saturday, 4 January, seven cabinet ministers – the so-called ‘nest of traitors’ – submitted their resignations to Mackenzie Bowell. Did the Shortis affair have anything to do with this event?

    Parliament had opened as scheduled on Thursday, 2 January, at three o’clock in the afternoon. This was the sixth and final session of a parliamentary term that had thus far seen a succession of four Conservative prime ministers, Macdonald, Abbott, Thompson, and...

  16. 13 The Election of 1896
    (pp. 189-199)

    Sir charles topper, sr, was returned to the House of Commons in a Cape Breton by-election in early February, and arrived in Ottawa on Monday, 10 February 1896. Bowell refused to meet him at the train station and had so informed the governor-general.¹ The next day he took his seat and the minister of justice introduced the first reading of the ‘Remedial Act of Manitoba,’ drawn along the lines of the pre-1890 provincial legislation. A little over a month later, at 5:30 in the morning, after a continuous forty-hour sitting, the Bill received second reading.² Its progress was then delayed...

  17. 14 On the Banks of the Rivière-des-Prairies
    (pp. 201-217)

    St vincent de paul penitentiary, today known as the Laval Complex, is located on the north bank of the Rivière-des-Prairies, on a plateau overlooking the town of St Vincent de Paul, about ten miles from downtown Montreal. Formerly a Quebec reformatory for boys, the site had been purchased from Quebec by the Dominion government in 1872 and opened in 1873, when sixty convicts, mainly French Canadians who had been given special training in stonework, were brought by steamboat from Kingston Penitentiary, shackled with leg irons.¹

    The penitentiary at Kingston, constructed in the 1830s, had until 1873 been central Canada’s only...

  18. 15 On Portsmouth Bay
    (pp. 219-237)

    Kingston penitentiary, with its massive limestone walls, is located on Lake Ontario, on Portsmouth Bay just west of the city of Kingston. The site was chosen in part because there was good access by water and it was well protected by the army stationed nearby; but it was also chosen because, as an early report stated, ‘the inexhaustible quarries of stone, which exist in every direction within the township of Kingston, will afford convicts that description of employment which has been found by actual experiment to be the most useful in Institutions such as your Committee recommend.’ This was written...

  19. 16 On the Speed River
    (pp. 239-259)

    The provincial reformatory at Guelph is located on the Speed River on almost a thousand acres of good farmland, just outside the city. Patterned after the reformatory in Elmira, New York, the institution was built primarily to provide useful work for the inmates.¹ Such an institution had been asked for by prison reformers for years. An 1890 Ontario commission had recommended that the Dominion government build a reformatory and Sir John Thompson, the prime minster, had purchased land for this purpose in 1894, but nothing was done with it.

    Ontario’s main prison, the Central Prison, built in 1873 in the...

  20. 17 On Georgian Bay
    (pp. 261-279)

    The penetanguishene mental hospital (today officially called a mental health centre) had been established in 1904 on almost four hundred acres of land just outside the town of Penetanguishene, overlooking Georgian Bay. It had taken over property used by the boys’ reformatory, begun in 1859 to get children out of Kingston Penitentiary, but no longer needed at the turn of the century because of declining numbers and the increasing importance of industrial schools. As so often happens, the availability of land and buildings dictated the choice of site for the new hospital. The reformatory had, in its turn, first used...

  21. 18 A Stranger in a Strange Land
    (pp. 281-294)

    Valentine shortis, now to be known under the assumed name of Francis V. Cuthbert, was met later that afternoon by Dr and Mrs Barker and others at the Stouffville train station. First taken to the local police station to report, as he was required to do under his ticket of leave, he then went to the Barkers’ cottage on Musselman’s Lake. There is no record of how his freedom was celebrated.

    Early the next week he left for Toronto, taking a room in a house owned by friends of the Barkers at 46 Maitland Street, just off Yonge Street in...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 295-316)
  23. Index
    (pp. 317-324)