Alfred Heim
Published On: Mon, Jun 23rd, 2014

A PAGE OUT OF HISTORY – Crime and Canal Building by Kathy Coffey

Cornwall_Jail resized as it is today


Historic Cornwall Jail, now County Courthouse from,_Ontario

Ingleside ON – Some of us would like to believe that our pioneer ancestors were all moral, honest, hardworking individuals. But 5 or 6 generations ago crime did exist as is evidenced by the crime that occurred during the building of the canals at Cornwall and Long Sault.

The following two incidents during the canal building were reported in “Lunenburgh, or the Old Eastern District” By J. F. Pringle, (pg 158) and (pg 160) respectively.

”In general the men employed in the town and its vicinity behaved very well and gave occasion for very few complaints. One very unfortunate affair occurred at the Milleroches quarry. On the I3th of December, 1834, Ewen Stuart, deputy sheriff, Geo. McDonell, barrister, and Henry Thain, bailiff, went to the quarry to arrest a man who had aided in rescuing, a prisoner the day before. William Quinn was pointed out by Thain to the deputy sheriff as the man. Quinn rushed at Thain with an iron bar; the deputy sheriff put his hand in the breast of his coat to draw out a pistol, when Richard Quinn came behind him and struck him on the head with an iron drill, fracturing his skull and causing his death a few days after. As soon as the news of the attack on Stuart reached the town a number of armed men were sent up to arrest the Quinns, but when the party got to the quarry they were too late, the Quinns had escaped and no arrests were made.”

After this incident troops were stationed in Cornwall to maintain the peace. A couple of years later a second murder occurred  when work was continuing on the canals to bypass the Long Sault rapids Pringles account is below .

 “There were more than one thousand men employed at the deep cutting at the Long Sault, and a very unruly set of men they were. So long as they confined their quarrels and fights among themselves, no one was much concerned about them; but when they began to attack the country people, there was danger of very serious trouble. For some time so much alarm was caused by the conduct of the labourers that the front road was considered unsafe, and many persons preferred going out to that in the rear of the first concession, to risking insult and injury by taking the more direct route. Matters were brought to a crisis in the winter of 1836 by the murder of Mr. Albert French, the then owner of Maple Grove. This gentleman drove through Cornwall late in the afternoon with a horse and cutter, on his way home from Montreal. When he got to Woods Bridge, west of the town, he overtook two canal labourers and a woman, who were returning to Dickinson s Landing from a funeral. They asked him to let them ride, and on his refusal, stopped the horse and dragged French out of the sleigh. He seized a stake from an empty wood sleigh that was passing and attacked the men with it; one of them wrenched the stake out of his hands, knocked him down with it, struck him when down and fractured his skull. The party then got into his sleigh and drove off, leaving him senseless and bleeding on the bridge, whence he was taken to the nearest house, where he died in a few hours. The murderers were followed up, but only one of the men was arrested. He was tried at the *Assizes at Cornwall in the following summer, found guilty, and executed.”

*The assizes were periodic criminal courts held with the quarter sessions hearing the most serious cases.


“In the autumn of 1836, the Sheriff, D. McDonell, was paid £ 31. 17.2, expenses incurred in the execution of Michael Connell convicted of murdering Albert French. (Note on pg 70) Lunenburgh, or the Old Eastern District”

By J. F. Pringle can be found on the Canadian Libraries web site at

Hangmans noose from searching for ghosts resized

A picture of the Cornwall gallows from the searching for ghosts web site.

Cornwall jail resized from cornwall community museum files as it was

Note the description below of this picture of the SD&G county jail from the Cornwall community museum web site.

“The limestone neo-classic central core was constructed in 1833.  The brick wing on the right was added in 1895.  The structure also serves as the administration centre for the United Counties.

The old Cornwall Jail walls, along Pitt Street are in the foreground.  The Pitt Street jail yard and walls were demolished in 1959 and replaced by the Counties’ administrative wing.  The jail closed in 2002 and now houses the Cornwall and United Counties Tourism office. “

SD&G has a rich history and talented story tellers in each generation to tell and retell those stories. Their accounts can be found on the Cornwall Community Museum, the St Lawrence Seaway History web sites and the History of Cornwall facebbook page. There are many others as well.