Inaugurated on May 15, 2019, The Hanging of William Pounden: Capital Punishment at the Quebec Common Gaol and The Hanged: Two Centuries of Executions in Quebec revisit a sombre period in the history of our building and in Quebec.

While the immersive tour focusses on the practice of capital punishment at the time our building was a prison and allows visitors to follow the series of events that led to William Pounden’s execution above the entrance in 1823, our newest permanent exhibit presents the history of capital punishment in Quebec as a whole from 1759 to 1976. Together, both provide visitors with a better understanding of this cruel punishment.

Timeline of Capital Punishment in Quebec

1759      Beginning of British military occupation of Quebec. Military tribunals apply simplified English criminal law to civilians. First execution of a civilian in Quebec under the British regime.
1763      Marie-Josephte Corriveau hanged in Quebec City and her body gibbeted at Lévis.
1763 (1764)      Royal Proclamation; English criminal law introduced. Includes “Bloody Code”, 1752 Murder Act, “benefit of clergy” (an automatic reduction of sentence for certain capital crimes), and other archaic features. English criminal courts and procedures established.
1774 (1775)Quebec Act re-affirms introduction of English criminal law.
1784Charles Nichau Noite executed by firing squad in Quebec City. Only non-military execution in Quebec not carried out by hanging.
1789Small thefts made non-capital.
1797David McLane hanged, drawn and quartered in Quebec City, for treason.
1799Governor’s pardon of a death sentence may substitute imprisonment in its place.
1801Burning of women at stake for petty treason (killing of their husband) abolished.
1824Certain further types of theft made non-capital.
1826Judges allowed to record sentence of death rather than pronouncing it in open court (giving more time for pardon applications).
1838Robert Nelson’s Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada abolishes death penalty.
1838-1839      Twelve Patriotes hanged in Montreal.
18391752 English Murder Act provisions set aside.
1841 (1842)Black Acts replace most executions by imprisonment in provincial penitentiary and abolish benefit of clergy.
1854Louis Théberge hanged in Trois-Rivières. First execution following Patriotes.
1857-1858Establishment of new judicial districts throughout Lower Canada, each with its own courthouse where death sentences might be pronounced, and its own prison where executions might be carried out.
1865Death penalty abolished for most remaining capital crimes, including riot, sodomy, bestiality, attempted murder, violent robbery and burglary, and arson. Essentially restricted to murder, treason, rape, and carnal knowledge of girls under 10.
1867Criminal law becomes federal responsibility, along with power to pardon. Organization of executions remains provincial responsibility.
1869Federal laws make a number of changes concerning capital punishment. Attempted murder once again made a capital crime. Executions to be carried out in private. Criminal Procedure Act regulates pardon process.
1873Judges may substitute imprisonment for the death penalty in rape convictions.
1877Death penalty abolished for carnal knowledge and attempted murder.
1892Canadian Criminal Code adopted. Main remaining capital crimes: treason, murder, and (optionally) rape. Appeals process established for criminal cases.
1914-1917Robert Bickerdike, Montreal MP, presents bills to abolish death penalty. Further bills presented by MPs from elsewhere in Canada in 1924, 1950, 1953, and annually from 1957 onwards.
1937Honorat Bernard hanged in Quebec City. Last Quebec execution outside of Montreal.
1953-1956Parliamentary committee on capital punishment; fails to recommend abolition of the death penalty.
1953Marguerite Pitre hanged in Montreal. Last execution of a woman in Quebec and in Canada.
1954Optional death penalty for rape abolished.
1960Ernest Côté hanged in Montreal. Last execution in Quebec.
1961Federal law establishes a distinction between capital and non-capital murder.
1962Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin hanged in Toronto. Last executions in Canada.
1967Temporary abolition of death penalty in most cases.
1976Definitive abolition of death penalty for civil crimes.
1977-1980Dozens of private members’ bills introduced into House of Commons for reinstatement of death penalty.
1987Government bill to re-introduce the death penalty in Canada defeated in the House of Commons.
1998Abolition of death penalty under military law.

Presented by:

Made possible thanks to:

Acknowledgements

A special thank you to

Donald Fyson, Full Professor, départements des sciences historiques, Université Laval

We would also like to thank

Bibliothèques et Archives nationales du Québec
Bibliothèque et Archives Canada
Université de Montréal, Division de la gestion des documents et des archives
Ville de Québec, Greffe et Archives
Lydia Andrew
Sovita Chander
Jonathan Haren
Rénald Lessard
Thierry Petit



Bibliography

Executions and the Death Penalty in Quebec and in Canada

  • Desaulniers, Claude. “La peine de mort dans la législation criminelle de 1760 à 1892”. Revue générale de droit 8(1)(1977): 141-184.
  • Fyson, Donald. “La peine capitale au Québec, 1759-1869: modèle européen ou spécificité coloniale?”. In Eric Wenzel and Eric de Mari (ed), Adapter le droit et rendre la justice aux colonies: Thémis outre-mer (XVIe-XIXe siècle) (Dijon: Éditions universitaires de Dijon, 2015): 229-240.
  • Fyson, Donald. “The Spectacle of State Violence: Executions in Quebec, 1759-1872”. In Elizabeth Mancke et al. (ed), Violence, Order, and Unrest: A History of British North America, 1749-1876 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019): 383-407.
  • Greenwood, F. Murray and Beverley Boissery. Uncertain Justice: Canadian Women and Capital Punishment, 1754-1953. Toronto: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and Dundurn, 2000. 285 p.
  • Leyton-Brown, Ken. The Practice of Execution in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. ix, 205 p.
  • Moogk, Peter N. “The Liturgy of Humiliation, Pain, and Death: The Execution of Criminals in New France”. Canadian Historical Review 88(1)(2007): 89-112.
  • Strange, Carolyn. “The Lottery of Death: Capital Punishment, 1867-1976”. Manitoba Law Journal 23(3) (1996): 594-619.

Executions and the Death Penalty Elsewhere

  • Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. 385 p.
  • Bastien, Pascal. Histoire de la peine de mort: bourreaux et supplices, Paris, Londres, 1500-1800. Paris: Seuil, 2011. 339 p.
  • Garland, David, Randall McGowen and Paul Merantz (ed). America’s Death Penalty: Between Past and Present. New York: New York University Press, 2010. ix, 232 p.
  • Garland, David. Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. 417 p.
  • Gatrell, V.A.C. The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. xix, 634 p.
  • Spierenburg, Pieter. The Spectacle of Suffering: Executions and the Evolution of Repression: From a Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. xii, 274 p.
  • Ward, Richard (ed). A Global History of Execution and the Criminal Corpse. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xvi, 313 p.