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Who was D’Arcy McGee?


D’Arcy McGee was a Father of Canadian Confederation, a true founder of this country. He was known for his writing and oratory skills and was a friend of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

After a late debate in April 1868 — less than a year after Confederation — McGee was returning to his rooming house on Sparks Street when he was accosted by an unknown assailant, shot in the back of the head and left for dead! It was Canada’s first political assassination, and the hunt was on for his killer.

Ottawa tailor Patrick James Whelan was arrested for the crime. He was a suspected Fenian — a group that thought by invading Canada, they could win independence for Ireland. He was convicted of the crime and was hanged on a cold day in February 1869 in Canada’s last public hanging. (In fact, you can visit Death Row at his former prison as part of a Haunted Walk tour. Or you can stay in the cells on the lower floors — the prison is now the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel!)

darcy-mcgees-hand-replica-credit-the-bytown-museum-ottawa-canadaD'Arcy McGee's "death hand"Visit the engaging Bytown Museum to learn more about D’Arcy McGee and his supposed assassin (there are many who believe Whelan was innocent, and that his ghost haunts the hostel grounds to this day). You can even see his “death hand” — a plaster cast of his writing hand. (In Victorian times, it was common to make plaster “death masks” of recently deceased people, but as McGee had been shot in the head, that was not an option. At the time, they said it was because he was such a great writer.)

Or, raise a pint to the politician at the fun D’Arcy McGee’s Irish pub, located just steps from his former rooming house, on Sparks Street at the corner of Elgin Street. (There are other locations at the airport and in the suburbs as well.) It’s a popular watering hole for politicians and their staffs even today, and offers great live music and food.