Forgotten Histories: The Redpath Sugar Murder Mystery

A not so sweet history of the Redpath family

JohnRedpathThe Redpath sugar refinery has been a fixture of the Toronto waterfront since the late 1950s, but its history isn’t all sugar and spice and everything nice.

John Redpath founded the company in 1854. He was quite the enterprising businessman. He was also the head of one of the country’s richest families. Besides the sugar refinery, Redpath also built the Rideau and Lachine canals. The Redpaths were as aristocratic as it got and were captains of the industry in Canada in the 19th century, but that’s not the only interesting part of this family’s role in Canadian history.

THE MURDER
In 1901 (some 20 years after John Redpath’s death), two shots were fired in the Redpath Mansion in Montreal. John’s daughter-in-law, Ada was found dead in her bedroom, as was her 24-year-old son, Jocelyn Clifford Redpath. What happened remains a mystery to this day.

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(Redpath sugar cargo, Montreal 1916: By Harbour Commissioners of Montreal via Wikimedia Commons)

This would have been a scandalous affair for a family as established as the Redpaths. High society tended to only mix with other high society folks. Marriage was often a strategic move that both maintained and grew wealth and sons typically worked for their fathers, unless of course they joined the church (as one of Redpath’s did). Any unsavoury aspects of one’s life were not to be displayed. For the Redpath’s, there were two potential sources of social faux pas speculated to have been connected to the murder.

HIGH SOCIETY MISFITS
Both Jocelyn and Ada suffered from illness. Jocelyn was epileptic and suffice to say, there was little understood about the disease in his time, let alone means to treat it. Ada, meanwhile, suffered from an mélange of symptoms, including ones that today would likely be diagnosed as depression. In Ada’s day, the cause of her discomfort was unknown. Some have speculated that the deaths may have been a murder-suicide at the hands of Ada. This interpretation of events leans heavily on the interpretation of Ada’s symptoms as those of depression.

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Meanwhile, before the shooting there was the problem of Amy. Amy, daughter of John and Ada was reluctant to marry. Marriage being such an important part of a woman’s (and especially a wealthy woman’s) life, this was problematic. Finally Amy found a worthy partner in one of Canada’s most prominent medical practitioners, Sir Thomas Roddick. While it was typical in those days for men to inherit their women and all their worth, Amy’s mother actually left her an inheritance that was stipulated to remain in her pocket, if she so chose it.

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(Redpath Sign: By Pramesh Attwala via Wikimedia Commons)

Their marriage was uncomplicated and Amy spent much of her time with her maid, Mary Rose Shallow, who even accompanied the couple on their honeymoon. Even in death, Amy is close to her friend Mary Rose; she shares a cemetery plot with her in the spot usually reserved for one’s partner.

THE REDPATH LEGACY
While the murder remains a mystery to this day, The Redpaths were important to Canada in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Besides their role in the sugar industry, the family made large contributions to the country’s finest libraries and museums. While the refinery continues to shape Toronto’s waterfront skyline, it is the family’s legacy as philanthropists that truly lives on.

(Main Image: Waterfront Redpath: By Randolph Croft via Wikimedia Commons)