April 2015 Presentation
Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

A series of wide-ranging questions and comments from the audience followed Gray’s talk, prompting her to advise Canada to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, and to recognize the place of First Nations people in this achievement. She also talked about her next book, Who Do We Think We Are: 150 Years of Imagining Canada, slated for publication in 2016. It will include ten portraits of people who have led us through these years, starting with Georges Etienne Cartier who pushed the fathers of confederation to adopt a federal system of government. Others include Sam Steele of the Mounties, artist Emily Carr, economist/historian Harold Innis, Tommy Douglas, Margaret Atwood, Bertha Wilson, Elijah Harper and Preston Manning. She wants her readers to come away realizing Canada is a multi-dimensional country.

In response to other questions, Gray stated that her biggest challenge in writing about history is the lack of relevant documents; e.g., transcripts of Carrie Davis’ trial were not kept, but fortunately it was well-covered in newspapers. (As a volunteer archivist, I felt affirmed in my work.)

Gray had brought along copies of her books, most of which were snapped up by the audience and signed by the author. A very interesting evening!



Charlotte Gray signing a copy of her book

Charlotte Gray signing a copy of her book for Marguerite Rogers



Owen Cooke and Ruth Wright at the book table.

Owen Cooke and Ruth Wright selling copies of Charlotte's book at the meeting.

Noted Canadian author and speaker Charlotte Gray not only talked about her latest book but also about why she wrote it and what her goals are in writing about history. For the inveterate readers in the crowd (of which there were quite a few), she tantalized us with a few snippets about her next project – stay tuned!

The crowd at the presentation The meeeting was well attended with more that 75 RTHS members and non members present.

Gray’s goal in the non-fiction historical books she writes is to take the readers back into the past, to experience what it was like to live in a particular period, to give them the feel, the smells, the sounds of the era. This transplanted Brit recognizes that there are lots of fascinating stories in Canada’s past, and our history is what makes Canada unique.

She realized the fascination that crime holds for the public, both in fiction and non-fiction, and felt she could use the story of Carrie Davis, who shot and killed her employer in 1915, to tell us about Toronto in that time period, when immigrants were pouring in and World War I was being fought in Europe. War casualties were increasing, and troops were leaving for France. Toronto was Canada’s fastest-growing city in 1915, with a population of 450,000. Six newspapers had a combined circulation of almost half a million, and most households read both a morning and an evening paper.  The fact that the murdered man was from the prominent, wealthy Massey family raised the profile of this case immensely. The case was covered in detail in the newspapers, with different editorial opinions apparent. At times the trial knocked the war off the front pages.

Gray begins the book with the shooting and death of Bert Massey on February 8, 1915 as he approached the door of his home. His maid, Carrie Davis, was arrested. The book proceeds to describe Carrie’s treatment by the justice system, what Toronto was like at that time, and the Massey family.

By 1900 the Massey company was the largest agricultural implement manufacturer in the world. Bert Massey was a grandson of Hart Massey, the founder, but as his father Charles had died young Bert was not part of the company. Instead, he was a car salesman, a job with some prestige. He had lived in the Massey mansion for some time as a child. Gray illustrated her talk with riveting images of the time, including the mansion.

Gray talked about other key players in the trial, including Chief Justice William Mulock and Carrie’s lawyer Hartley Dewart. The latter used the phrase “this little girl” throughout the trial, in referring to Carrie, which was eventually even picked up by Chief Justice Mulock. (Gray advised us to get a good lawyer if we’re ever in dire straits!) She speculated that another factor that influenced the outcome was the prevailing distrust of elites, evidenced by Canada’s beginning to separate itself from Britain.

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master,
and a Trial that Shocked a Country

Presentation by Charlotte Gray , April 15th, 2015
Article and Photos by Susan McKellar