McGill's "Redpath Mansion Mystery" unveiled


Published: 26Mar2008

Student sleuths challenged to crack 1901 Montreal shooting in "Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History" web project

A notorious, century-old Montreal shooting is being re-opened by a group of McGill architecture professors as part of an award-winning national history website project to be launched Monday, March 31.

The Redpath Mansion Mystery, developed by McGill University professors Annmarie Adams, David Theodore and a team of researchers at the School of Architecture, is one of three new mysteries to be part of Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, an award-winning website based at the University of Victoria. A $450,000 grant from the federal Department of Heritage funded the expansion. The other selected mysteries are the mysterious drowning death of iconic Canadian artist Tom Thomson and the Cairo suicide of Canadian diplomat Herbert Norman.

The Redpath mystery is based on the real-life case of Ada Mills Redpath, 59, and her 24-year-old son Clifford, who were found dead in their mansion in Montreal's upper crust Square Mile, on June 13, 1901. At the time, the coroner determined that Clifford Redpath shot his mother while temporarily insane during an epileptic seizure, and then subsequently shot himself out of remorse. The details of the case, however, cast considerable doubt on this theory.

The Great Unsolved Mysteries website provides students with an array of primary sources and inspires them to solve the mysteries through critical thinking. Student sleuths will soon have a total of 12 whodunits with which to hone their detective skills.

Why would architecture professors be interested in murder mysteries? “We want to illustrate how architecture reveals differences in social class,” said Prof. Adams. The research team also includes McGill historians Dr. Mary Anne Poutanen, Peter F. McNally, Valerie Minett (M.Arch. 2004), and Brenton Nader. The researchers explored the social history of Square Mile families through documents and photographs, and examined early 20th century understanding of epilepsy and "melancholia," which today would be called depression.

The Redpath Mansion Mystery will be officially launched at McGill’s Redpath Museum (859 Sherbrooke Street West) on Monday, March 31, 2008 at 3:45 p.m. Montreal crime author Louise Penny, History of McGill Project Director Peter McNally will participate in the launch. After the ceremony, Prof. Adams will deliver the James McGill Society's lecture at 5:30 p.m.

The mysteries and teaching support material cover Canada from coast to coast to coast for a span of nearly 1,000 years. The project, which makes use of 3D historical recreations, video and audio on some of its recent sites, has been shortlisted for Canada’s History Society’s 2007 Pierre Berton award, which honours achievement in popularizing Canadian history.

On the Web: Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History