October tends to bring out the darker side of life – of things unusual, spooky and sad. This year is no exception; a family plot for one. A tale of woe from Port Arthur… 103 years ago.
Let’s rewind to 1917.
The world looked extremely different, but oddly the same. Like today, 1917 would shortly be facing a pandemic of epic proportions and masks would soon become the new normal. A world war was raging and during this exact month, Suffragettes took to the streets to demonstrate their democratic rights.
Robert (Bob) McBrady was a young man of only twenty-two when his father shot him in his family home on Van Norman Street.
He was a graduate of Port Arthur Collegiate Institute and was studying Law at at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. While in Law school, Bobby was involved in the Canadian Officers Training Corps. His final yearbook offers a glimpse into his character and his ambitions. He was a leader among his classmates, known as a fierce debater and and advocate for women’s rights… especially the Suffragettes. He was a rugby player and a wearer of flat Irish caps (think Peaky Blinders – Tommy Shelby). Throughout his yearbook, his classmates regarded him as “Port Arthur’s newest up and coming lawyer” and “future leader of the opposition in parliament”.
This young man was was going places and his classmates recognized his strengths.
With the war raging in Europe, Bob enlisted as a Lieutenant with the 141st ‘Bull Moose’ Battalion – which was based out of Fort Frances and recruited men from the Lakehead. Prior to 141, he was a member of our local 96th Lake Superior Regiment.
He was a student, solider and son – this was his life and his identity.
However, Bob would never be called to the bar or become Port Arthur’s next up and coming lawyer. Bobby’s life was unfairly cut short, and it wasn’t on a battle field in France. He died in his own home, in his own city by the hands of his Father.
In the early hours of the morning on October 3rd, 1917, Bob awoke to the sound of pounding fists against a door in the hallway outside of his bedroom. His father, William McBrady (a prominent lawyer), drunkenly stumbled home, waking his family. It is suspected Mrs. McBrady locked her bedroom door in which he was trying to gain access. With the continual pounding and loud noise, young Bob awoke and attempted to reason with his father. Upon gaining access to his bedroom, William grabbed a pistol from beside the bed and pointed it directly at his son. Bob’s statement from the The Port Arthur News Chronicle details the event and his father uttering: “take one step closer and I’ll shoot”.
In knowing a rational discussion was futile, Bob proceeded to leave the room and with one swift turn on his heel, a loud crack echoed throughout the house and Bob fell to the floor.
Bobby McBrady didn’t die on the floor in a pool of blood with his Father standing over him, he would die later that day at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Details of young McBrady’s death are accounted for in several newspapers. He was rushed to the hospital and his Father made a telephone call to W.F. Langworthy at precisely 2:15 a.m. The Crown Attorney took the call, and William explained that he had shot his son, but he believed the injury to not be fatal. Contradictory to this statement, he asked Langworthy to head to St. Joseph’s Hospital to record his son’s antemortem statement… the word “antemortem” is derived from Latin, meaning “before death”.
When Langworthy arrived at young McBrady’s bedside, he promptly transcribed the account in his own words. Bob explained that he felt well, and that he would recover. With this sentiment, Langworthy was satisfied in knowing that the young man did not consider himself critically ill, therefore an antemortem statement or dying declaration was no longer the case, simply an account of the event.
Langworthy left the hospital, only to arrive again later that afternoon, around lunch. This time, when he entered the room, Mrs. McBrady was present along with one of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Mrs. McBrady excused herself and Langworthy inquired about Bob’s health. She explained to him that the bullet passed through his shoulder blade and became lodged in his back muscles. His lung was badly torn and whenever he breathed, the tissue could be seen moving up and down. Young McBrady was rapidly declining and he would not recover.
The second statement – a true antemortem, illustrated a confusing night with a drunken confrontation and Bob’s belief that his Father’s gun, was not loaded. Bob explained to Langworthy:
“I do not know whether the gun went off by accident or not. I know that I am dying, and what I have told you is the absolute truth.”The News Chronicle – Wednesday evening edition October 10, 1917
Bobby McBrady died shortly after on October 3rd, 1917.
The inquest into his death became heated and sensationalized, with young McBrady’s antemortem statement exonerating his Father. A flurry of gossip spread throughout the city – how and why would a Father point a gun at his own son? And how would a son ever forgive a Father, on the record.
Robert McBrady was charged with murder on March 26, 1918 and sentenced to 14 years at the Stony Mountain Penitentiary.
If you are to visit St. Andrew’s Cemetery – Family Plot #5, section 14, you will discover two monuments. One is a military headstone honouring Bob McBrady, the other is a large cross with a single inscription which reads:
Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine
To the Memory of our dear Bob. Lieut. R. W. McBrady 141 Battalion C.E.F.
Died October 3, 1917 aged 22 years.
He that believe in me is passed from death onto life.
William McBrady was sentenced out of Province, therefore one can only assume he also died out of province. Bobby McBrady had a Mother and two siblings… which are unaccounted for at St. Andrew’s Cemetery.
The McBrady family plot for one is unnerving and has shone light on a few questions:
- Why was Bobby home in 1917, when his regiment was overseas? Would he have died by the hands of his Father, or would he have survived the War?
- Why has young McBrady been left alone in the family plot for the last 103 years?
Perhaps we will never know, or perhaps you’ll have to stay tuned for part II …
Special thank you to a few of my friends/family who I sought advice from, and a special thank you to the Resource team at the Thunder Bay Public Library for sending me the references I needed digitally.
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Your stories are always heartfelt, personal and well written. I enjoy reading them. My first husband grew up in Port Arthur until his family moved west when he was 13. I feel a tiny connection to Thunder Bay and have seen the ‘Sleeping Giant’.
Thank you Ann!I really appreciate this! I will keep the Port Arthur stories coming so you can feel even closer! ❤️
Alex – this is an incredible story!!
Thank you Terry! I feel like there is so much more we can find out!
Looking forward to more on this story and any future mysteries you uncover.
Thanks Roy! So many interesting things we can learn, everyday!
Wow! This research piece is especially interesting! Chilling account of a cold blooded murder! Yikes. And, the mystery continues. Nice work!?
YAY! guess we shall see what happens!