Justice or Vengeance? The Lazier Murder Trial of 1884

Justice or Vengeance? The Lazier Murder Trial of 1884

One of the most enduring stories in Prince Edward County is about a murder that took place at Christmas 1883 when three masked men knocked late at night on the kitchen door of an old Quaker homestead just west of the village of Bloomfield. The men were after money – $550 paid to a Quaker farmer for his hop crop. They didn’t expect any resistance from Quakers known for their peaceful nature. What they didn’t know is that the family had a visitor who resisted their robbery attempt. A shot was fired. The visitor died. And within hours a search party was following tracks in the snow that led to the homes of two men living along West Lake. The trial of these local men in May 1884 is insight into the temper of a community out for blood and the limitations of the law of the period – factors which cost two men their lives. To this day it is uncertain whether justice was served.

You can judge the case for yourself by attending a lecture at the Drake Devonshire in Wellington at 3 pm on Sunday, November 22, 2015. Guest speaker Judge Robert Sharpe of the Ontario Court of Appeal and author of a book on this trial, will review the facts, the personalities, and the laws that governed the case – a defining moment in the history of Prince Edward County.

The Drake Devonshire is hosting this event and tickets can be purchased at the door for $20.00 which also includes a free beverage.


Beginning every Monday afternoon from March 2 – May 25th 2015, CKWS TV in Kingston will be broadcasting The History Moments series – short video vignettes on local history themes. 

Over the next 13 weeks, excerpts from the five series produced by History Lives Here Inc. will showcase popular history stories on early settlement, founding industries, prominent people and significant events, which have shaped the history of Eastern Ontario. The series airs on ‘Ws Daily, the station’s current affairs show which airs weekdays from 5 – 6 pm.

The series kicked off on Monday, March 2 with an interview with series producer Peter Lockyer discussing the project, plans for a new series scheduled to be launched this fall in Kingston, and his introduction of a segment on the Fox Sisters of Prince Edward County, two teenagers who are credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement in the 1840s. Katie and Maggie Fox claimed they could communicate with the after life through a series of knocking sounds they interpreted. The idea didn’t seem so preposterous in an age when American inventor Samuel Morse had demonstrated how a series of telegraph clicks could be communicated across vast distances and translated into messages. And in an era when so many families were suffering the loss of wives in childbirth, and children from a wide variety of diseases for which there were not yet any cures, the Fox Sisters provided hope to a grieving nation. The girls became an instant sensation making $150/night conducting demonstrations of their abilities in lecture halls across the country. In reality, the Fox Sisters were frauds able to make their knocking sounds by snapping their toes on hardwood floors. Yet they were also gifted clairvoyants who told skeptics and families things about their loved ones they could not possibly have known by tricks alone. Today, Maggie and Katie Fox remain two of the greatest historical figures from the rich past of Prince Edward County.

Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County 200th Birthday News Release For January 11, 2015

The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County celebrated at the iconic Fairmont Royal York Hotel as a sold out crowd of 400 guests and dignitaries including Ontario Premier, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, former Conservative prime minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, marked Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday on Saturday, January 10th, 2015.  TVO host Steve Paikin served as Master of Ceremonies of the event celebrating Canada’s first prime minister, and the chief architect of the country.  

Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda, Ontario Premier, the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, artist Ruth Abernethy and former Conservative prime minister, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell

The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a stunning, larger –than – life bronze statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, entitled ‘Holding Court.’ The work by renowned Canadian artist, Ruth Abernethy, depicts Macdonald as a young lawyer addressing a jury at his very first court case in Picton, Upper Canada on October 8, 1834. Macdonald won the case successfully defending himself against an assault charge occasioned by a practical joke. Four months later at the age of twenty, he graduated from the Law Society of Upper Canada as an attorney – the beginning of his career in both law and politics. 

Artist Ruth Abernethy by her statue of Sir John A. Macdonald

The sculpture will be unveiled in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015. Picton and neighbouring communities in the area – known as the Quinte area to local residents – were a formative part of Macdonald’s early years. Throughout his life he often referred to himself as a “Quinte boy” and reflected fondly upon these years as some of the best of his life. The artwork celebrates the largely untold story of Macdonald’s youth, his humble origins as the only son in a family of Scottish immigrants who moved to the Quinte area in the 1830s, and his persevering efforts to develop his legal career.

Bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald

David Warrick, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, thanked all of the event supporters for joining the festivities and celebrating the life of this remarkable Canadian. “Sir John A. Macdonald was a gifted orator, politician and statesman. He lived in very challenging times, and suffered a great many personal tragedies. But he helped forge a coalition of nation builders who collectively created our country. He changed the course of history. We owe him our great thanks for the legacy he has left us.”

Marilyn and David Warrick, artist Ruth Abernethy and Richard Gwyn, author and biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald

The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County is a non profit organization established to commemorate and celebrate Sir John A. Macdonald’s younger years as the most famous resident of Prince Edward County, a small island community of about 25,000 people near Belleville, Ontario.

To learn more about The Macdonald Project, visit our website at www.macdonaldproject.com. or contact David Warrick, Chair of the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, Email david.warrick@me.com  

Please follow us on twitter @youngSirJohnA


About 100 people attended a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the official opening of the Murray Canal on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

Organized by the Murray Canal Organization in partnership with History Lives Here Inc., the event was developed to mark the anniversary year with a celebration of this historic site. The volunteer organizers hope to make the event an annual one tied closely to other regional activities such as the development of the Macdonald Heritage Trail to be launched in 2015, and the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County, which will install a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015. Next year is the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth and celebrations are planned across the country.

Macdonald’s was Canada’s first prime minister and remains the area’s most famous citizen. He spent much of his early years in the Quinte area living in Napanee, Hay Bay, and Picton, and often reflected fondly on his years as a “Quinte Boy”.  The new Macdonald Heritage Trail will link sites stretching from Kingston through Napanee, Bath, Hay Bay, Prince Edward County, Belleville and Quinte West – including the Murray Canal – through a visitor site map to be made available next year.

Sir John A. Macdonald actually opened the Murray Canal twice – once on October 6th, 1886 for its preliminary opening and again on April 14th, 1889 when it officially opened to marine traffic. For those who attended this last ceremony, the event must have been a special day as the project took nearly 100 years to complete.

In the first days of Loyalist settlement in the 1790s, land was set aside for its construction with an additional 3,000 acres to be sold to pay for the project. Over the decades, war with the Americans and the constant threat to shipping and sailors off the dangerous shores of Prince Edward County, kept the issue of the canal construction front and centre in area politics. But while there were many surveys of the proposed canal route – there were at least five surveys undertaken in 1824, 1833, 1837, 1845, 1866 and 1881- there was no construction. Over time, the threat of war with the United States subsided, and steamships replaced the great age of sail. Railways were the rage, and the issue of constructing a canal to link Presqu’ile Bay with the Bay of Quinte remained a largely local concern. Infighting among local groups over the canal route didn’t help matters.

Still construction of the canal remained a persistent concern championed by the timber industry and local politicians like James Biggar, and Joseph Keeler, the MPs for Northumberland and Mackenzie Bowell of Belleville, a minister in the Macdonald governments. Their lobbying efforts paid off and work started on the canal project in August 1882, and after many challenges and delays, the canal opened in the spring of 1889.  One hundred vessels passed through the 8.5 kilometre canal in its first year of operation. Upon completion, the canal project had cost $1,272,470 to build – about $32.6 million in current dollars. Today, the Murray Canal remains a safe and scenic route for boaters and an important part of our history.

The 125th Anniversary of the Opening of the Murray Canal

On Saturday, October 18th, 2014 starting at 1 pm, the Murray Canal District Organization will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Murray Canal in 1889. The event will take place on the site of the official opening in 1889 at Twelve O’Clock Point Rd. on the northeast side of the canal crossing at Carrying Place.

The canal has a long history and land was set aside for it during the first days of Loyalist settlement in the 1790s. Pressure to build the canal built during the War of 1812 as the route became an important supply line for the British, and saved days of dangerous sailing for the great vessels of the era. Afterwards, the timber trade in the Trenton area also encouraged local lobbying efforts to have the waterway built. While there were many surveys of the site, the Murray Canal became less of a concern for federal authorities. Steamships replaced sailing ships; the threat of war lessened; and railways were the rage. 

But nonetheless, the local residents of Prince Edward County, Hastings and Northumberland wanted the canal built and they got their way in October 1889 with John A. Macdonald official opening it.

We plan to mark the day with a re-enactment of Macdonald’s official opening together with historical tours of the canal. Parking at the site will be limited and we plan to bus folks from nearby parking areas. 

THE ENDURING APPEAL OF HISTORY – The 1884 Lazier Murder Trial Re-enactment

On Friday, July 11, 2014, the stately courthouse in Picton was jam packed with visitors hungry to witness history – the re-enactment of an infamous murder trial that took place in Prince Edward County in May 1884.

The trial of two local men for a botched robbery and murder at Christmas 1883 in Bloomfield is deeply steeped in County lore.  With an inflamed community seeking revenge, 12 County men serving as jurors had to weigh circumstantial evidence, shoddy police work, high emotions among citizens, and the fate of two accused men – George Louder, a 23-year old bricklayer, and Joseph Thomset, a 35-year old fisherman. In the end, intermittent boots tracks from the crime scene to their homes at West Lake sealed their fates, and the harassed jury pronounced them guilty of murder although they recommended mercy that never came.

Despite a determined campaign by local ministers, and prominent citizens who supported the men’s claims of innocence, Louder and Thomset were hanged at 8 o’clock on the morning of June 10th, 1884 in the gallows that still stand in the cell block area of the courthouse.  Louder died first. But Thomset struggled for a full fourteen minutes. Both men left behind heart-wrenching letters proclaiming their innocence to their families and their community.

Although there were other murder trials in the decades, which followed, there was never another hanging in Prince Edward County. Haunted by this certain miscarriage of justice decades before, local juries simply refused to convict as the story of Louder and Thomset’s grisly fate persisted in local folklore. Did we hang the right men? Not likely. It is just what we did in a rush to judgment in other times.

The trial re-enactment was a fundraiser for the Macdonald Project, an initiative to create a bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald, the County’s most famous citizen, as part of national celebrations of the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2015. Macdonald was prime minister of Canada at the time, and constrained by legal precedents of the period from intervening in the case despite the appeals for clemency.

For the small volunteer Macdonald Project Committee, the sold out trial re-enactment was further proof that “history sells.” We believe that the bronze sculpture of Macdonald created by Ruth Abernethy, one of Canada’s foremost portrait artists, will be an enduring attraction to Canadians discovering the story of our first prime minister and the chief architect of Canada. The story of Macdonald’s time in Prince Edward County is largely unknown and the area can lay claim to the early years of John A. Macdonald who always considered himself “a Quinte boy.”

The life-size sculpture of Macdonald will be installed in downtown Picton on Canada Day 2015.   To learn more, visit www.macdonaldproject.com

Re-enactment of the Lazier Murder Trial: Prince Edward County 1884

Re-enactment of the Lazier Murder Trial: Prince Edward County 1884 LIVE

Friday, 11 July 2014 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM 

Picton, Ontario | Picton Courthouse

In December 1883, Peter Lazier was shot in the heart during a bungled robbery at a Prince Edward County farmhouse. Three local men, pleading innocence from start to finish, were arrested and charged with his murder. Two of them — Joseph Thomset and George Lowder — were sentenced to death by a jury of local citizens the following May. Nevertheless, appalled community members believed at least one of them to be innocent — even pleading with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to spare them from the gallows.

The Lazier Murder explores a community’s response to a crime, as well as the realization that it may have contributed to a miscarriage of justice. Robert J. Sharpe reconstructs and contextualizes the case using archival and contemporary newspaper accounts. The Lazier Murder provides an insightful look at the changing pattern of criminal justice in nineteenth-century Canada, and the enduring problem of wrongful convictions.  In 2011 Justice Robert Sharpe wrote a book about the infamous double hanging that took place in Picton in 1884.  The book was called The Lazier Murder, Picton Ontario 1884.  The outcome of the trial was controversial at the time, and remains that way today.  

Justice Sharpe, a Prince Edward County native, gave a fascinating presentation about the trial at the Regent Theatre soon after the book was published.  A re-enactment of the trial has been in the works for some time and is now planned for July of this year.  Justice Robert J. Sharpe (OCA) author of The Lazier Murder: Prince Edward County, 1884, will preside at the re-enactment of the trial in the courthouse where it all took place.  Did they get the right men?  You be the judge.

The re-enactment takes place on Friday, July 11, 2014 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm at the historic 1834 Courthouse in Picton where the actual trial took place.  After the re-enactment participants are invited to tour the gaol and gallows where the men were hung.  A reception follows at the Waring House where Huff Estates wine and county fare will be served and Justice Robert Sharpe will answer questions about the trial and re-enactment.  

Tickets are $125/per person with a charitable receipt issued for a portion of the ticket price. To order tickets go to Eventbrite.ca / Find Events / Picton, Ontario / Lazier Murder Re-enactment

Proceeds support The Macdonald Project to create a bronze sculpture of Sir John A. Macdonald presenting his first case as a young lawyer in Picton in 1834 in the very same courthouse. Visit www.macdonaldproject.com for more information.


Two History Moments produced by History Lives Here Inc. on the canning industry of Prince Edward County are featured at a new exhibit, which opened May 13th at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa.

Video plays in French or English

Food Preservation: The Science You Can Eat is an exhibit which tells visitors the story of food preservation from the first days of settlement when aboriginal peoples and settlers dried, salted and buried food to survive long winters to technological advances such as the canning of foodstuffs in the 1880s and development of frozen foods in the 1930s. Today, scientific innovation in the food industry allows us to grow and import food from all over the world that retains its nutritional value over an extended shelf life. Finding ways to preserve food is one of the greatest advances in civilization.

Canadians can take credit for many of these scientific breakthroughs. Research at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa where the museum is located has resulted in a staggering number of discoveries of new plant varieties, processing techniques, and food products. While the preservation of food through the canning process dates back to the Napoleonic era, the fruit and vegetable canning industry in Canada took root in the small community of Prince Edward County in the 1880s. In 1882, Wellington Boulter, the father of the canning industry in Canada, started a small factory in Picton, Ontario. Soon other factories dotted the landscape of this small community, and the area became so dominant in the industry shipping canned goods all over the world that the region became known as the Garden County of Canada. Our History Moment on the origins of the canning industry in Prince Edward County is one of two video features showcased in the museum exhibit. 

Our second History Moment featured in the exhibit tells the story of early attempts to advertise canned goods. The first products of the canning industry would be considered unacceptable by today’s standards. Lids were soldered shut by hand and bits of solder often dropped into the canned food. The first tins reacted with the food and caused lead poisoning. Sanitary practices throughout these rudimentary factories were largely absent as the science of canned foods had yet to be discovered. To counter consumer resistance, the early canners spent a great deal of effort on the labels that adorned their products. Embossed colour labels created by design firms in Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal enticed consumers to try these canned products. Today, these spectacularly beautiful labels are artwork that reflects early advertising approaches. Some of the labels that adorned canned goods produced in Prince Edward County were quite likely designed by Group of Seven artists who supported their weekend painting expeditions by day jobs at lithographic firms supplying canning companies with labels.

“We encourage Canadians to take in this wonderful exhibit, “says Peter Lockyer, the producer of the History Moments series. “And we’ve very honoured to have our history features as part of the display. It’s an indication that our work showcasing old forgotten stories from communities throughout Eastern Ontario has a timeless value to museums like the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum and the thousands of visitors they receive each year.”

To learn more about the Food Preservation: Science You Can Eat exhibit at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum, visit their website at http://www.cafmuseum.techno-science.ca