Prison by candle light
Hangings used to be a spectacle in the community Carole Page-Lavoie tells a crowd of people gathered around the gallows at L’Orignal’s hsitoric jail.
More than 100 people came to see the play, which recounted some of the murders and violent stories of the region’s past.
It was a grisly affair but all based in real history, Pagé-Lavoie said.
On October 31, Pagé-Lavoie and a few friends staged a historical tour through L’Orignal’s old jail.
“It’s morbid but we tried to keep it in good taste. I think we scared people enough.”
Pagé-Lavoie wrote and performed most of the text. She did her own research with help from the local historic jail society, and was joined on stage by fellow actors and musicians.
Eric Charbonneau of Casselman played the role of prisoner Frederick Mann, convicted for double murder and hanged in 1883.
Charbonneau recited an poem, which was written by the condemned man as he waited for his execution.
“It’s his thoughts, his words,” he said.
Charbonneau also rattled metal doors during one particularly suspenseful moment of the performance, causing people to leap from their chairs.
Melissa Racine of Casselman and Tommy Dave Harrison of Lachute played music they had composed for the evening. They used spooky sound effects such as wind and chorals, along with piano and guitar.
Harrison played the role of executioner John Radcliffe, who historically worked for 30 years at the jail.
According to Pagé-Lavoie, Radcliffe was known for taunting the prisoners. In the case of Frederick Mann – who is the only prisoner buried within the prison – he is said to have dug the grave before the hanging and pointed Mann towards it.
“Look there, that’s where you’re going!” Radcliffe told Mann, according to legend.
According to guide Louise Bédard, L’Orignal’s prison was open from 1816 to 1998. At the time of its closing it was Canada’s oldest functional jail.
The jail was the site of five hangings and at least one whipping, in the case of a thief who stole a bag of flour.
A medieval-style stockade is currently placed in front of the jail, but Bédard said it’s unknown if it was used often in the past.
Bédard added the prison held about 30 people at a time and some of the prisoners were even children.
This fact was embellished for the play as Casselman’s Rose McConville played a ghost girl. She scared quite a few people by hiding in a jail cell illuminated only by a flashlight and also kept one step ahead of the tour, peeking through windows to frighten people.
“It’s a lot of work, but we do it for the experience,” said McConville, who is 14. “We all had a lot of fun.”
Pagé-Lavoie says the show might return next year.