Mac’s Musings: Dark side of jail’s past dug up

Claude McIntosh ~ Mac's Musings
Mac’s Musings: Dark side of jail’s past dug up
Claude McIntosh.

Foundation excavation work on Cornwall Jail in August,1938 dug up a dark side of the old gaol’s past.

While digging for the new kitchen foundation, workers, all prisoners, discovered a buried dungeon that had been filled in with broken stone and rubbish then cemented over.

Unearthed were three underground cells, six by 10 feet, with neither doors nor windows. Nobody alive at the time could recall their existence.

Officials believed the underground cells were part of the jail when it opened in 1833 and were used to punish prisoners who broke the rules. Each offending prisoner was lowered into the dark, damp cell through a trap door on the main floor. There was no record of how long a prisoner would remain in the coffin-like cell. It not only lacked any source of light but lacked proper ventilation.

Even at a time when the lash was common punishment – records showed that a man convicted of petty larceny received 39 strokes of the lash in a public whipping – banishment to the underground cells was cruel and unusual punishment.

In 1938, in a converted hen house at the rear of this home at 716 Pitt St., Dominic Carra carried on with a craft taught to him by his father who learned the trade from his father in Italy.

It was the no-room-for-error art of making fire works, a skill at the time carried out by only two other manufacturers in the country.

He had been at it for 27 years, first partnering with Dominic Ruffo for 19 years when he first came to Cornwall from Italy.

The chemicals and gun powder needed – 100 concoctions in all and some of them highly explosive – in the making of his fireworks were stored in the converted hen house. It is hard to imagine that being allowed in this day and age. But in 1938 the “safety” feature was a “Danger Keep Out” signs affixed to the building.

His home-made designs included everything from skyrockets to pinwheels in all colours, many of them custom-made for customers.

When it came to purchasing his fireworks, it was a package deal. The master pyrotechnician had to set off the fireworks.

ALSO IN AUGUST 1938 – With the arena debt of $10,000 paid off in just three years, Mille Roches was throwing a mortgage-burning party with a dance in the arena. Sparky Dukelow and his nine-piece band supplied the music. … Thieves used hacksaws to remove the hinges on the safe in the Gamble-Robinson office on Water Street and make off with $385 (the same purchasing power as $6,716 today). A few months earlier thieves used nitroglycerin to blow open the safe at the Imperial Oil office. … The Kiwanis Club was looking at the possibility of enlarging the wading pool at Central Park. The pool was built by the club in 1929. … Lancaster native Samuel William Jacobs the first Jewish member of the House of Commons died at age 67. He was elected in 1919 and re-elected five times, all in the riding of Cartier. He was a prominent Quebec lawyer. … A letter to the editor in the Standard-Freeholder complained that the public library was getting the short end of the stick when it came to funding by city hall. The letter said the library was antiquated, understaffed and cramped for room. It was called the “weak link” in the education system. The author said the library deserved the same funding as sports. … Police were investigating the theft of a slot machine at Muriel Ledoux’s restaurant at Albert Street and Montreal Road. Five suspects were sought. They made off with the machine while the cook was making them burgers in the kitchen. … A counties jail prisoner who escaped while working with other prisoners in the field at the House of Refuge was captured in Moulinette two days later. He was serving a two-month sentence for illegal possession of liquor. … Two men found guilty of breaking into Sangster Brothers General Store in Bainsville each received three-year sentences. The two were caught by the Sangster brothers and a neighbour who alerted them when he spotted the two thieves in the store late at night. … A 12-year-old boy, Billy Ray, drowned in the Mille Roches quarry after he slipped on the rocky edge. … Bowra’s Electric and Hardware, 122 Pitt St., had five-tube Philco table model radios on sale for $29.95. … Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn said his government opposed the proposed St. Lawrence Seaway Project because it wasn’t economically feasible. (Nothing said about uprooting thousands of residents and destroying villages). … A 21-year-old Massena man found guilty of stealing a boat and motor from Alltson Henry of Dickinson’s Landing was sentence to seven months in reformatory by Magistrate P. C. Bergeron.

THIS AND THAT A Canadian “adventurer” is back in Canada after several months in a Syrian jail. Not exactly a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, hard to stir up a lot of sympathy for somebody who ignored warnings from his government and friends to stay away from that unfriendly, war-torn country. … Why would anybody go to a country with Third World medical care to have cosmetic surgery? … Kingston is considering a bylaw that will make it illegal to keep the door of a building open when the air conditioner is on. Hey, you can’t make up this stuff. … Brockville is bringing back development charges. … The Cat’s up from Atlanta for his annual August pilgrimage to the old hometown. He says that when he grew up here he was so poor his mom couldn’t afford to buy him new shoes. The soles were so thin he could step on a penny and tell whether it was heads or tails.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Peashooters, 33 rpm vinyl records, portable record players, metal ice trays with levers, flashbulbs, taking film to the drug store to get re-developed, newsreels at the movie theatre, juke boxes in coffee shops, wringer washers and Monday wash day, cap guns, sling shots, car ignitions on the dash boards, when a kid could carry a small jack-knife he got for his birthday in his pocket to school and not cause a lockdown and a 911 call for the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.

TRIVIA This east Cornwall landmark was built in 1800. In 1929 the landmark and property were donated to Cornwall Township by Bertha Colquhoun to be used as a public park. In 1944 the township council voted to demolish the landmark which had deteriorated. A school was built on the site.

TRIVIA ANSWER Cornwall’s first golf course (nine holes) was built on Windmill Point, now the St. Lawrence College campus, in 1914 by the Cornwall Golf and Boat Club. The current Cornwall Golf and Country Club is on the former Colquhoun farm.

QUOTED A good lawyer knows how to shut up when he has won his case. – Alan Dershowitz, lawyer, Harvard law professor, author.

ONE MORE THING – Taking some R & R. Back in two weeks.

Share this article