A thrilling yarn from Canadian history

The year is 1915, the war that later came to be known as The Great War had begun in the autumn of 1914, and all eyes were on Europe. Young men of Canada were anxious and willing to go overseas and defend the Empire; automobiles were becoming popular for those who could afford the $1,400 price, and the LCW (Local Council of Women) were hard at work lobbying for women’s rights.

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked A Country

By Charlotte Gray

$33.99 HarperCollins

The year is 1915, the war that later came to be known as The Great War had begun in the autumn of 1914, and all eyes were on Europe.

Young men of Canada were anxious and willing to go overseas and defend the Empire; automobiles were becoming popular for those who could afford the $1,400 price, and the LCW (Local Council of Women) were hard at work lobbying for women’s rights.

Toronto was run by an elite group of protestant families, proud of their British origins. With few exceptions, they were staunch Anglicans and the men attended the three clubs where social contact and business were the order of the day. Even Timothy Eaton was welcome, once he’d made his fortune. The Masseys (manufacturers of farm implements) and generous benefactors to the city, were part of this group in spite of being stern Methodists.

There were four newspapers in this bustling place, each vying for readers with lurid reporting from the war zone.

Then came the most shocking news: a young housemaid in Toronto had shot and killed one of the Massey family.

Albert (Bert) Massey was not as affluent as others in his family. He was a 34-year-old car salesman, well dressed and personable.

On the last night of his life, he walked home from work. His day had been frustrating, sales were down and he was still tired from a party the previous evening.

His wife was away visiting with her mother, and they had not been on good terms when she left.

Carrie Davies, their only maid, was 18-years-old. She was an English girl, shy and quiet, who sent most of her earnings back home to her mum. Her job kept her busy from six a.m. until 9 p.m.

This evening, as Massey mounted the steps to his veranda, the door opened, Carrie leveled a .32-calibre automatic pistol and shot him twice. When the police came, Carrie said, “I shot him … he disgraced my character.”

In 1914, women had very few rights and a hired maid had even fewer.

Murder was generally punishable by hanging. She had no money and only one sister and brother-in-law to speak for her.

The picture here painted by the author, of Toronto in 1915, is fascinating. Immigrants, mostly Brits, had brought all their baggage with them, in the way of class distinctions, and judgment of those lesser creatures of the prisoner class.

The Masseys moved quickly to attest to Carrie’s instability.

Charlotte Gray is a fine historian, and the reader will enjoy the politics, the atmosphere and the narrow mindedness of some of the people.

The chief justice who will hear the case is a character. And lawyer Hartley Dewart takes her case to spite an old foe named Blackie Johnston. He is creative and sly.

This is a thrilling yarn from Canada’s history told in an entertaining style. It is coming soon in paperback.

Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.

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