On June 14 1901, Montreal residents woke to the news that two members of one of the city's most prominent families were dead. Ada Maria Redpath and her youngest son Clifford, had been shot dead in Ada's bedroom in the Redpath mansion. Newspaper reports were conflicting at first and the family made no public statement, but it was clear that a tragedy had unfolded within the upper echelons of Montreal society. While the coroner's inquest attempted to sort out the circumstances surrounding the deaths, and the Redpaths maintained a wall of silence, Montreal filled with rumors about what had occurred on the evening of June 13. The inquests finding that Clifford Redpath had killed his mother and then taken his own life while suffering from temporary insanity brought on by an epileptic fit, did not entirely quell the belief of some in town that something sinister had taken place. The secrecy in which the matter was handled, and some curious details of the case which were never clarified, fanned the flames of intrigue further. More than one hundred years have not brought any fully satisfactory answers. In this paper I submit that the coroner's report was accurate, that Clifford Redpath did kill his mother and then himself while suffering from a severe mental breakdown. I believe that the mystery surrounding this case is due to the Redpath family's attempts to keep the tragedy as quiet as possible, which stemmed from their place in society and the discreet, repressed nature of Victorian era culture.
The Redpath family was one of the wealthiest in all of Canada and were part of Montreal's upper society. Ada Redpath's father, John Redpath, was a Scot who immigrated to Canada in 1816 at the age of twenty-one. He arrived virtually penniless, but found employ as a stonemason in Montreal. John Redpath was a man with a heroic work ethic and a knack for business. Within a few years he was a main player in the effort to build a canal to bypass the Lachine rapids. The rapids had been an obstacle to Montreal's development for many years as large ships were unable to pass through to the upper St. Lawrence. The successful completion of the canal in 1825 greatly increased shipping and turned Montreal into a major port. By the middle of the century, manufacturing plants began to be built along the canals banks, taking advantage of the proximity to shipping lanes and hydraulic power available. This is where John Redpath built his enduring claim to fame, a sugar refining plant. It was initially named the Canada Sugar Refining Co. but was renamed John Redpath and Son after his boy Peter joined the company. The factory was the largest of its kind in Canada, and Redpath employed his own ships to bring the raw sugarcane in and take the finished product to market. This business venture turned John Redpath from a comfortably wealthy man into a spectacularly rich one. He was also rich in family. He was first married to Janet McPhee in 1818; she bore him ten children but died in 1834. John married Jane Drummond the following year and she gave birth to seven children of her own, the youngest of who was named John James Redpath. John James grew up and married Ada Marie Mills in 1867. They had five children together: Amy, Peter, Reginald, Harold and Clifford. To house his family in a style befitting their wealth and social aspirations, John James commissioned the building of a large house at 1065 West Sherbrook St.