This section of the website consists of short essays written by historians and others who have studied the murder of the Donnellys. These essays attempt to answer one or all of the following questions:
1. What explains the massacre?
2. Did the Donnellys deserve their fate?
3. Was justice served?
These essays, which are secondary sources, are based on research and evaluation of primary sources like the ones reproduced on this website and found in various archives. Not all the interpretations agree, and you will have to make some decisions about which ones you are more convinced by and why. After you read the primary documents on this website, you may or may not agree with these interpretations. However, since you have completed primary research you are much better prepared to offer an opinion on this controversial topic than are those who have consulted secondary sources alone. It should prove interesting to compare your theories to the following interpretations:
Ray Fazakas, a former lawyer and the author of a number of books on the Donnellys, attempts to answer the question of whether or not the Donnellys deserved their fate.
Dennis Duffy, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Toronto, provides his theories on what caused the murder of the Donnellys.
Though not written specifically for this website, Orlo Miller’s interpretation summarizes his research on the Donnelly family. In this piece, written in 1974, Miller attempted to explain why the murders took place and he offered an opinion on whether his sympathies were with the Donnellys or their enemies.
The interpretation co-written by Dr. Lesley Erickson, a specialist in Canadian legal history and Dr. Jennifer Pettit, one of the co-directors of this website, explains how the nineteenth-century legal system functioned, and offers theories as to whether justice was served. In addition, Dr. Pettit provides a separate interpretation in which she stresses the multi-causal nature of the murders.
Finally, Dr. Kori Street, one of the co-directors of this website, suggests that the lives and deaths of the Donnellys are best understood by analyzing their physical location and their ethnic and religious context. In understanding where they came from and who they were, we can begin to comprehend how the tragedy of their murders came to pass unpunished.
The Interpretations section is password-protected. Your teacher may or may not choose to give you the password.
- Kori Street, The Terrain Between Heaven and Hell
- Jennifer Pettit, From Sparks Come Flames
- Orlo Miller, Orlo Miller, Summary of Research , October 17, 1974
- Dennis Duffy, What Killed The Donnellys?, 2005
- Ray Fazakas, Did the Donnellys Deserve Their Fate?, 2005
- Lesley Erickson and Jennifer Pettit, A Just System? The Criminal Trial Process for Serious Felonies in Nineteenth-Century Ontario, 2005