What's the Future Ever Done for Me?

Canada’s First Hangman

Canada's First HangmanCanada’s first hangman John Radclive lived here in Parkdale.
I’ve chosen not to identify the actual address.
Canada's First Hangman
Mr. Radclive at work in 1902.
He used the alias of Thomas Ratley for his social life.In an interview with psychologist Rachel MacNair, Radclive described his internal torment:
“Now at night when I lie down,” he said, “I start up with a roar as victim after victim comes up before me. I can see them on the trap, waiting a second before they meet their Maker. They haunt me and taunt me until I am nearly crazy with an unearthly fear.”

Meanwhile, with the financial stability that Radclive’s regular salary gave him, he was able to settle down. In 1893, he moved into a new house in Parkdale, on Sorauren Ave. north of Queen St. W., and later lived around the corner on Fern Ave.

Both are substantial brick houses: the Sorauren Ave. house was appraised at $1,835 in 1895, about two and a half times Radclive’s $700 annual salary as hangman. (It sold last year for $667,000.) The Fern Ave. house, which is smaller, was valued at around $1,000. He had a mortgage on both houses.

After his death, it turned out that Fern Avenue had made its peace with its odd resident over the years. “The little children who weren’t frightened of him just loved him,” one neighbour told theTelegram.

He died in February 1911, at 55, of cirrhosis of the liver in the Fern Ave. house, where he lived with his mother. His wife, who had left him, was in England with two of his children.

His other two children lived in Toronto but, the Telegram explained, they “did not take any particular pride in the profession of their father.”

Shortly before his death, in an interview cited by American psychologist Rachel MacNair, he had hinted at his inner demons:

“Now at night when I lie down,” he said, “I start up with a roar as victim after victim comes up before me. I can see them on the trap, waiting a second before they meet their Maker. They haunt me and taunt me until I am nearly crazy with an unearthly fear.”

Tim Petruk writes:

One of the original stipulations in his contract with the federal government included a clause that might seem odd today, but was apparently the norm for many hangmen of that time around the world — Radcliffe was entitled to the clothes off the backs of the men he executed.

“The fact was he used to make as much money selling the clothes of the person he hanged as he did for the hangings,” Brawn said.

Radcliffe — sometimes spelled “Radclive” — also liked to sell lengths of rope as souvenirs as he travelled the country performing executions.

The problem was, the rope used in the hangings themselves was never passed on to the hangmen.

Brawn said Radcliffe was once caught in a B.C. hardware store by a local sheriff. The hangman was buying extra rope.

“Then he’d sell them as ‘the piece of rope that hanged so-and-so,’” he said.

Radcliffe was British, but lived in Toronto. Brawn said he worked on the side as a waiter at a yacht club in his hometown, but was fired when a customer recognized him from his other line of work.

At the time of Radcliffe’s death, it was reported he had hanged upwards of 150 people.

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One response

  1. jim

    i have the address of
    john Radclive on Fern Ave. as well as some other details,
    i can send it to you if would like.

    May 9, 2017 at 1:34 am

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