The Black Donnellys: The Outrageous Tale of Canada's Deadliest Feud


128 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55153-943-8
DDC 364.152'3'09713




Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


This book recounts the events in late 19th-century Ontario that led up
to the mass murder of five members of the Donnelly clan by a local mob
bent on vengeance for real or imagined wrongs.

“In late summer, 1875, the stagecoach war between the Donnellys and
Patrick Flanagan reached a brutal climax. On a hot evening in August, a
group of shadowy figures left the Donnelly homestead and crept towards
Flanagan’s barn. They snuck up to the barn door and tried the latch to
see if the building was locked up. It wasn’t. The door was opened and
the raiding party stepped inside.”

Hendley is a fine storyteller. His characters are colourfully drawn,
and his narrative moves along briskly. The Donnellys emerge as a family
of demons, hell-bent on wreaking havoc in their community, while their
vigilante killers are limned as (more or less) good men pushed too far.
Hendley bases his story on a dramatic version of the events made famous
by Thomas P. Kelley’s pulpy novelization of the case in 1954. Recent
scholarship, however, has discredited Kelley and many of the other
sources used by Hendley, and the interpretation of events we get here is
largely mythic. Thus, The Black Donnellys makes for sensational reading,
but not good history.


Hendley, Nate., “The Black Donnellys: The Outrageous Tale of Canada's Deadliest Feud,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 28, 2024,