Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys


384 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55263-622-4
DDC 364.152'3'092271325





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

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


This revisionist account of the massacre of five residents of Lucan,
Ontario, in the late 19th century counters the popular view of the event
as a barbaric but somehow justified act. Edwards argues that the “true
villains of the piece are clearly the vigilantes who murdered [the
Donnellys] and the authorities who didn’t push for justice.” Past
accounts have tended to demonize the family and exculpate their killers,
but Edwards’s Night Justice provides a more cogent assessment.

Particularly effective is his analysis of the way Crown attorney
Charles Hutchinson was obstructed in prosecuting the case, and how Sir
Oliver Mowat was compromised in his role as both attorney-general and
premier. Also fine are the author’s astute observations about the way
the media shaped the public response by relying on literary formulas to
assign roles to the various participants and suggest appropriate
outcomes: “In the climax of many Gothic tales, the forces of society
are mustered to defeat evil.” A nagging weakness of the book, however,
is its failure to account for the hostility toward the Donnellys:
Edwards’s argument that the family was no more terrible than others in
the region does not explain why they were singled out for murder.

Though striving “for historical accuracy,” Edwards employs many of
the conventions of fiction, including recreated conversations that often
seem stilted and implausible. The book generally reads well—the
material is gripping—but some of the descriptions tend toward the
melodramatic and bathetic.

Detailed chapter notes explaining source material are included, and a
number of black-and-white pictures and drawings appear throughout the


Edwards, Peter., “Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 1, 2022,