The York County Jail: A Brief Illustrated History.


72 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 978-1-55391-065-7
DDC 365'.9715515





Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


There must be umpteen York Counties in Canada, but the one in Fredericton, New Brunswick, is special. It has not one but two 19th-century jails that reflect rough justice in that age as well as what can be done with such rugged stone structures. The excellent illustrations in this all-too-brief account include sketches of the old public stocks, a photo of a cat o’ nine tails, plus a sketch of the period’s most successful escape artist—the Lunar Rogue—whose exploits earn a lively chapter. A later one tells of a far less savoury escapist and murderer—Allan Leger—accurately dubbed “the Monster of Miramichi,” whose brief escape from another prison in 1991 terrified many citizens until his capture and eventual removal to a super-secure facility in Quebec. We also learn the details of the final days of two local brothers before they were hanged in June 1949 for the murder of a taxi driver. Add to these accounts some glimpses of very young children jailed for several weeks in the mid-19th century and we’re reminded of how harshly justice was delivered back in the “good old days.”


What began as a grim account ends with the story of how this local landmark (just across the street from the Fredericton’s farmers’ market) was transformed into a Science Centre in 1997, thanks to a campaign spearheaded by Marie Macdonald MacBeath, wife of co-author Dr. George MacBeath. Visitors, especially the young, now flock into the old jail to view more than 150 interactive displays on three floors. A surprising and happy ending to what was for over a century and a half (1842–1997) a grim edifice in the otherwise pleasant and bucolic provincial capital. A stimulating read—I just wish it were longer.


MacBeath, George, and Emelie Hubert., “The York County Jail: A Brief Illustrated History.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,