Privileged Life in Early 20th Century Montreal
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 32

Privileged Life in Early 20th Century Montreal

Author: Catriona Misfeldt

Editors: Ilan Danjoux, Ruth Sandwell

Series editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14 to 16

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Ada Redpath, a 59 year-old widow, and her 24 year-old son, Clifford were members of one of Canada's wealthiest families. On the evening of June 13, 1901 both were shot to death in Ada's bedroom in the Redpath mansion in Montreal. Mrs. Redpath's eldest son, Peter, and her servants rushed to help. A family physician was called to the scene. A coroner's inquest was held in the mansion the following day. Two days later, the bodies were buried in the Redpath family grave.

The jury at the inquest decided that Cliff had shot his mother and then himself. However, many doubts remained about what really happened, and to what extent the Redpath family influenced the handling of the tragedy and access to information. More generally, this incident raises questions about the family's role in the city and about the lives of wealthy people at this time. What can we learn about the privileges and responsibilities of this elite family? A few surviving documents and images offer glimpses into the influence and lifestyle of these rich and famous, but very private, people.

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This MysteryQuest invites you to consider how family wealth contributed to the privileged life of the English-speaking elite of early 20th century Montreal. You will begin by learning about the Redpath family and about three key features or indicators of the family's wealth - where they lived, what they owned, and the opportunities and connections they had. You will then learn about the many benefits this wealth provided. Finally, you will consider how their wealth enabled them to enjoy these privileges by determining which feature of their wealth most contributed to the benefits they enjoyed.

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STEP 1: Learn about the family

The Redpath family belonged to the English-speaking elite in the exclusive Square Mile district of Montreal. It was a tight-knit community. Families supported each other's businesses and participated in common social, educational and religious activities. Marriage gave family members economic and emotional support. It also helped ensure that the wealth, power and prestige stayed among the elite.

Begin your investigation by reading the four documents in the Background section of Evidence in the Case. These brief selections written by historians describe the history of the Redpath family and explain how their home, possessions and community connections shaped life for upper class Montrealers.

STEP 2: Look for evidence of wealth

Your next task is to learn about the scope of this family's wealth by examining photographs and documents from the sources in the Redpath legacy section of the Evidence of the Case. These documents are grouped around three features or indicators of wealth:

  • where they lived: the design, scale and nature of the residences of the elite;
  • what they owned: money, investments, clothing, jewelry and household furnishings such as artwork, silverware, furniture;
  • opportunities and connections: friends, organizations, political associations, businesses, access to education, domestic help.

Select at least three photographs (or artifacts) and one text document from each category (12 sources in total) to get a broad picture of the nature of the Redpath family's wealth. Record relevant evidence for each category on the Indicators of Wealth chart.

STEP 3: Consider the benefits of wealth

Your next step is to consider how the Redpath family's money, possessions and connections created and maintained a privileged lifestyle that included many kinds of benefits:

  • Comfort: the ease and pleasing features of life made possible by, for example, having servants to perform household chores;
  • Prestige: the status or reputation achieved by, for example, being able to hiring famous architects to design their home or going to a fancy school;
  • Privacy: being free from intrusion or disturbance of people, traffic, noise and pollution by, for example, planting hedges, creating long pathways and having servants to answer the door;
  • Influence: the capacity to affect the actions and opinions of others by, for example, using their connections to convince officials to allow them special privileges;
  • Social contributions: the ability and obligation to do what is right for the community and contribute to the political, social and economic welfare of others by, for example, donating to schools, libraries or hospitals.

Based on what you have learned thus far, think of three or four examples of each kind of benefit that the Redpath family was able to enjoy. For example, having servants added both to their comfort because the servants would prepare and serve meals and also to their privacy by screening the family from the public. Their mansion provided the privacy and comfort of sitting in a spacious garden and having separate rooms for each person to enjoy. Use the chart Benefits of Wealth to record a few examples of each kind of benefit the Redpath family enjoyed.

STEP 4: Explore how wealth contributes to a privileged life

After completing the Benefits of Wealth chart, decide which feature of the family's wealth-where they lived, what they owned or their opportunities and connections- most contributed to each of the benefits of a privileged life. For example, did their possessions, house or opportunities contribute most to their privacy? Which factor most contributed to their ability and obligation to make social contributions? Use The Most Important Factors to indicate the most significant factor for each benefit and explain your choice.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing Evidence and Factors may be used to assess how well you were able to identify the indicators and benefits of wealth from the historical documents and show how wealth most supported various aspects of the Redpaths' privileged life.

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Activity Sheet: Indicators of Wealth

Activity Sheet: Benefits of Wealth

Activity Sheet: The Most Important Factors

Assessment rubric: Assessing Evidence and Factors

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Examine additional evidence
Locate other historical documents in The Redpath Mansion Mystery that provide more complete evidence of the Redpath family's wealth and influence.

Compare changes and constants
Select a photograph or series of photographs that show the Redpath family's possessions (e.g., drawing room, garden, table setting). Compare it to a contemporary photograph of your family. Notice the changes and similarities between the two periods. To what extent have things changed or stayed the same?

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to a related mystery associated with the Redpath murders:

  • MysteryQuest 31 invites you to decide who had the strongest motive for the murder.
  • MysteryQuest 33 invites you to assess the reasonableness of the jury's verdict at the inquest.

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Article: The Redpaths

Article: Settings

Article: Domestic architecture

Article: Redpath architecture

Redpath legacy

Where they lived

Photograph, nd, Redpath Mansion, front view

Photograph, @ 1900, Sherbrooke Street at Redpath, Montreal, QC, about 1900

Newspaper article, The Montreal Herald, November 29, 1870 [Headline: New Buildings in 1870]

Photograph, 1899, Mrs. David Morrice's dining room, Montreal, QC, 1899

Photograph, 1899, Mrs. David Morrice's drawing room, Montreal, QC, 1899

Photograph, 1930, Lady Roddick in her living room, Montreal, QC, 1930

What they owned

Photograph, 1881, Mrs. J.J. Redpath's group, Montreal, QC, 1881

Photograph, nd, Harold Redpath and family in Georgeville

Newspaper article, The Montreal Daily Star, June 16, 1954 [Headline: Lady Roddick's home to go on block today]

Engraving, nd, Canada Sugar Refinery Co., engraving

Photograph, 1906, Amy's marriage to Dr. Roddick at Chislehurst

Last Will and Testament, Dame Ada M. Mills, widow of the late John J. Redpath, Esq., 1897

Social opportunities and connections

Census, 1901 Census of Canada: Fourth Census of Canada, 1901; Quebec; District 175 - St Antoine, Montreal; District No. a; Polling sub-division 3, in Montreal; Page 7.

Newspaper article, The Montreal Daily Star, August 13, 1904 [Headline: Veterans Feted at Celebration]

Bookplate, nd, Bookplate, McGill University Library

Photograph, 1896, Interior, St. John the Evangelist Church, Montreal, about 1896

Photograph, 1893, Opening of the New Library, McGill University, Montreal, 1893, exterior photograph

Photograph, nd, Redpath Museum, McGill College, Montreal, QC

Dance card, nd, Amy's dance card (back)

Calling card, nd, Amy's calling card

Notice of J. Clifford Redpath - A Candidate for Admission to Study Law, June 4, 1897

Title page, nd, The Iroquois Enjoy A Perfect Day (Title Page)

Letter, from Ada Marie Mills Redpath to Children, nd

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, April 24, 1897

Diary, Amy Redpath Roddick, July 30, 1902