D’Alton McCarthy arrived in Canada as a 10-year-old in 1847.
His father, of the same name, had been a prominent lawyer in Ireland, but sought out the nobly rugged homesteading life near Barrie. He found the conditions harsh and, after a few years of bitter struggle, returned to his original career and set up a law office in the vicinity of 31 Dunlop St. E.
Young D’Alton followed his father into the legal business and became a partner in the family firm in 1858. It was soon apparent that this junior McCarthy was quite a natural in his field and his reputation as a brilliant lawyer quickly grew.
The family farming venture of his youth had ultimately failed but had left a lasting mark on D’Alton McCathy Jr. He purchased land in what is now northeast Barrie, in the area surrounding where North Collegiate sits today. McCarthy called it Oakley Park, a name that can still be found attached to a nearby school and street, after his Irish home.
The farm may have started as relaxing getaway for the rising star lawyer with budding political ambitions, but McCarthy’s inborn competitive nature led him to purchase the best of livestock and to show and sell the animals widely.
D’Alton McCarthy was known as an athletic man, keen on sports and a natural on horseback. An often-quoted line from a circa 1880 edition of the Montreal Herald described the results of his agricultural endeavour as “thoroughbred cattle, high-stepping horses and preternaturally fat pigs.”
After 1879, McCarthy moved his main place of business and home to Toronto. He was then MP for Simcoe North, still a partner in the Barrie branch of the McCarthy law office, and retained Carnoevar, his summer home, as well as Oakley Park.
A die-hard Conservative politician for most of his life, D’Alton McCarthy became disillusioned with his peers in 1895, and they with him. He clung to old ideals that sought to squash any special rights given to French speakers and Catholics, something that his own party was moving away from. McCarthy then formed his own independent party.
By early 1897, McCarthy changed his political stripe once again. That year, as president of the Toronto Hunt Club, he hosted Governor General Lord Aberdeen and his wife and through this formed a permanent friendship. He had greeted the pair on horseback and created a notable first impression. This relationship connected McCarthy to another friend of the vice regal couple, Wilfred Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the federal Liberal Party.
All the news of the day for McCarthy was good, except for one small article regarding a near miss accident involving Mary Fitzgibbon, a family friend. On Feb. 2, 1898, Miss Fitzgibbons was leaving an event at St. George’s Hall, Toronto in one of D’Alton McCarthy’s carriages when the horses took fright and immediately threw the coachman to the ground.
The whole conveyance took off at a dangerous speed racing down Elm Street, turning onto Yonge, then Gould to Wilton streets, and finally onto Sherbourne Street where a passing carriage caused the horses to slow just enough for a policeman to catch the reins. The lady passenger was beyond terrified but unhurt.
In the spring of 1898, all that remained of McCarthy’s entry into the Liberal Party were formalities. A meeting was arranged for the second week of May in Ottawa.
On May 8, a Sunday evening, D’Alton McCarthy decided to take the nine o’clock train to the capitol. He left his home at 174 Beverley St., in a dog cart, a one horse, two wheeled hunting style carriage, driven by his night coachman, Thomas Taylor. The lone horse, known as a spirited animal, had been one of the team pulling the carriage on the night of the recent Fitzgibbon incident.
McCarthy chose to drive that night and Taylor sat behind him. The ride was uneventful for several city blocks. When the cart reached the corner of Beverley and Sullivan streets, the congregation of the Baptist church there was spilling out onto the street. The horse, its nerve perhaps ruined by the February mishap, shied at the sight of the crowd and bolted down the street.
Again, the coachman was thrown from the vehicle and the lone occupant left to fend for themselves. D’Alton McCarthy was no novice horseman and he used every bit of his strength and experience to control the maddened animal. Down Beverley Street they went at, a terrifying speed, until the horse took a sharp left turn onto Queen Street and crashed into the curb in front of the fire hall at John Street.
The cart then flipped over on top of McCarthy, who was still holding the reins, and he was dragged some one hundred feet along the street until the cart came to a stop, completely wrecked. McCarthy was carried unconscious into a nearby drug store and attended to by the nearest doctors who found him bleeding, bruised and completely covered in dirt.
The injured man was removed to his home where he lay in a semi-conscious state for several days, attended to by doctors around the clock. At first, an obvious concussion caused the most concern but soon a severe injury to his side began to look more dire. Broken ribs had contributed to pneumonia and, by the third day, he was feverish and in critical condition.
On May 11, 1898, the dynamic barrister, gentleman farmer and politician was active no more. His funeral procession, led by a unit of mounted police, proceeded from his Beverley Street residence to St. George’s Church, then to St. James’ Cemetery. Thousands attended with many arriving on a special train from Barrie.
The Barrie Examiner summed up the feeling among the people:
“Whatever differences were aroused by his course in politics, at his death they were lost in the greatness of the man and, at his funeral in Toronto on Saturday, men of every creed and of all political stripes assembled to honour one whom all acknowledge to stand high among Canada’s greatest sons.”
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