August 26: Manitoba's first hanging; Winnipeg's one-way streets; S.S. Princess sinks.

August 26, 1956 - Many of downtown Winnipeg's side streets are converted from two way streets to one-way streets. (For more on the changeover.)

August 26, 1906
- The S.S. Princess sinks while crossing Lake Winnipeg. Six people, mostly crew, die and fourteen are rescued in lifeboats.

August 26, 1874 - Private Joseph Michaud, a 23 year-old soldier from Quebec, is the first person hanged in Manitoba.

Fort Garry ca. 1870 (source)

Michaud was stationed at Fort Garry as a gunner in the Dominion Artillery Corps. On the evening of June 18, 1874, he and two other men, Baker and Bernier, sneaked out of the barracks for a night on the town. As the night wore on, an increasingly drunk and erratic Michaud began showing off a dagger and calling out that he was 'well set up' to defend himself or use it on others. His actions led someone at the Pride of the West Saloon on Main Street to notify police to look out for him.

As midnight drew near, Bernier returned to the barracks but Michaud and Baker continued on.

Main Street 1874 (source)

In the early hours of June 19 the men were walking to another bar when Michaud pulled the knife and stabbed at Baker causing minor wounds. James A. Brown, a passerby on the sidewalk ahead, called out to stop Michaud but Michaud ran at Brown and began stabbing. Brown's body soon lay on the sidewalk, mutilated with more than 30 stab wounds.

Police, already on the lookout for the Michaud, went to the barracks and found that he was already in lock-up for missing curfew. Military Police had already seized a bloody knife and noted that his tunic and shirt were blood-stained when he arrived.

The murder shocked Winnipeg, still a small town of around 3,700 people. Some media reports refer to a lynching sentiment that was growing within the public.

Winnipeg Courthouse ca. 1874, near Main and William (source)

Michaud accepted responsibility for his actions. When asked how he plead at is arraignment hearing, he said "coupable dans mon coeur et je merite la morte" ("guilty in my heart and I deserve to die.") He took the stand during his trial but offered no reason or excuse for his actions aside from the large amount of alcohol consumed that night.

The trial was short and Michaud was sentenced to hang. There wasn't a lot of sentiment for the man. One citizen, J.W. Harris, recorded in his diary: "The soldier .... sentenced to be hanged on August 26 next. Amen."

The Daily Free Press' editorial of August 19, 1874 was almost giddy:

One week from to-day ! One short week—ah! Who better than the condemned can tell how short—and the life and sunshine of this world will be closed out forever. The foul murder of poor , Brown will be expiated at the hands of an outraged law, and the soul of the man who hurried a fellow creature before his Maker without a moment's preparation, will be before the same high tribunal.

The fact that at his trial people painted Michaud as a kind, generous person who only had a temperamental side when he drank made him a poster-boy for the temperance movement. The Nor'Wester newspaper wrote that "The miserable end of this young man Michaud ought to be a lesson to our young men to keep away form the temptation of strong drink." A New York paper even published excepts of Michaud's story to warn about the evils of drinking.

Manitoban and Northwest Herald, Aug. 22, 1874 (source)

Nor'Wester, Aug. 31, 1874 (source)

A large crowd showed up outside the jail at 8:00 a.m. for the hanging despite the fact that it was an indoor show with a pre-selected gallery of just twenty that were able to watch. J. W. Harris, who said amen to the hanging, made sure to stop by as his diary notes: "Saw Michaud hanged at 8 o'clock in Court Yard."

Michaud's last words consisted of a long, rambling speech in which he asked forgiveness from God and his mother. He concluded it with: "Joseph Michaud. Never forget my name." (For more details of the hanging.)

Once declared dead, he was taken from the gallows and handed over to friends and clergy for burial in St. Boniface cathedral cemetery.

Also see:
Manitoba's First Execution Cherney
Manitoba Free Press story August 29, 1874
Manitoba Free Press story June 27, 1874
Daily Nor'Wester story August 31, 1874

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