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Film Department Inherits Ghost

September 1867

Charles Wrenshall painting
The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is being built on the site of the 19th century Morton Brewery, on King Street West in Kingston. The brewery is seen here from the water in the 1880's in a watercolour by Charles Wrenshall, who lived on Albert Street above Union, and taught drawing at the nearby Kingston Collegiate Institute. As he sketched the brewery, the notorious events which occurred there in 1867 probably crossed his mind.

Stella Buck walls
James Morton's brewery had been established in the early 1830's, while Kingston Penitentiary was being built by convict labour nearby. It thrived for a couple of decades, but by the 1860's James Morton had gone bankrupt and the brewery had new owners. On the night of 22 September 1867, an ex-convict named Ethan "Saxey" Allen broke into the brewery with several accomplices, having heard that large sums of money were kept in the safe. They bludgeoned the night watchman Cornelius Driscoll to death, took $2,500 from the safe, and escaped in a small boat. After stashing the money on Wolfe Island, they continued to the New York shore.

1880's drawing
Tracked down and arrested in Waterloo NY, Ethan Allen was tried at the Frontenac County Courthouse and convicted of first degree murder. The jury recommended mercy, but he was sentenced to hang on 11 December at the County Jail behind the courthouse, at Barrie and Union Streets. His accomplices were sentenced to penitentiary terms for manslaughter.

The hanging was delayed from 7 until 11 on the morning of the 11th, as the Sheriff waited for a telegram from the Governor General in Ottawa to confirm that there was no reprieve. Allen said to the hangman while he was adjusting the noose, "See that you fix that properly, and don't make me suffer any pain." The Sheriff asked if he had anything to say, and Allen replied, "No, nothing at all, only I hope that my fate will be a warning to others." Indicating the people assembled on rooftops to see the hanging inside the jail wall, he said, "I will wave my handkerchief (held in his hands which were tied in front of him) to them." When the hangman tried to put the black cap on, he protested, "I hope you'll not put that on me; I'd rather not; I'd rather not". The hangman pulled the bolt as Allen said "Lord, have mercy on me."

Although justice had apparently been done, legend has it that the ghost of watchman Cornelius Driscoll continued to roam the brewery, checking that doors were locked. Sightings were still reported by community theatre groups which used the buildings at night in the late 20th century.

2010 Reunion
A 2002 episode of the TV series Creepy Canada, devoted to the story of Cornelius Driscoll, was shot at the same location toured by Queen's Film alumni during the 2010 40th Anniversary Reunion (above.) The show reported that no matter how hard workers had tried to remove the bloodstains created during his murder, the stains would not come off the stones, and in 1887 the stones were removed completely.

The stone walls patrolled by Cornelius will still be part of the Isabel Bader Centre, so there is no reason to expect he will be giving up his responsibilities. If Film and Media students hear strange noises at night, the noises might no longer be from squirrels in the attic, as they are in Film House on Stuart Street.


There is little information about Cornelius himself. Perhaps he was the Cornelius Driscoll who arrived sick on a ship from Ireland in 1825 at the age of 5. Many of the Driscolls arriving from Ireland settled in New Brunswick; see Getting Away With Murder, another tragic story of a killing involving the Driscoll family of Fredericton in 1868, from the Fredericton Gleaner of 13 October 2001.

Other information taken from:

Return to Isabel Bader Centre Construction.

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