LUCAN — A huge collection of artifacts from Canada’s most infamous, unsolved mass murder arrived at the Lucan Area Heritage and Donnelly Museum in a dramatic way.
In a snowstorm, as if the Donnellys themselves had stirred up the angry winds.
“It was wild,” curator Laura Garner says of the journey of Ray Fazakas’ Donnelly collection along snow-clogged back roads to Lucan from Hamilton.
The collection is on indefinite loan to the museum.
The museum is preparing for a May 6 unveiling of its Donnelly exhibit — the first time this large a collection of Donnelly items has been assembled for public display anywhere — and for a retelling of the story of vengeance and intrigue.
On Feb. 4, 1880, five members of the Donnelly family were killed by a vigilante mob after a feud that spanned two continents and generations.
None of the six men accused of the killings were convicted.
“It’s one of those stories that has just the right amount of scandal, just the right amount of mystery, the lack of justice,” Garner says of its enduring interest to historians, playwrights, poets, scholars and scandal-seekers.
Fazakas, a retired lawyer, has studied the case since 1962.
“Even though the Donnellys were bad in many respects, it’s not right to go out and massacre a family — there’s an injustice there,” he said.
His collection fills several shelves at the museum. His research fills six four-drawer filing cabinets and also includes about 70 rolls of microfilmed documents and 300,000, cross-referenced index cards with information about the Donnellys and early Lucan- Biddulph Township.
“Some people collect coins. Some people collect stamps. I collect information about the Donnellys,” Fazakas said.
He said the decision to part with the collection wasn’t an easy one, but the time and place — the museum opened officially less than a year ago — are right for this homecoming.
“Most of this stuff came from Biddulph and it’s only appropriate that it go back to Biddulph.”
“The Donnelly story, as far as Lucan is concerned, was underground for 100 years.”
But during recent years, the silence has broken and the story has become almost a cottage industry with tours and banners with the Donnellys’ likenesses.
Items in Fazakas’ collection, appraised at $250,000, include:
Handcuffs used by a local police constable of the time. It’s likely they held some of the oft-jailed Donnellys in their grip.
A photo of the 12 jurors who acquitted the accused. Its wood frame, with carved butterflies and stylized arrows, was crafted by one of the jurors.
Shoe heels excavated from the burned Donnelly home.
A replica of the original cemetery monument to the Donnellys. So many treasure- seekers chipped off pieces that it had to be replaced.
A wooden crown and anchor from a horse-drawn hearse that carried John Donnelly’s body.
The museum is closed until the exhibit opens in May. It’s located at 171 Main St., Lucan, and online at http://www.donnelly museum.com.