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Railway Promoter and Pursuer of Murderers

by David Reed

In the north-west corner of St. James Cemetery is the grave of Frederick Chase Capreol, an early resident of Toronto. Although not well known today, he was active as a merchant and entrepreneur through the 19th century. Born June 10, 1803 in Hertfordshire, England, he first came to Canada in 1828, to settle “the affairs of the North West Fur Company.” After two years residence in Montreal, he returned to England.

Dark grey granite gravestone
Capreol grave marker in St. James Cemetery, Toronto

In 1833, Capreol returned to York, via New York. On landing in the US, he married Miss Jane Skyring, whom he had met on the boat. On arriving in York, he purchased land near Port Credit. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Capreol had plied the owner, “an alcoholic of unsound mind,” with liquor for two days prior to his agreeing to the sale. The sale was subsequently overturned by the Court of King’s Bench.

Returning to Toronto in 1840, Capreol purchased a building at the northwest corner of Yonge and Melinda where he started an auction house, the family living upstairs. He continued in the business until 1850, as well as operating as a real estate agent.

A shocking murder occurred in Richmond Hill in July 1843, when Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper were killed. Kinnear was a friend of Capreol’s and when it appeared that the local authorities were not pursuing the alleged killers, Capreol hired a boat and set off in pursuit. He captured the two, Grace Marks and James McDermott, near Lewiston, NY and returned them to Toronto.

By the middle of the century, Capreol was promoting the building of a railway from Toronto to Georgian Bay, going so far as to travel to England to get royal assent for the railway charter. In 1849, he was manager of the Toronto, Simcoe and Lake Huron Union Railroad Company. Capital was scarce and Capreol proposed a lottery to raise money for the railway. The proposal was defeated, as the lottery fed on “a strong temptation to attain wealth without labour.” Capreol had differences with the directors of the railway and was fired as manager two days before the sod-turning ceremony. But his name lives on in the name of the town Capreol, now part of the town of Sudbury, a town which formed around the Capreol railway station, a major divisional point on the Canadian National Railway line.

Frederick Chase Capreol. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. Baldwin Collection: B12-8a

Capreol went on to become president of the Metropolitan Gas and Water Company and was a partner in the General Manufacturing Company of Peel.

In later years Capreol became enthused with the idea of building a canal to link lakes Huron and Ontario. Unfortunately, he was unable to get sufficient support and the enterprise failed.

Capreol made several attempts at politics, starting in 1842, running for the provincial legislature as an independent. He finished last. From 1843 he ran repeatedly for Toronto City Council from St. George’s Ward, always losing. In 1853 he ran in a by-election and won, sitting on council for two months. After Confederation, he ran twice for the Ontario legislature, losing both times.

Capreol died at his home 24 Clarence Square on October 12, 1886. He left behind four sons and seven daughters (an eighth daughter had predeceased him). Although well-to-do when he died, he was disappointed that he did not receive the recognition he felt he deserved. Now mostly forgotten, he is still remembered in the name of the town of Capreol and for his role in Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace, the story of Grace Marks, one of two murderers Capreol captured.

You can read more about Capreol’s interesting life in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

An amusing account of his hunt for the murderers is found in the article “Mad Capreol’s Manhunt.”

Notices of Capreol’s death and funeral from the Globe newspaper

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