|1881||West Algoma Census: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1987|
|1886||George Maclean Rose, "James Conmee," Cyclopæedia of Canadian Biography.|
|1891||Gemmill, John Alexander Ed. "James Conmee." The Canadian parliamentary companion, 1891.|
|Nov 30, 1892||affidavit for brother John's Civil War pension. page: 1 2 3|
|1898||Henry J. Morgan, "James Conmee, M.P.," The Canadian Men and Women of the Time: a Handbook of Canadian Biography.|
|1907||A. Fraser, "James Conmee, M.P.," A History of Ontario.|
|Oct 24, 1908||"Feathering His Nest": political cartoon, Fort William Daily Times-Journal.|
|ca. 1910||Newton McConnell, "The Circus at Port Arthur. Water Nymph Jim Conmee introduces his owner to his old acquaintances.": political cartoon, (Archives of Ontario)|
|24 July 1913||"Former Member of Parliment Dies Here: James Conmee of Canada is a Victim of Tuberculosis," Journal Miner, Prescott, AZ P1:C1.|
|Feb 25, 1936||"Incidents in the life of James Conmee, 1848-": Thunder Bay Historical Society, Papers and Records, Volume 11, 1983.|
|Nov 24, 1941||"Marion S. Conmee's Letter": Collection of Gwen Corley Conmee.|
|1966||James Conmee: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.|
|James Conmee MPP MP: Unknown Thunder Bay Paper|
|Nov 13, 1994||"Pioneer, railwayman, nation builder": Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal / Times-News|
|Dec 09, 2007||"How Conmee Got Its Name": Conmee.com|
Gemmill, John Alexander Ed. "James Conmee." The Canadian parliamentary companion, 1891. Ottawa : J. Durie & Son, 1891: PP. 215-216.
Conmee, James. (West Algoma.)
S. of Matthew Conmee, a native of Sligo, Ire., who settled near Belleville, Ont. and engaged in the lumber trade, and afterwards removed to the Tp. of Sydenham, Co. of Grey. B. in Sydenham, 13 Oct., 1849. Ed. at the Common Sch. and at Owen Sound Grammar Sch. M., 1875, Emily Florence, dau. of Joseph Cox, of St. Vicent, Co., of Grey. Enlisted in the 8th N.Y. Cavalry, under the late Gen. Custer, and saw service in the late American civil war. Since then has been largely engaged in railway construction in Can. and the U.S. Is now extensively engaged in the lumber trade. Is a J.P., and has been a Councillor and Mayor of Port Arthur. First returned to Leg. Assem. on the division of Algoma into the two constituencies, June., 1885, and re-elected by acclamation at g.e., 23 June, 1887. Re-elected at last g.e. A Reformer.—Port Arthur.
Alexander er, F.G.S.C. A History of Ontario: Its Resources and Development. Toronto: The Canada History Company, 1907. Vol. II, p.825-827
Source: Indiana University Library F1058.F84 V.2
James Conmee, whose political record will bear the closest investigation and scrutiny, for it has been characterized by a lofty patriotism as well as a thorough mastery of the questions under discussion and a stalwart support of those which have direct bearing upon the best interests and welfare of the country, was born at Sydenham, Ontario, in October, 1848, a son of Mathew and Rosanna (O'Shaughnessy) Conmee. He pursued his education in the Owen Sound grammar school, and at the time of the Civil War in the United States served in the Eighth New York Cavalry under General Custer. He is now an extensive contractor, largely interested in mining and lumber industries, and the breadth and importance of his business have made him a leading representative of trade interests and one of the substantial promoters of the material development and general prosperity of the country. He built several sections of the Canadian Pacific Railway and of the Algoma Central Railway. In 1886 he projected the Atlantic & Pacific Railway to reach a winter port on Lake Superior. He also built portions of what is now known as the Canadian Northern Railway system, namely, the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western section. He is a strong advocate of the Trans-Continental Railway and of the development of the mineral resources in northern Ontario, for he has made a close study of ---end page 825--- possibilities and opportunities in that direction and in 1894 became the first president of the Ontario Mining Institute. In matters of business judgment he is seldom, if ever, at fault, and his opinions are received with deference, as their value has been proven in connection with the important enterprises which have felt the stimulus of his opinions and his labors.
Mr. Conmee, in political connections, has won much more than local prominence. He is a Liberal and has been mayor of Port Arthur. In 1894 he was a delegate to the deep waterways convention. In June, 1885, he was elected to the Ontario Legislative Assembly for West Algoma and re-elected in 1886, 1890 and 1894. He contested Nippising for the Dominion Parliament at the general election in 1896, but was defeated, after which he was re-elected at the general elections in 1898 and 1902 for the Ontario House. In 1904 he resigned his seat to become a candidate for the House of Commons in Thunder Bay and Rainy River districts and was elected. Although a supporter of the Provincial government, he was strongly opposed to the policy of imposing royalties, etc., on the mining industries and ultimately succeeded in having these restrictions removed. Considerable important legislation may be attributed to him. In fact he has given his support to many measures the value and effectiveness of which time has proven.
Mr. Conmee has always favored legislation that would improve the status of the laboring classes and while in the Ontario House took an active and prominent part in the proceedings which gave to the labor organizations the benefits of the "Lien Act." This Act did not apply to lumbermen and miners, but through Mr. Conmee's work they also obtained the right of liens. The Act became inoperative on account of the mortgagor having the first claim. Mr. Conmee once more came to the front and an amendment inspired by him was passed giving the laborer absolutely the first claim.
Another splendid piece of work done by him was the defeat of the bill relating to accidents on railways. The law was the English one in which the servant of the company had no rights. This was amended giving them the same rights as passengers, but the object of the amendment was defeated by the companies compelling men to sign away their rights. Through Mr. ---end page 826--- Conmee's efforts this was defeated and prevented men from signing away their rights.
In 1874 Mr. Conmee was married to Miss Emily Florence Cox, a daughter of Joseph Cox of Meaford, Ontario. They have five children, a son, Arthur Bernard, and four daughters: Laura, the wife of James Whalen of Port Arthur; Bertha May; Eva Gertrude; and Lanze Florence. The family are communicants of the Roman Catholic Church.
F. Brent Scholie. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 14, 1911-1920. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966.
CONMEE, JAMES, contractor, office holder, politician, and businessman; b. 13 Oct. 1848 in Sydenham Township, Upper Canada, son of Matthew Conmee and Rosanna O'Shaughnessy; m. 12 Oct. 1874 Emily Florence Cox in St Vincent Township, Ont., and they had seven daughters and one son; d. 23 July in Prescott, Ariz., and was buried in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ont.
James Conmee grew up in the Irish Block of Sydenham Township, the son of poor Irish immigrants. One source indicates that he attended local schools till age 15, but later accounts, supported by Conmee's poor grammatical skills, stress his lack of education. In the last moth of the American Civil War, he and his brother trained as volunteers with the 8th New York Regiment of Cavalry, an experience ---end page 229---that would lead to exaggerated newspaper and family accounts and the enhancement of James's frontier image as a fighter and man of adventure. He first came to Fort William (Thunder Bay) in 1872 to work at the sawmill of Adam Oliver* and Joseph Davidson on the Kaministiquia River, where he quickly showed entrepreneurial ability. In 1876-77 he held the contract to carry the mail between Silver Islet and Pigeon River. Conmee then took up lumbering and railway contracting. His work laying rails for the Prince Arthur's Landing and Kaministiquia Railway in 1877 led to more important contracts with the Pacific railway: on government-controlled Section A, then, in partnership with John Donald McLennan, on the stretch between Port Arthur and Current River, and fénally on the remote Michipicoten section north of Lake Superior.
Conmee began his public career in 1878 as assessor and tax collector for the municipality of Shuniah. The following year he became councillor [councilor] for its most populous ward, Prince Arthur's Landing South. Detractors were comparing him to an uneducated but wily Chicago aläerman by November 1881. That year, while working in the wilderness in mid winter on Section A, he demonstrated his gift for public debate by arguing with fellow Irishman James McTeigue the constitutionality of the Irish coercion bill introduced by the government of British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone. Within months of Conmee's election as mayor of Port Arthur in December 1884, the division of Algoma into two ridings allowed him to move to provincial politics as the successful Liberal candidate in the by-election of July 1885 in Algoma West. In early 1886 he made an impressive first speech to the legislature, which captured the attention of the Toronto press and Oliver Mowat*'s ministers because of its defence [defense] of provincial rights, and he soon cut a colourful figure in Toronto as an "M.P.P., statesman, patriot, thinker, owner of saw mills and builder of railways." Charged in 1885 with defrauding the Canadian Pacific Railway on Lake Superior contracts, he emerged victorious from his legal battles in 1889, his reputation as a fighter enhanced with voters and the press because of the large amounts of money at stake and the legal talent involved (Britton Bath Osler*, and D'Alton McCarthy* among others). As one of the few Catholic members of the legislature, he would prove useful to the government in 1894 by introducing a bill permitting the optional use of the secret ballot in separate school elections.
After his election in 1885, he had continued to be associated with local railway projects as contractor for sections of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western, the Ontario and Rainy River, and, most lucratively the Algoma Central, with Charles Martin Bowman. Conmee early recognized the importance of franchises on municipal utilities. He allied himself and his company, the Port Arthur (Ontario) Telephone Company, with the Toronto Telephone Manufacturing Company in 1884 in a losing fight to maintain its franchise against the monopoly attached to the Bell patent [see Charles Fleetford SISE] He pursued similarly ill-fated and undercapitalized water-power and electric-power schemes, notably the Port Arthur Water, Light and Power Company, the Sault Ste Marie Water, Gas and Light Company, and a development at Île aux Hérons in the Lachine rapids near Montreal. Critics were never quite sure of the nature of his financial or political involvement with these companies, or with the contracts awarded his son-in-law James Whalen of Port Arthur. The workingmen whose votes he courted discounted allegations that he cheated his workers; they preferred a man who created jobs. As the Toronto Empire tellingly observed in 1894, "He is a moneymaker before he is a politician."
The depression brought on in the Thunder Bay area by the collapse of silver mining and the lack of venture capital in the early 1890s marked a turning-point in Conmee's political career. Although he was generally a forceful defender of Liberal policies and would hold his seat (renamed Port Arthur and Rainy River in 1902) for the Liberals until 1904, he was forced to side with his constituents against the Liberal government's mining legislation, which increased state control over the industry and its revenues. This opposition damaged any chance Conmee, who was the founding president of the Ontario Minining Institute in 1894, may have had of becoming the province's first minister of mines. His championship of mining and utilities before inaugurating their own, legislation founded on Conmee's experience as a promoter.
Conmee had tried in 1896 to move to federal politics by running in the new riding of Nipissing. Provincially the successive governments of Arthur Sturgis Hardy* and George William ROSS faltered, tarnished in part by Conmee's electoral indiscretions and his involvement with railway and utility companies which required legislative action, and at the end of the 10th Legislature in 1904 Conmee baled out. He was easily elected to the House of Commons for Thunder Bay and Rainy River that year and again in 1908 on the strength of the transcontinental railway policy of Sir Wilfrid LAURIERE's government, which led to large federal expenditures in northwestern Ontario and on the Lakehead harbour. His primary interest in these years became the development of water and electric power.
Conmee was arguably the major political figure of ---end page 230---his generation in northern Ontario. At his peak in the 1890s he was known as Fighting Jim and the People's Jim (after Gladstone, the People's William). His constituents found in him a man like themselves, "schooled to hardships and adversity." They shared his attitudes towards northern development and the exploitation of resources. He could claim credit, with Daniel Francis BURK and a few others, for making "New Ontario," and the Rainy River District in particular, known to Toronto politicians. He also became a favourite of Toronto journalists and political cartoonists. They marvelled [marveled] that this bull of a man, five feet five inches in height and more than 300 pounds in weight, who took part in wrestling contests into the 1870's and possessed little education, could speak with such forceful eloquence and pen the words of a patriotic song, "The national flag," to the music of Henry Herbert Godfrey*. Conmee's character was summarized in the Toronto Globe headline announcing his death: "A self-made man, and essentially democratic, of natural talent, and intense perseverance--a strong debater and remarkable personality." Ill health had forced him to retire form politics in 1911 and to winter in warmer climates. In he died in Arizona, leaving an estate valued at $245,347, much of it in property
F. BRENT SCOLLIE
A copy of the sheet music for the song Conmee co-wrote with Henry Herbert Godfrey, The national flag (Toronto, 1898), is in the National Library of Canada, Ottawa, Music div.
AO, F 644, MU 21-22; RG 22-398, , no. 775. NA, MG 26, G; MG 28, III 20, Van Horne letter books, 4: 989-92; 14: 671; 19: 996; 33: 526-27; Shaughnessy letter-books, 4: 316, 339, 976; 5: 106-7; 38: 938 (copies); RG 31, C1, 1861, Sydenham Township, [Ont.]: 1881, 1891; Algoma, Ont.; RG 43, AIII.1.751, file 1958. National Arch. (Washington), RG 94 (records of the Adjutant General's Office), Record and pension office records, 8th New York Regiment of Cavalry, Enlistment records, James Conway [Conmee]); Pension file, John Conway [Conmee], files 894411 and 950517. Daily Journal (Fort William [Thunder Bay], Ont.) 24-25 Aug. 1898. Daily News (Fort William [Thunder Bay], Ont.) 4, 11, 15 Jan. 1910; 24 July . Daily Sentinel (Port Arthur) 12-15 Aug. 1884, 14 Jan. 1889. Daily Times-Journal (Fort William), 2-4 Nov. 1904, 4 July 1905, 24 July . Evening Star (Toronto) 27 Aug., 19 Sept. 1896, continues as Toronto Daily Star, 24 July . Globe, 30 Jan. 1886, 30 March 1905, 12 March 1910 (Saturday magazine), 24 July . News-Chronicle (Port Arthur), 12 April 1933. Owen Sound Sun (Oen Sound, Ont.), 25 July . Toronto Daily Mail, 30 Jan. 1886, 24 Aptil 1891, 16 Feb. 1894. Weekly Herald and Algoma Miner (Prince Arthur's Landing, later Port Arthur), 1882-1901. Weekly Sentinel (Prince Arthur's Landing; Port Arthur), 1876-94. World (Toronto), 22 Feb., 12-22 March 1897. M. E. Arthur. "The frontier politition," in Aspects of nineteen-century Ontario ..., ed. F. H. Armstrong et al. (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1974), 278-96. Can., House of Commons, Journals, 1905, app., vol. 2: 101. Canadian Album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 3-29. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan: 1898). Laurel Conmee Whalen, "Incidents in the life of James Conmee, 1848-," Thunder Bay Hist. Museum Soc., Papers and Records, 11 (1983): 53-62. Cyclopaedia of Canadian biog. vol. 2. In the High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division: Between Conmee & McLennan, plaintiffs, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, defendants: 33 mile contract ... pleadings; McCarthy, Osler, Hoskin & Creelman, plaintiffs' solicitors; Wells & MacMurchy, defendants' solicitors ([Toronto], 1889). Saturday Night, 2 Aug. 1912: 3.
Unidentified Thunder Bay Paper.
Source: Gwendolyn Corley Conmee
James Conmee was the son of Rosanne (Rosina) O'Shaughnessy and Matthew Conmee. Matthew Conmee was a native of Sligo, Ireland. He settled near Belleville, Ont. where he engaged in the lumber trade. Afterwards, Conmee moved to the Township of Sydenham, County of Grey where James was born on Oct. 13, 1849. James was educated at Owen Sound (Sydenham) Grammar School. In 1874 or 75 he married Emily Florence Cox, daughter of Joseph Cox of St. Vincent, County of Grey. He enlisted in the 8th New York Cavalry under General Custer during the American Civil War. He later became a contractor with interests in mining and the lumber trade at Port Arthur. He was involved in building large sections of the C.P.R., the Algoma Railway, and the Canadian Northern Railway. Conmee was a strong advocate of the National Transcontinental Railway and of the development of the mineral resources of the north. Among the offices he held were those of first President of the Ontario Mining Institute to which he was elected in 1894; president of Ontario Mines Development Company in 1896; councillor [councilor] and Mayor or Port Arthur; and delegate to the Deep Waterways Convention in 1894.
His first election to the Ontario Legislature was in June 1885, when at the age of 36 he represented Port Arthur in the Liberal interests. He was re-elected in by acclamation June 23, 1887 and again in 1890 and 1894. He resigned to contest the constituency of Nipissing for the federal general election but reclaimed his seat before his resignation became effective. He was re-elected in 1908.
The Kenora Miner and News of July 26, tells of Mr. Conmee's death and mentions his illustrious career:
It was said that during his terms in the Provincial and Dominion Houses of Parliament he was one of the greatest fighters ever known and that he proposed and carried through more legislation than any of his collegues. A writer speaking of him as "Fighting Jim" said: "It was a dull week in the committees at Ottawa when no bill fathered by James Conmee was up for consideration. Mr. Conmee had apparently become the most industrious promoter of private legislation in the house of commons. Frequently he met with opposition, sometimes deservedly so, but "Fighting Jim" defended what he considered his rights, even if he played a lone hand..."
Eight years earlier a newspaper account in the Toronto Star (reprinted in the Miner) was not so kind. When Conmee became an M.P. his change in disposition apparently merited a rather sarcastic commentary entitled "James Conmee's Smile: Federal Politics Obliterating the Characteristic Sunniness of Our Dominion Member":
James Conmee's justly celebrated smile has not created the sensation at Ottawa that was expected. The M.P. for Thunder Bay is an entirely different person from the M.L.A. for Algoma. The scope of federal politics seems to have subdued this great intellect and the smile which once gladdened the hearts at Queen's Park and brought the crocuses out a week earlier is now almost lost in a rueful countenance. "Life has no joy for Sunny Jim, The larger topics bother him" ...
When Mr. Conmee was in Toronto he had reason to smile. Everything was coming his way. He could resign when he liked and take it back if he drew a blank. He was the white-haired boy from Algoma ... Lavis as he seemed to be, he nevver let his smile all out at once. Toronto never saw its full glory. Only in the privacy of his chameber did he dare go to the limit. Then he smiled to himself like the man who has the laugh on the other fellow. Jim Conmee's smile has been spoken of in the past tense throughout this article because it exists no longer ... Whether the Ottawa winter is too severe for its tropical opulence or whether it has been frozen up around the edges or whether Mr. Conmee is adverse to opening his mouth for fear of getting inflammation of the lungs and cold feet, the fact remains that the famous smile has been removed form politics ...
In the green chamber the Conmee smile has been even less successful than in No. 16. It is a hard job for any smile to arrest the speaker's eye from five rows back, and Mr. Conmee seems to have given up in despair. The most laborious smile can cut little ice on Parliament Hill ... Jim Conmee's smile is off. Let us hope that it may be on again when Mr. Conmee has mastered the leading issues of his new sphere ... Meanwhile, the world must feel as if a star had gone out.
James Conmee died July at 64 years of age. An account of his death stated:
A message was received here today from Prescott, Arizona announcing the death of James Conmee, ex-member of parliament, who had been ill for four or five years. His condition became serious while at Ottawa during the 1910 sessions of the house. In 1911 he engaged in the reciprocity campaign against the physician's advice ... The election in this constituency was deferred and after the return of the Borden government he withdrew form the contest. He left immediately for Saranac Lake, New York, and remained there until February last when he went to Arizona ... The deceased is survived by his widow and three daughters: Mrs. James Whalen, M.J. Kelly, Miss Louise, and on son Arthur B.
Polling, Gerry. "Pioneer, Railwayman, Nation Builder . . ." in "The Way It Was--The Sunday Page." Chronicle-Journal/Times-News (Thunder Bay). Sunday, November 13, 1994: Pg. A-7.
Election issues of today, i.e.: whether or not condominium development should be allowed in the Central School area of Waverley Park, would pale considerably against some of the election issues of the past.
Not the least of these was the development of that same section of land where civic officials contended a YMCA, library and city hall should be built. The names of Charles W. Cox, Hubert Badanal, Saul Laskin and Thomas Marks all spring to mind as one mulls over election battles of the past.
|Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society|
|This son of an Irish lumberman went on to make the Lakehead a major transportation centre|
One of the most controversial figures in municipal politics was James, (from whence the name of Conmee Township came) a local railway building man who arrived at the Lakehead with a vision of transforming the Port Arthur-Fort William area from a small fur-trading and mining centre to a thriving metropolis with transportation as its key.
Born in the township of Sydenham in Grey county, Oct. 13, 1849, James Conmee was the son of an Iris lumberman.
After leaving school at age 15, when his father died, he eventually enlisted to fight for the North in the U.S. Civil War.
Although this period is rather vague, it is said Conmee fought under General George Custer and engaged in battle before General Robert E. Lee surrendered.
He moved northward and became involved in mining and lumber contracting and in 1885, purchased the Port Arthur Saw and Planing Mill from Thomas Marks.
In Conmee's day, government and business were joining to create and era of unparalleled growth in railway and nation building.
Conmee, with various associates, constructed several sections of such lines as the CPR, Algoma Centre, Port Arthur, Duluth and Western (PeeDee) and the Canadian Northern Railway line.
One of his first contracts was for 64 miles of the CPR in White River, Franz and Missinabi area, a feat of no small effort.
Although the CPR was efficiently put through in 1885--five years before contract time--the Lake Superior section, in some cases, ended up costing a half million dollars. It required 12,000 men, 2000 to 5,000 horses, and 12 steamers to deposit supplies along the North Shore, according to Canadian Railway Development, a paper by Thompson Edgar.
From the deposit points, material and equipment were hauled by wagons along tote-roads and by tugs and scows over lakes and rivers to their destination.
In 1886-88 Conmee built the Ontario and Red River, and portions of the Canadian Northern lines. In the following year, to 1891 he constructed the PeeDee, which finally reached six miles past the border and opened the adjoining section, including Hymers, to farming, logging and silver mining industries.
When Conmee sunk his teeth into and issue, he followed it through and, if he thought it was the wrong course or decision to take, he opposed it with bulldog determination. Thus he earned himself the title of "Fighting Jim."
It was Conmee who was most instrumental in making Port Arthur a terminus for two railways.
He next went to work on the construction for he Algoma Central linking Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst via Wawa's Michipicoten Harbour, Helen Mine, Franz on the CPR and Oba.
This too was on of the most difficult of tasks, since the line passed through the Agawa Canyon. It is worthy of note the line is still in operation and provides one of the most scenic vistas to be found anywhere in Canada, especially when cloaked in its fall finery.
Conmee's character stood out, and his reputation of being a man to get things done made it easy for him to be elected to various offices. During his lifetime he served as a membar of Port Arthur Council from 1877, was elected Mayor in 1885 and at the same time held the Liberal ticket as a member of provincial parliament from 1885 to 1902. He also served as federal member from 1904 to 1911.
Progress was the watchword of James Conmee. He energetically promoted mining, lumbering, lake and rail transportation and the welfare of the workers. But he was not slave to any political party.
He opposed mining royalties and was successful in having them removed.
He studied mining possibilities in the region and became the first president of the Ontario Mining Institute. It was through his efforts that the shallow Lakehead harbour became on of the most modern when he succeeded in gaining government money to dredge it. Millions were spent on dredging and building breakwaters.
By comparison, today's waterfront improvements and development pale to the task which faced Conmee in those days.
Perhaps the Encyclopedia of Canadian Biography best describes James Conmee's character in saying, "he was a man of very great energy and enterprise."
Another publication, the History of Ontario by Fraser, described him as being impeccably honest ("his political record will bear the closest investigation") [Alexander Fraser. A History of Ontario: its resources and development. Toronto: The Canada History Company, 1902].
James Conmee lived to see a wonderful period of development which was largely made possible by his patriotic and tireless effort to push back frontiers against isolation and wilderness and replacing it with small trading and mining centres, and subsequently Great Lakes rail and waterway terminals.
The records of his greatness can be found in the city's archives and the files of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society.
James Conmee died June 14, , but his memory lives on, his life and inspiration to those who followed him, even to the present day.
Morgan, Henry James, (1842-). "James Conmee." The Canadian Men and Women of the Time: a Handbook of Canadian Biography. Toronto: W. Briggs, 1898. p. 206
CONMEE, James, contractor and legislator, is the s. of the late Matthew Conmee, by his wife, Rossanna O'Shaughnessy. B. at Sydenham, Ont., Oct. 13, 1848, he was ed. at Owen Sound Grammar Sch., and thereafter, up to the close of the Am. civil war, served in the 8th N. Y. Cavalry, under the late Genl. Custer. After returning to Can. be became a ry. contractor. He built a considerable portion of the C. P. Ry., as well as some important works in the U. S. He is now largely interested in the lumber trade, and in developing the mineral resources of Algoma. He was one of the founders of the Ont. Mining Inst., 1894, and became its first Presdt., and was elected Presdt. of the Ont., Mines Development Co., 1886. As a public man, he has held office as Mayor of Port Arthur, and has resented West Algoma in the Legislature almost uninterruptedly since June, 1885. He was a del. to the Deep Waterways Convention, Sept., 1894, and was an, unsuccessful candidate in the Lib. interest for Nipissing (Ho. Of Commons), g. e. 1896. Politically, a Lib; in religious belief, he is a P. C. He is also a Freemason. He m. 1875, Emily Florence, dau. of Joseph Cox, St.Vincent, Ont.--Port Arthur, Ont.
Rose, George Maclean, (1829-1898). "James Conmee." Cyclopæedia of Canadian Biography: being chiefly men of the time: a collection of persons distinguished in professional and political life: leaders in the commerce and industry of Canada, and successful pioneers. Toronto: Rose Pub. Co., 1886. pp. 772-3
Conmee, James, Port Arthur, M.P.P. for West Algoma, was born in the township of Sydenham, County of Grey, on the 13th October, 1849. He is a son of Matthew and Rosanna (Shaughnessy), his mother being a native of the County of Leitrim, Ireland. Matthew Conmee came to Canada from the County of Sligo, Ireland, when very young, with his father, who settled near the present town of Belleville, where he engaged in the lumber trade. After remaining here some time, he (the grandfather) removed to the township of Sydenham, where he engaged in farming. He died in 1850. One of his sons was Matthew, the father of the subject of this sketch, who also engaged in farming in the township of Sydenham, leaving at his death in 1876, three of a family, the subject of this sketch being the youngest. James Conmee received a common school education, terminating his studies at the Owen Sound Grammar school, and left school about the age of fifteen. Thereafter he engaged at various occupations for a short time. During the American war he enlisted in the Northern army in the 8th New York Cavalry, under the command of General Custer. He was sent to the front and was engaged in a battle shortly before the surrender of Lee. After the war was ended, he returned to Canada, and engaged in railway construction both in Canada and the United States, until 1871, when he removed to Port Arthur, Algoma District, where he has been engaged in contracting and railroad building since. He tendered for Section A of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and upon his tender the work was let, a company being formed for the carrying out of the contract. Mr. Conmee sold out to the company, taking a sub-contract from them for a portion of the same line. In 1877 he was elected to the town council of Port Arthur, and remained in that body for several years. In 1881, Mr. Conmee was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1882, Mr. Conmee became actively engaged in the construction of the Canada Pacific Railway, east of Port Arthur, as the head of the firm of Conmee & McFennan, handling about sixty-four miles of the Lake Superior section. In 1884 the C. P. R. Co. commenced falling behind in payments, and Mr. Conmee's firm completed their contracts, upon their own resources; but owing to no settlement having been arrived at between Mr; Conmee and his firm with the C. P. R., he instituted a suit against the company for $300,000, the action being now in legal progress. He was elected mayor in 1885, and in the same year was elected to the Ontario legislature, defeating I. C. Gough, the Conservative candidate, by a majority of eighty-three votes. He is a member of the Masonic craft, lodge No. 287, Port Arthur. In politics, he is a Reformer. Mr. Conmee is a Roman catholic; and he married, in 1875, Emily F., daughter of Joseph Cox, of ---end page 772--- the township of St. Vincent, County of Grey, and has by this lady a family of three children. In 1885, Mr. Conmee purchased the large saw and planing mills from Thom Mark, of Port Arthur, and is engaged extensively in the lumber trade. Mr. Conmee is a man of very great energy and enterprise, and he gives promise of having a very useful legislative career before him.
"How Conmee Got Its Name." http://www.conmee.com/history.html. 9 Dec 2007
The Township of Conmee was named after James Conmee, a prominent local politician and well known businessman and contractor. Mr. Conmee was born in 1848 in Sydenham Township, Upper Canada, son of Matthew Conmee and Rosanna O'Shaughnessy. James was the son of poor Irish immigrants and had little formal schooling according to some accounts. James was legendary for his poor gramatical skills, which seems to support this view. At the age of 15 he enlisted with his brother in the 8th New York Regiment of Cavalry under General Custer. Newspaper and family accounts of this time make James's stint in the cavalry sound like the exploits of a daredevil and man of adventure, but this is highly unlikely as James and his brother had the misfortune to enlist in the last month of the American Civil War.
Conmee came to Fort William (Thunder Bay) in 1872 to work at a sawmill. He quickly saw opportunities for himself however, and by 1876 he held the contract to carry the mail between Silver Islet and Pigeon River. From this Conmee branched out to lumbering and laying track for the Prince Arthur's Landing and Kaministiquia Railway. In 1877 Conmee received the contract to lay the rails for Pacific Railway on government controlled Section A, and then with partner John Donald McLennan, on the stretch between Port Arthur and Current River and on the Michipicoten section north of Lake Superior.
In 1874 James Conmee married Emily Florence Cox, a daughter of Joseph Cox of Meaford, Ontario, in St. Vincent Township, Ontario. They had seven daughters and one son.
James entered public life in 1878 as an Assessor and Tax Collector for the Township of Shuniah. In 1879 he ran for a seat on City Council and became the ward representative for Prince Arthur's Landing South. Conmee had a gift for debate and in December of 1884 he was elected Mayor of Port Arthur. A few months later the Province added another riding in the north called Algoma West, and James jumped at the chance to move into Provincial politics. He ran as the Liberal candidate and won a by-election in 1885. His inaugural speech to the Legislature brought him to the attention of the Toronto press and more importantly, to Oliver Mowats's Ministers. In his speech, James passionately defended Provincial rights. Conmee was soon known as a M.P.P., statesman, patriot and thinker.
In 1885 James Conmee was charged with defrauding the Canadian Pacific Railway on contracts. It took four years but Conmee emerged victorious and his reputation as a fighter grew. Although Conmee had been elected to Provincial Parliament, he continued to operate his other businesses which included the Port Arthur (Ontario) Telephone Company, the Port Arthur Water, Light and Power Company, the Sault Ste. Marie Water, Gas and Light Company and other developments. None of these schemes ever came to much. Conmee was accused by some of using his position to ensure his son-in-law, James Walen, received government contracts, but the working men voters who support Conmee didn't believe the rumours and called Conmee a politician who created jobs. In the early 1890's silver mining collapsed and created a depression in the Thunder Bay area. Although James would hold his Liberal seat until 1904, he sided with his constituents against the Province's new mining legislation which gave them more control over the industry. This action ensured he would not become the Province's first Minister of Mines.
In 1904 James Conmee was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Thunder Bay and Rainy River, and won the seat again in 1908. His primary interest and focus in those years was on the development of water and electric power.
Conmee's reputation grew and the people soon were calling him "Fighting Jim" and the "People's Jim". He shared his constituent's feelings on development in the north and exploitation of its resources. He became a favourite of the Toronto journalists and cartoonists. They marveled that someone who had so little formal education could speak so eloquently and passionately. Conmee was instrumental in the proceedings that gave labour organizations the benefits of the "Lien Act". At the time this Act did not apply to lumbermen and miners, but through Mr. Conmee's work they also obtained the right of liens. James Conmee even wrote a patriotic song called "The National Flag".
Ill health eventually forced James Conmee to retire from politics in 1911. He began to winter in the warmer climate of Arizona and he died there in . He left an estate worth $245,347.00, much of it in property. James Conmee lived to see a wonderful period of development which was largely made possible by his patriotic and tireless effort to push back frontiers against isolation and wildness and replacing it with small trading and mining centres, and subsequently Great Lakes rail and waterway terminals. Conmee's legacy lives on in the Township, street and isle named after him.
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Digital Image Number: I0007593.jpg
Title: "The Circus at Port Arthur. Water Nymph Jim Conmee introduces his owner to his old acquaintances."
Date: [ca. 1910]
Creator: Newton McConnell
Reference Code: C 301
Item Reference Code: C 301, 5632
Subject: Cartoons (commentary),Politics and government
Forms Part of: Click here for information about the group of archival records of which this item forms a part.
"Former Member of Parliment Dies Here: James Conmee of Canada is a Victim of Tuberculosis." Journal Miner, Prescott, AZ, Thurs. 24 July , P1:C1. Available at Google News.
James Conmee, a visitor to Prescott for the past three months, passed away yesterday afternoon from tuberculosis and kidney afflictions.
He came to this section from Southern Arizona, in the hope that his failing health would be benefitted but the long duration of his illness baffled human skill and the inevitable followed, as was expected by his relatives, who accompanied him. During his brief residence the deceased made many friends, and sorrow is expressed that a man of industry, of pleasing personality and, withall, a useful citizen should be summoned.
James Conmee was born near Meaford, Ontario, Canada 65 years ago. As a very young man he settled in what is now the city of Port Arthur, Ontario, then an out-lying post on the north shore of Lake Superior, and now a very important center of Commerce.
Mr. Conmee was a pioneer in the building of what are the cities of Port Arthur and Port William, having constructed the first railroad westward from Port Arthur and Port William to the city of Winnepeg, which now forms part of the Canadian Pacific railroad system. He also started the construction from Port Arthur, westward, of what is now the Canadian Northern railroad system. This road has now over 5,000 miles of railroad in Canada.
Mr. Conmee was a member of the Ontario Legislature for sixteen years, and eight years a member of the Dominion Paliament, and was recog nized as one of the most forceful men in Canadian public life.
Three years ago his health began to fail and in March of this year he came to Arizona in the hope of restoring his health. During the last month he had failed rapidly and death ensued yesterday.
The body will be shipped to his home in Port Arthur Ontario, today.
Mrs. Conmee was with him until a few weeks ago, but went to her home for a short time, and is now on route with her daughter for Prescott. She, unfortunately, is too late and relatives and friends are wiring to hold them on the way.
1881 Canadian Census
Western Algoma Division & Joseph Island
Report: West Algoma page 22; 1987
Sault and District Branch|
Ontario Genealogical Society
Sault Ste. Marie Ont. P6A 6N1
These correspond to the following individuals:
James Conmee (1848 - )
+Emily Florence Cox (1852 - 1933)
Laurel Mary Conmee (1876 - 1943)
Florence Amelia Conmee (1877 - 1884)
Bertha May Conmee (1880 - 1929/30)
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