J. K. L. Ross

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Commander J. K. L. Ross
Commander J.K.L. Ross of Montreal.jpg
Born 31 March 1876
Lindsay, Ontario, Canada
Died 25 July 1951
Fire Island, Jamaica
Residence Montreal
Montego Bay
Education Bishop's College School
McGill University.
Occupation Businessman
Racehorse owner/breeder
Philanthropist
Religion Anglican
Spouse(s) Ethel Matthews
Iris de Lisser
Children James K. M. Ross, Hylda Anne May Ross Hodgson
Parents James Ross & Annie Kerr

Commander John Kenneth Leveson Ross CBE (1876–1951) was a Canadian businessman, sportsman, thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder, and philanthropist. He is best remembered for winning the first United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1919 with his Hall of Fame colt, Sir Barton. In 1911, he set the world record for catching the largest tuna (680lbs) by rod and line at St. Ann's, Nova Scotia. After his father, he was the second Canadian to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Early life[edit]

The Ross House on Peel Street, Montreal, with J.K.L. Ross (pictured standing), 1910

J. K. L. Ross was born in Lindsay, Ontario, the only child of James Leveson Ross, who made his fortune constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway, becoming a prominent art collector and the first Canadian to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. His mother, Annie Kerr (1847-1915), was the daughter of John W. Kerr (1824-1904), of Kingston, New York; a prominent politician with the Democratic Party and formerly the Sheriff of Ulster County, New York. Known as 'Jack' to his friends, Ross grew up in the Golden Square Mile at his parents' French Chateau-style mansion, 3644 Peel Street, designed by architect Bruce Price which was eventually bought by John W. McConnell and donated to McGill University when it was renamed Chancellor Day Hall. Ross was educated at Bishop's College School in Lennoxville, Quebec, and McGill University. He was an enthusiastic Squash and Racquets player, and was on the McGill ice hockey team and a member of the university's Canadian football championship team.

Business ventures[edit]

J.K.L. Ross with his catch - the largest tuna (680lbs) in the world ever caught by rod and line, at St. Anns, Nova Scotia, 1911
J.K.L. Ross House, Peel Street, Montreal. Built 1910

In cooperation with prominent Montreal businessman, Sir Herbert Holt and others, Ross established Côte St. Luc Realties in 1911 which built the town of Hampstead, Quebec. In 1909, he built another home for himself in Montreal at 3647 Peel Street, opposite his father's, now known as J.K.L. Ross House, designed by William Sutherland Maxwell. But, after his father's death in 1913 (when he also inherited $16 million) he moved back to his childhood home and used the second one to house guests, the newer one being too small for parties. It was purchased by Marianopolis College in 1961 and used as administration offices until 1976 when McGill University acquired the property.

At one time, father James Ross owned a controlling interest in Dominion Coal Company and Dominion Iron and Steel Company. As a result, Jack Ross built a summer home at St. Ann's Bay in the northern part of Victoria County, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island. After his father's death, Jack Ross moved to Nova Scotia where for a time he was involved in the management of the companies.

Tuna fishing[edit]

It was while at St. Anns, Nova Scotia that Ross developed a passion for the sport of Deep-sea fishing. He tackled the sport scientifically and was a pioneer among tuna anglers, developing fishing techniques that later became standard practice. He wrote two books on the subject, describing various discoveries and adventures. He had remarkable tenacity, bearing in mind that harnesses were not yet invented, on one occasion he fought a tuna for 19 hours before being forced to cut his line.[1] On August 28, 1911, after a struggle of a mere four hours and forty five minutes, Jack Ross landed a 680 pound tuna which set a record for the largest fish caught with a rod and reel.[2][3][4] The record held for several years until he himself bettered it by catching a 720 pound tuna. That record was broken in 1950 by his son-in-law, Commander Hodgson, who in the same way landed a 997 pound tuna off Cape Breton, and his record still stands today.[5]

World War I[edit]

During World War I, Jack Ross donated three large yachts for use in the war effort by the Royal Canadian Navy and took command of one of them in the North Atlantic. He was made a Commanderof the Order of the British Empire for distinguished naval service. Afterwards, the media would commonly refer to him as "Commander J.K.L. Ross." Ross was the second Canadian (after his father) to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Philanthropy[edit]

James Ross had used his enormous wealth to become a major benefactor to the city of Montreal, Quebec and his son continued the family's philanthropy. In 1916, acting on his late father's desire to support the Royal Victoria Hospital, Jack Ross donated $1 million for the building of the first major addition to the hospital which became known as the Ross Memorial Pavilion, one of Canada's first private patient pavilions.[6][7]

During the First World War Ross donated $500,000 in cash to the Royal Navy as well as three costly patrol vessels. He also gave a further $500,000 to be distributed between the families of enlisted men killed in the war. He donated money to fund a new building (Ross Boarding House) at his alma mater, Bishop's College School, Lennoxville, and also gave liberally to McGill University.

Thoroughbred racing[edit]

Jack Ross owned several riding horses that led to an interest in Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. In 1915 he purchased twelve Thoroughbreds that immediately paid dividends when Damrosch won the 1916 Preakness Stakes. Later that year, he acquired a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) farm property at Vercheres, Quebec where he established his own breeding operation. Ross contracted jockeys Earl Sande, Carroll Shilling and Johnny Loftus, all of whom would be elected to the United States Racing Hall of Fame, plus he hired H. Guy Bedwell who became one of America's leading trainers and who, too, was inducted in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. Running one of the most successful racing stables in North America, at Toronto's Old Woodbine Race Course, his horses won numerous races including five editions each of the Maple Leaf Stakes, the Connaught Cup, and the Grey Stakes. Racing success led Jack Ross to build a second breeding and racing stable near Toronto he called Agincourt Farms and a third such operation in the State of Maryland called the Yarrow Brae Stud Farm.

Sir Barton[edit]

In 1919, Ross owned two of the best three-year-olds in North America. Sir Barton and the 1918 American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, Billy Kelly, finished one-two in the 1919 Kentucky Derby. Sir Barton then went on to win the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to become the first-ever winner of the U.S. Triple Crown. For 1919, Sir Barton was voted American Horse of the Year.

The following year, Sir Barton set a world record for 1 3/16 miles on dirt in winning the August 28, 1920, Merchants and Citizens Handicap at the Saratoga Race Course. However, plagued by tender hooves, Sir Barton was beaten in a now-famous match race on the hard dirt surface of the Kennilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario by Man o' War. In 1957, Sir Barton was inducted in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. [8]

In addition to Sir Barton, notable among the Ross stable of racehorses were:

Financial reverses forced Jack Ross to disband his entire racing operations in 1927. In 1920, he had been appointed president of Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal, and although no longer a stable owner after 1927, he held the position until 1931 when he retired to a home in Jamaica.

Reputation[edit]

Jack Ross was widely respected for his good manners and sportsmanship, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame says that the United States press called him "the best sportsman Canada has ever sent to this country."[10] On one race he put down $20,000 and won back $160,000, but he spotted an irregularity, and although legally he was allowed to keep his winnings he gave $40,000 back to the bookies. Though he betted frequently, he won as often as he lost, but he is remembered on one occasion for winning $50,000 from a notoriously sharp New Yorker.

The Rosses lived lavishly, even by many of his contemporaries standards. Princess Patricia of Connaught became engaged to Alexander Ramsay at Ross' fishing lodge on the Bay of St. Anns, Nova Scotia. She was heard to remark that the Rosses lived more royally than royalty. He did keep thirty servants, but many of his supposed trappings were fictional: He had one or sometimes two Rolls-Royces, not eight, and his single private railway car was not an entire private train.

Bankruptcy[edit]

There was no doubt that Ross was very generous with his money and spent a fortune on parties, horse racing and yachts, but there was no single cause for the financial downfall that befell him in 1928, when he was down to his final $300 after inheriting $16 million fifteen years earlier.[11] His investments in Turner Valley and the Mexican oil wells had been premature, and he had been exceedingly generous in his philanthropy and to many friends alike. His saddest memory was when his friends to whom he'd been so generous before crossed the street when they saw him coming.[12] Certainly his passion for horse racing though cost him dearly as his only son, Jim Ross, explained: "To own a few mediocre horses is an expensive luxury. To own many good ones demands a truly vast sum of money. In those days a large racing establishment, even a highly successful one, never made back its expenses."[13]

Family and final years[edit]

Mrs Ethel (Matthews) Ross, circa 1924
Mrs Hylda (Ross) Hodgson, 1929

In 1902, at St. James Cathedral, Toronto, Ross married his first wife, Ethel (Etheldine) Alice Matthews, daughter of Wilmot DeLoui Matthews (1850-1919), one of Toronto's most influential businessmen, by his wife Annie Jane Love. One of Ethel's brother's was married to Annabel, daughter of Sir Edmund Boyd Osler, and the other married the New York socialite Constance Greening. Her sister lived with the Rosses for some time in Nova Scotia before marrying Bruce MacKinnon and moving to Switzerland.[14] The Rosses were the parents of a son and a daughter,

  • James Kenneth Matthews Ross (1903-1966). Known as Jim, he was educated at Bishop's College School. He shared his father's passion for racing and in 1956 published a book entitled Boots and Saddles: The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing. He married Marjorie Arnott Ballantyne (d.1974), of Montreal. Following her husband's death, she took up residence at the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal. They had one daughter, Joan.[15]
  • Hylda Anne May Ross, married Commander Duncan McIntyre Hodgson, R.C.N., of Montreal, and had 3 daughters. He was the son of 'Archie' Archibald Arthur Hodgson (1869-1960), the scorer of the winning goal for the Montreal Hockey Club in the first Stanley Cup final.[16] His mother, Mary, was a first cousin of his father and a daughter and co-heriess of Duncan McIntyre. As mentioned earlier, Duncan Hodgson broke his father-in-law's world record by a catching a 997 lb Bluefin tuna from a rowing boat with rod and line, without a harness. The record still stands to this day.[17][18]

Two years after Ross was declared bankrupt, Ethel divorced him in 1930. She continued to live in Montreal, remarrying a Boston attorney, which also ended in divorce. Ross was saved from penury by a trust fund. A few years before, the home he had built for himself on Peel Street was valued at over a million dollars but by 1930, with Montreal in a recession following the Wall Street Crash, there were no takers for a mansion that size. As an act of charity Ross's friend, the 2nd Lord Shaughnessy, purchased it from him for $51,000 in 1935.

Ross briefly moved into an apartment before leaving for Jamaica, where he met and married in 1931 his new wife, Iris de Lisser, the daughter of a Jamaican planter and sister of H. G. de Lisser. He bought a house on Montego Bay (that after his death was purchased by Lord Beaverbrook) and was made deputy governor of the island. Apart from occasional visits to Montreal, he remained in Jamaica, fishing and sailing until his death in 1951 - happier (he told his confidantes), than when he was rich. In accordance with his wishes, J.K.L. Ross was buried at sea. On its formation in 1976, he was inducted posthumously into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sports Illustrated - Test Time for Tuna
  2. ^ Amazing Fishing Stories: Incredible Tales from Stream to Open Sea (2011), by Paul Knight
  3. ^ http://content.lib.washington.edu/cgi-bin/viewer.exe?CISOROOT=/fishimages&CISOPTR=49397&CISORESTMP=&CISOVIEWTMP=
  4. ^ Phillips, Hartie I. (1915-07-04). "SALT WATER FISHING NEAR HERE". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  5. ^ Time Magazine - 1950
  6. ^ http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/hospitals/bldg/bldg03.htm
  7. ^ Adams, Annmarie Medicine by Design: The Architect and the Modern Hospital, 1893-1943 (2008) University of Minnesota Press ISBN 978-0-8166-5113-9
  8. ^ Special to The New York Times. (1920-08-29). "SIR BARTON SETS NEW WORLD MARK". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  9. ^ Ross, James K. M. Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing (1956) E. P. Dutton, New York
  10. ^ http://www.canadianhorseracinghalloffame.com/builders/1976/Commander_Ross.asp
  11. ^ Ross, James K. M. Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing (1956) E. P. Dutton, New York
  12. ^ Ross, James K. M. Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing (1956) E. P. Dutton, New York
  13. ^ Ross, James K. M. Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing (1956) E. P. Dutton, New York
  14. ^ Restoring the Spirit: The Beginnings of Occupational Therapy in Canada, 1890-1930, by Judith Friedland, 2011
  15. ^ James Ross - Railroad Builder and Philanthropist
  16. ^ Montreal Gazette - November 24, 1960
  17. ^ Montreal Gazette - May 29, 1953
  18. ^ Tuna Fishing in St. Ann's Bay - Talk with Commander Duncan M. Hodgson, 1991