James Conmee

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James Conmee
James Conmee.png
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Algoma West
In office
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Port Arthur and Rainy River
In office
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Thunder Bay and Rainy River
In office
Succeeded by John James Carrick
Personal details
Born (1848-10-13)October 13, 1848
Sydenham, Canada West
Died July 23, 1913(1913-07-23) (aged 64)
Political party Liberal
Other political
Ontario Liberal Party

James Conmee (October 13, 1848 – July 23, 1913) was an Ontario businessman and political figure. He represented Algoma West from 1885 to 1902 and Port Arthur and Rainy River from 1902 to 1904 in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and Thunder Bay and Rainy River in the Canadian House of Commons from 1904 to 1911 as a Liberal member.[1]


He was born in Sydenham Township, Canada West in 1848, the son of Irish immigrants Matthew and Rosanna (O'Shaughnessey) Conmee. He trained with a New York cavalry regiment near the end of the American Civil War. James was underage when he and his brother John sought adventure and joined the US cavalry.[2] under General Custer.[1] He served as bugle boy and slept in a bag at Custer's feet. He was eventually put in charge of the Indian Scouts and led a group of representatives from 22 Nations. Throughout his life, he kept buckskins for adventures in the wild and was buried in his favourite buckskins.[citation needed] In 1872, at the age of 22 he moved to Fort William to work at a sawmill on the Kaministiquia River. In 1874, he married Emily Florence Cox. From 1876 to 1877, he held the contract to deliver mail between Silver Islet and Pigeon River. He was a contractor involved in laying track for the Canadian Pacific Railway in northern Ontario, later working on contracts for the Algoma Central Railway, Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway and other railways in the region.[2]


Conmee fought and eventually won a lawsuit launched against him and his partner John McLennan by the Canadian Pacific Railway for defrauding the company on their Michipicoten contract.[2][3] Both parties to the lawsuit hired the best lawyers available. With the proceeds from winning this case Conmee established a pro-bono law firm which charged nothing to handle cases of defense against invalid charges.[citation needed] The success and visibility of this case led to his meeting with Sir Wilfrid Laurier and they became best friends and confidants. Sir Wilfred introduced him on the floor of the House of Commons stating to the many lawyers elected that "here is a true lawyer".[citation needed] Laurier is said to have asked "Where did this Conmee come from, and how is it he can come here and teach the lawyers law?"[4] Their friendship and collaboration continued until Conmee's death.

Political career[edit]

In 1878, he became a tax collector for the Municipality of Shuniah. In 1879, Conmee was elected to the municipal council for Port Arthur ward and, in 1884, he was elected mayor of Port Arthur, Ontario. He established the Port Arthur (Ontario) Telephone Company and was also involved in setting up other utility companies. He also served as first President of the Ontario Mining Institute.[2] Conmee ran unsuccessfully in 1896 for the Nipissing seat in the House of Commons before being elected in 1904.[1]


In 1911, Conmee retired from politics due to poor health related to tuberculosis and kidney afflictions.[5] He died in Prescott, Arizona in 1913 and was buried at Port Arthur.[2]

Conmee wrote the lyrics to a patriotic song, The national flag, with music by Henry Herbert Godfrey.[2] This song represents one of the first "National Anthems" of Canada.

Mr. Conmee was an adventurer, entrepreneur, social advocate, and inventor. He introduced the first telephone system to the Head of the Lakes (or Lakehead), subsequently known as Fort William and Port Arthur and eventually Thunder Bay when the two cities amalgamated. He understood the potential of hydro electric power long before it became common. He worked long into the night almost every night in a locked laboratory on various gadgets and inventions including the calculating weighscale.[6] He purchased Nun's Island near Montreal on sight recognizing the potential of the Lachine Rapids for hydro electricity. He also explicitly requested and was given title to all the waters that fed into the Falls and Rapids in order to protect the potential hydro development. This extremely valuable asset was sold for a song when he believed that the purchaser could promote and develop hydro power quicker than he could and he did not want to stand in the way.

St. Joseph's Hospital in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) was established on land donated in the backyard of his homestead. He also provided or arranged all funding for the construction of the hospital. In a show of respect, the only portion of the hospital funded by the Nuns who ran it at the time is the entrance and plaque which still bears his name as of 2007. The heritage homestead was destroyed in 1968 to increase parking space - ironically about the same time as the popular tune about destroying paradise to put up a parking lot.

Conmee was able to secure federal funding to support the development of the Port Arthur harbour[2][7] which played an important role in the later development of the city's economy.

Conmee Township west of Thunder Bay was named after him.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Parliamentarian File from the Library of Parliament
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Scollie, F. Brent (1998). "James Conmee". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  3. ^ Reports of cases decided in the Court of appeal [1876-1900]. Ontario. Court of Appeal. 1886. pp. 744–770. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  4. ^ "Incidents In the Life of James Conmee". Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society. 1983. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  5. ^ Obituary Journal Miner, Prescott, AZ 24 July 1913 P1:C1.
  6. ^ James Conmee of Port Arthur, Ontario. "Automatic Weighing-Scales". US Patent number #407170. Filing date: Nov 1, 1888. Issue date: Jul 16, 1889.
  7. ^ Polling, Gerry (1994-11-13). "Pioneer, railwayman, nation builder". The Way It Was. Chronicle-Journal/Times-News. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  8. ^ "How Conmee got its name". Township of Conmee. Retrieved 2009-09-02. 

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