The son of Thomas Mcilvenna and Sarah Jackson, he was born in Kilwinning, Ayrshire and came to Brockville in 1876. In 1881, he came to Mattawa with the Canadian Pacific Railway. McIlvenna came to North Bay in 1882. He owned property in Fort William and Sault Ste. Marie as well as North Bay. He served as president for the Brotherhood of Railway Engineers.
McIlvenna married Gertrude Landers.
He died in North Bay at the age of 72.
- Gard, Anson Albert (1909). North Bay, the gateway to Silverland : being the story of a happy, prosperous people ... Toronto: Emerson Press. p. 176.
- "James Mcilvenna". Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947, North Bay, , Ontario, 025703, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2426607. familysearch.
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