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James Kewley Ward

Epithet: Businessman, benefactor, Canadian politician (1819-1910)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

John Ward, a native of Durham and a soldier of the Duke of Atholl's private army, retired to live in Peel, where he married Peel woman Elizabeth Kewley and died in 1834. The fourth of their six children, James Kewley Ward, was to find fame and fortune in North America. After the Corn Riots of 1825, in which John, a special constable, played an unpopular part, the family moved to Douglas. It is said that this move was made to escape the opprobrium of the people of Peel, for Mr Ward Senior had called on the militia based at Castletown for help to suppress the rioters. James attended school at May's Academy in Douglas, but the family kept their connection with Peel, attending the Wesleyan Chapel, particularly the 1839 laying of the foundation stone and the opening of the Centenary Chapel.

After his apprenticeship as a joiner, James Ward emigrated to the USA in 1842; the voyage from Liverpool took 53 days. First he settled in New York state where he had various jobs, including skipper of a canal boat. Later, in Troy NY, he worked as a clerk at a timber mill which eventually he took over as owner. He was also extensively engaged in lumber operations in Steubori County. In the 1850s, when timber had become difficult to obtain in that area, he moved across the border to Quebec where he purchased a lumbering establishment with timbered lands on the Maskinonga River. After ten years he moved to Three Rivers, purchasing a mill on the St Maurice. In 1872 he established the Mona Sawmills in Westmount, Montreal, having in connection with it extensive timber limits on the River Rouge and other tributaries.

He also became involved in other businesses as director of Montreal Cotton Co. and president of the Coaticook Cotton Co. and Magog Textile Print Co. management boards. He became a member of the Montreal Board of Trade in 1887 and served on the Council of that body.

In politics, Ward was mayor of Cote St Antoine for nine of the eighteen years he was a town councillor, giving to the city a businesslike and progressive administration which brought about much-needed reforms and improvements. In 1882 and again in 1887 he unsuccessfully contested Montreal West for the House of Commons General Elections, but on 14th June 1888 he was appointed to the Legislative Council and in 1903 he was made a member of the Council of Public Instruction. He remained active in the work of the Legislative Council until his death on 2nd October 1910 at the age of 91. An obituary noted:

He was a Liberal in politics and his position upon any vital issue was never an equivocal one; he stood stalwartly in defence of what he believed to be right and for the best interests of the province at large. He was a man of broad vision, whose public service was characterised by no petty personal prejudice. Duty was his watchword in public office and he seemed to view a vital question from every possible standpoint.

Ward was for many years chairman of the Westmount School Commissioners, and in June 1895 the board presented him with a portrait of himself in oils in acknowledgement of his services to the cause of education in that district. Amongst other public institutions having to do with welfare and benefit of the unfortunate, designed to alleviate hardship for the needy, were the Montreal General Hospital and the House of Industry an Refuge of which he was a governor. He was president of the Protestant Hospital for the Insane, and also of the St George's Society and other organisations, a director of the Sailors' Institute and of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.

He was a member of the Methodist Church, and in 1848 married Eliza King of London, England, but she died in 1854; in 1859 he married Lydia Trenholme, a member of a well-known family from Kingsey, PQ.

During his life in Canada Ward never forgot his homeland, contributing generously to many Manx charities. From 1852 onwards, he frequently visited the Island, maintaining his interest in Peel, firstly in 1870 by donating a public clock for installation in the tower of St Peter's Church, at that time still the Parish Church of Kirk German. This reminder of Ward still stands in Peel Market Place; the church has been demolished but the tower and clock, as well as part of the chancel wall, have been preserved. A public clock would have been a real asset at that time, before the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time. At a dinner held in his honour James Ward was presented with an illuminated address by Peel's High Bailiff. His charitable work included £40 per annum donated to charities in Douglas, Patrick and Peel. His legacy to the needy in Peel is still extant. He also devised 16 and 17 Strand Street, Douglas to be divided equally between Noble's Hospital and the now defunct House of Industry.

The Ward family had a connection with the parish of Patrick, for a dwelling at Shenvalley, just to the south of Patrick village, was known as Ward's House and James Ward gave a donation towards the cost of building the present parish church at Patrick. Also, in 1869, he had a headstone erected at the family grave in Patrick Graveyard.

In November 1905, his offer of £1500 to pay for the erection of a public library in Peel was gladly received, initially by Peel Town Commissioners and then, after a plebiscite, by the ratepayers of Peel, who would have to bear some of the costs entailed in such a project. This was at a rate of one penny (1d.) in the pound, i.e. about 0.5%. After some discussion about a site, a foundation stone was laid in September 1906, appropriately enough in Castle Street, exactly where the Ward family cottage had once stood. Just over a year later, the Ward Public Library was officially opened, housing a comprehensive collection of books, including 2000 volumes donated by James Kewley Ward. Somewhat mixed in architectural style (Arts and Crafts with a bit of classical embellishment), the building, in addition to the lending section, has a reference room, erected in 1951 with help from the Carnegie Trust, housing a bookcase in memory of Sophia Morrison. Peel's Ward Public Library still with almost 700 subscribers, is a great asset to the town as its founder intended.

Biography written by Leslie Quilliam and Victor Kneale.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.453-5.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 9 September 1819

Date of death: 2 October 1910


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