PLUMMER, WILLIAM HENRY, businessman and politician; b. 1 April 1846 in Mary Tavy, England, son of William Plummer and Elizabeth Williams; m. 12 Sept. 1879 Maria Amelia Wiley in Prince Arthur’s Landing (Thunder Bay), Ont., and they had a daughter and a son; d. 13 Oct. 1911 in Toronto and was buried in Sault Ste Marie, Ont.
At the age of 13 William H. Plummer immigrated to Canada after his father had been appointed mine manager in Bruce Mines, at the north end of Lake Huron. In 1860 he acquired a job there in the store of George and Thomas* Marks. The family moved when his father became an Indian superintendent in 1868, but William and his brother John W., a mining engineer, stayed. About 1871 William settled in Sault Ste Marie, a village of some 900 people, where he started his own mercantile firm.
During the next decade W. H. Plummer and Company and the village both prospered. Between 1887 and 1894 the Sault underwent a boom prompted by the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, an international railway bridge, and the Sault Ste Marie Canal. The population reached 2,400 and Plummer was well situated to benefit from this growth. He owned the only dock capable of accommodating passenger vessels, operated a number of steamers, a lumberyard, and a hardware store, and about 1887 built the Algonquin Hotel. In 1888 he and James Conmee of Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) headed the formation of a syndicate to harness electric power on the St Mary’s River.
A confirmed Conservative and an “excellent platform speaker,” Plummer employed his business reputation to win elections and his political influence to acquire positions, such as the post of chief magistrate. He first sat on village council in 1876 and was reeve in 1878–79. In the provincial election of 1883, though backed by Algoma mp Simon James Dawson*, Plummer was defeated by Robert Adam Lyon* in an unruly contest. Returning to municipal politics, he served as mayor in 1892–95, 1899–1900, and 1903–5.
Typical of many civic boosters of the era, Plummer considered his town’s potential to be limitless and sometimes he mixed the public interest with his own. Under his leadership the Sault embarked on an ambitious program of municipal expansion: it acquired his dock – Plummer became public wharfinger in the process – and invested heavily in his syndicate’s unfinished powerplant. One resident noted ruefully in 1894 that among the accomplishments of Plummer’s first term were two schoolhouses, a firehall, and “miles of sidewalk running into the bush.” More serious was the collapse of the power project, which left the town $263,000 in debt. Even after its stake was acquired by exuberant American entrepreneur Francis Hector Clergue*, municipal finances remained precarious. During Plummer’s last term, the town owed banks more than $300,000; the mayor himself had to admit in 1904 that “there seemed to have been a great deal of money wasted.” In the end, the development of blast-furnaces, pulp mills, chemical works, and railways would ensure the long-term viability of Sault Ste Marie.
Plummer retired from W. H. Plummer and Company in 1906. He retained some business interests, however, and became active as a stockbroker, possibly with links to Toronto, where his son, Harry Lynne, started a brokerage firm in 1908 and his brother James Henry* was an international financier and industrialist. At his death he left an estate worth $382,400, much of it real estate at the Sault.
Plummer was one of those rare individuals who were blessed with vision, energy, and a keen sense of business. In addition to his political involvement, he was active in the militia and St Luke’s Anglican Church, and was a founding member of the local masonic lodge and St George’s Society. His home, Lynnehurst, was long a “social centre where everyone was made welcome and hospitably entertained by his wife,” who died in 1902. Before Plummer’s retirement, one resident concluded that the “father of the Canadian Sault” had “succeeded in centring, to a very great degree, the life of the place around him.”
AO, F 273, Sault Ste Marie corr., 1884–89; RG 22-360, nos.312, 718; RG 80-5-0-85, no.10472; RG 80-8-0-421, no.5490. NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Bruce Mines, Ont.: 48. Sault Star (Sault Ste Marie, Ont.), 21 May 1903; 28 Jan., 24 March 1904; 19 Oct. 1911. E. H. Capp, The story of Baw-a-ting, being the annals of Sault Sainte Marie (Saint Ste Marie, 1904; repr. 1907). J. O. Plummer, Canadian pioneers: “History of the Plummer family” ([Toronto], 1958; copy in Sault Ste Marie Public Library). Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell).
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