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LITTLE, JAMES, lumberman and conservationist; b. in 1803 near Londonderry (Northern Ireland); m. in 1832 Anne Youell, and they had at least three sons; d. 2 Oct. 1883 at Montreal, Que.

James Little immigrated to British North America in 1823 and settled near St Catharines, Upper Canada. He became acquainted with William Hamilton Merritt*, worked on the Welland Canal, and, at Merritt’s urging, became a contractor on the project. When he encountered financial difficulties and was imprisoned for debt in 1832, Merritt secured his release and in 1833 employed him in the Grand River Navigation Company. Little surveyed the river for dam and lock sites, participated in construction, and managed the company from 1835 to 1840. In 1834 he purchased land at Seneca, Haldimand County, for his home and built a general store there. By 1840 he appears to have become an independent and established businessman and land speculator; in 1842 he applied for a large amount of Indian land in the area, including lots in the prosperous nearby community of Caledonia. Little offered to pay a set amount for each lot regardless of its value, and tried to have the Crown Lands Department establish the selling price. The chief superintendent of Indian affairs, Samuel Peters Jarvis*, opposed the sale, suspecting that Little wanted the land for speculation. In 1846 a compromise was reached and Little purchased the land for £1,300 which went to the Six Nations trust fund. In 1854 he purchased more town lots in Caledonia.

In 1844 Little had built a flour-mill on the south side of the Grand River at Caledonia and by 1848 he had entered the timber trade. From his own lands and from limits leased in Brant, Elgin, Norfolk, and Wentworth counties he took out square timber and naval stores including masts for the British market, and he manufactured sawn lumber for the American market at a mill in Caledonia. After the signing of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854 his business with Buffalo, N.Y., and Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio, dominated his operations. Little expanded his lumbering activities during the late 1850s until he had several mills in the counties in which he had timber limits, and in the 1860s he even operated in the southern Georgian Bay area. He also established carding- and fulling-mills at Caledonia.

In addition to his business interests Little took an active role in community affairs. He was a founding member of the Wesleyan Methodist chapel at Seneca in 1843 and postmaster for the area from 1839 until 1860. In an effort to get railway facilities for Caledonia, Little persuaded the Hamilton and Port Dover Railway in 1853 to run its line through the village. The outcome of his endeavour was unfortunately not satisfactory. The village of Caledonia was obliged to pledge £10,000 in debentures to the line although actual construction of the railway was not started until 1873, and the citizens were left with a heavy tax burden.

By the late 1860s Little found that timber supplies were running out in southwestern Ontario. He blamed this problem on the Reciprocity Treaty which he contended had both stimulated production and driven down prices. The Americans, he charged, had taken Canadian supplies at a low cost and saved their own forests for future use. Faced with exhausted pineries he transferred his operations to the Rivière Saint-Maurice region of Quebec and in 1873 he moved to Montreal where he became a timber broker and speculated in timber limits. The realization that southwestern Ontario had been gutted of pine, and his forced relocation, profoundly affected his thinking. He began to reflect upon the wasteful practices of Canadian lumbermen and the possibility that wood supplies in North America would soon be exhausted.

The results were two pamphlets, The lumber trade of the Ottawa valley and The timber supply question, of the dominion of Canada and the United States of America. Both booklets carried basically the same message: the timber supplies of North America were being destroyed by fire and reckless lumbering, and strict government regulation of the remaining forest areas was necessary if a perpetual yield was to be maintained. Little’s greatest fear was that once the Americans had used up all their available sources they would turn to Canada for lumber, and gut all the forests of Ontario and Quebec within five years. He wanted classification of land for agricultural or forest use, forest reserves, reforestation, and strict protection of young trees. Most Canadians greeted Little’s suggestions with scepticism and considered him a crank. Only in the lumbering community did his ideas elicit support. Many operators did not agree that the United States would become dependent on Canada for wood products, but they did sympathize with his call for more government regulation to reverse the steady decline in the quality of their timber resources.

Little was undeterred by the cool response. He studied American conservationist thought and in 1874 began to correspond with Franklin Benjamin Hough, the pioneer protagonist of forestry in the United States. Hough invited him to give a paper on “The white pine forests of Canada” to the founding meeting of the American Forestry Congress, held at Cincinnati, Ohio, in April 1882. Little accepted and also formed an unofficial delegation from Quebec, including Henri-Gustave Joly*, to attend the meeting. In Cincinnati the Quebec group was joined by members of the Ontario Fruit Growers’ Association which was part of the official Ontario delegation. The Canadians in attendance were in the forefront of those who asserted that fire, wasteful cutting practices, poor wood utilization, and improper land clearance were wiping out the forests of North America. Indeed so enthusiastic was the response of the Canadian delegates that the Americans agreed to meet again soon in Montreal.

Little threw himself into organizing the Montreal conference. He pressed the Quebec Limitholders’ Association to have a good attendance of its members. He was successful in gaining the association’s support and consequently the three-day conference in August 1882 provided an excellent platform for discussions between conservationists and lumber operators. The conference’s committee on forest fires, chaired by Pembroke lumberman Peter White*, and including James Kewley Ward, John Bryson, and Little’s son William, all prominent lumbermen, was particularly effective. The committee recommended that all pine and spruce lands unfit for settlement should be reserved for lumbering, that brush burning by settlers be prohibited in the summer and autumn, and that fire districts be established and policed by officers with magisterial powers. The committee also suggested that the cost of maintaining this fire prevention system be met by a moderate tax on the timber operators. Little was proud that the forest industry had taken such a positive approach to forest protection.

Unfortunately he did not live to see the immediate results of the Montreal conference, which included the enactment of forest fire regulations in Ontario modelled largely on the committee on forest fires’ recommendations, and the appointment in 1883 of a federal forestry commissioner, J. H. Morgan, to study forest conservation problems.

Robert Peter Gillis

James Little was the author of Information for the public: the case of the Indian Department, in reference to the Grand River settlers . . . (Hamilton, [Ont.], 1852); The lumber trade of the Ottawa valley, with a description of some of the principal manufacturing establishments (Ottawa, 1871; 3rd ed., 1872); “The timber question,” Montreal Horticultural Soc. and Fruit Growers’ Assoc. of the Prov. of Quebec, Report (Montreal), 6 (1880): 14–19; and The timber supply question, of the dominion of Canada and the United States of America (Montreal, 1876).

PAC, MG 24, E1, 7: 800–1; 8: 922–25; 10: 1210–13; 13: 1964; MG 28, III26, 102; RG 1, E1, 68: 102; L3, 297, L 2/4; RG 10, A1, 7: 3592–612; RG 15, DII, 1, v.298, file 62441; RG 68, Index to Indian and Ordnance land, 1845–67. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1846, I: app.F. Ont., Commissioner of Agriculture and Arts, Annual report (Toronto), 1882, app.C. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 1883. Canada directory, 1851. Can., Prov. of, Dept. of the Postmaster General, List of post offices in Canada, and the names of the postmasters (Quebec and Toronto), 1854–60. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan, 1912). J. E. Defebaugh, History of the lumber industry of America (2v., Chicago, 1906–7), II: 148. R. S. Lambert and Paul Pross, Renewing nature’s wealth; a centennial history of the public management of lands, forests & wildlife in Ontario, 1763–1967 ([Toronto], 1967), 178–79. A. R. M. Lower, The North American assault on the Canadian forest: a history of the lumber trade between Canada and the United States . . . (Toronto and New Haven, Conn., 1938; repr. New York, 1968), 146. R. B. Nelles, County of Haldimand in the days of auld lang syne (Port Hope, Ont., 1905). A. D. Rodgers, Bernhard Eduard Fernow: a story of North American forestry (Princeton, N.J., 1951). A short history of Caledonia, ed. A. H. Arrell (Caledonia, Ont., n.d.). R. P. Gillis, “The Ottawa lumber barons and the conservation movement, 1880–1914,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 9 (1974), no.1: 14–30. B. E. Hill, “The Grand River Navigation Company and the Six Nations Indians,” OH, 63 (1971): 31–40.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Peter Gillis, “LITTLE, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/little_james_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/little_james_11E.html
Author of Article: Robert Peter Gillis
Title of Article: LITTLE, JAMES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: August 20, 2014