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MARKS, THOMAS, businessman and politician; b. 21 June 1834 in Kilfinnane (Republic of Ireland), son of Samuel Marks and Mary —; m. 28 July 1875 Agnes Jane Buchanan in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., and they had a son and three daughters, of whom only the eldest, Mary Norah, survived infancy; d. 9 July 1900 in Toronto.

Thomas Marks immigrated to Upper Canada with his family in the 1840s, settling near Bytown (Ottawa) and later moving to the Algoma district. By 1857 he had acquired enough business training and capital to establish a general store at Bruce Mines in partnership with his elder brother, George. Thomas Marks and Brother opened a branch in 1868 at the Landing, which soon became Prince Arthur’s Landing and then Port Arthur (finally Thunder Bay), and another at Sault Ste Marie in 1871. Thomas Marks and Company was founded in 1881 upon the dissolution of the partnership. By this time Thomas had become a driving force behind the development of Prince Arthur’s Landing as a port and a trans-shipment point.

Marks had taken up residence there in 1872, convinced that the recently surveyed town-site offered a promising future as the Lake Superior terminus for the western section of the proposed Canadian transcontinental railway. In 1875, however, the federal Liberal government fixed upon the emerging town of Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay), on the nearby Kaministikwia River, as a more appropriate site. Construction of the line to Manitoba began at once. Earlier Marks, a Conservative, had sided with Liberal interests on the river to lobby against locating the terminus at Nipigon Bay. Now he mobilized his business associates, including his nephews George Thomas Marks* and the Wiley brothers, into a family group to promote the growth of Prince Arthur’s Landing. In 1875 he began a nine-year tenure as reeve of the municipality of Shuniah, founded the area’s first type-set newspaper (the Thunder Bay Sentinel, edited by Michael Hagan), and spearheaded construction of the six-mile-long Prince Arthur’s Landing and Kaministiquia Railway. The much-publicized rivalry between Port Arthur and Fort William had begun.

The local railway’s physical connection with the Pacific railway in 1877 allowed Marks to forward supplies by rail to construction crews along the line. When additional contracts were let early in 1879, he negotiated a partnership with Purcell and Company (Patrick Purcell, John Ginty, and Hugh Ryan), contractors for the 118-mile “Section A,” between English River and Eagle River. In 1881 the federal Conservative government purchased “our own little railway,” as the Prince Arthur’s Landing and Kaministiquia had been called by the Sentinel, and the terminus seemed assured. Marks’s Thunder Bay Dock, Forwarding and Elevator Company, organized the following year, soon boasted the best facilities on the waterfront.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company finalized takeover of the government line to Manitoba in 1883. The following year Prince Arthur’s Landing was incorporated as the town of Port Arthur. Marks, a prominent member of the Anglican congregation and business community there, became its first mayor. Among his many business enterprises were the Northern Hotel Company (incorporated in 1885), the Scottish-built steamship Algonquin, and the so-called hospital elevator leased by Marks, King and Company from the CPR in the 1890s to clean and dry grain, operations which earlier elevators (they were merely bins) could not carry out. As well, Marks was president of the Thunder Bay Colonization Railway (incorporated in 1883 and renamed the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway in 1887).

In 1890, much to the dismay of Port Arthur’s business community, the CPR designated Fort William as terminus and division point [see John McKellar]. Bowed but not beaten, Marks arranged to run the steamer Mocking Bird as a commuter ferry pending a decision to link the two centres either with his steam-railway scheme or with an electric street railway. The latter won out.

Marks lived long enough to see William Mackenzie* and Donald Mann* purchase the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway in 1900, which provided them with rail access to Thunder Bay harbour. Port Arthur finally became a terminus at the beginning of 1902, following completion of their Canadian Northern Railway to Winnipeg, 18 months after Marks’s death in a Toronto hospital from kidney failure.

Thomas Marks appears only briefly on the Canadian stage during development of the transportation corridor between the Prairies and the industrial east. At the local level, however, he played a prominent role as a founding father of Port Arthur and the port of Thunder Bay.

Elinor Barr

AO, MU 2004; RG 22, ser.380, no.160. Bruce Mines Museum (Bruce Mines, Ont.), Customs port reg., 1856, 1858. City of Thunder Bay Records Centre and Arch. (Thunder Bay, Ont.), Town of Port Arthur [Thunder Bay], council minutes. Lakehead Univ. Library Arch. (Thunder Bay), MG 5, no.51 (Flatt coll.), agreement of 16 March 1892. NA, MG 26, A: 217529–31; RG 31, C1, 1871, Bruce Mines, p.23; RG 43, AI, 2, 330, file 4839. National Library of Canada (Ottawa), “Canadian Pacific Railway, returns, 1879–1884.” St John the Evangelist Church (Thunder Bay), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, book 1: 48, 58. Shuniah Municipal Office (Thunder Bay), Shuniah Township, council minutes, 1873–90. Thunder Bay Hist. Museum Soc., File information on the Marks family; Marks Store records, 1868–96; portrait of Thomas Marks. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1879, no.186. Ont., Statutes, 1891, c.93. Walpole Roland, Algoma West, its mines, scenery, and industrial resources (Toronto, 1887), 13. Thunder Bay district, 1821–1892: a collection of documents, ed. and intro. [M.] E. Arthur (Toronto, 1973). Daily Sentinel (Prince Arthur’s Landing, later Port Arthur), 1882–93. Daily Times-Journal (Fort William [Thunder Bay]), 1893–1900, esp. 10 July 1900. Fort William Journal, 1887–99. Weekly Herald and Algoma Miner (Port Arthur), 1882–99. Weekly Sentinel (Port Arthur), 1875–95. J. P. Bertrand, Highway of destiny; an epic story of Canadian development (New York, 1959). G. B. Macgillivray, A history of Fort William and Port Arthur newspapers from 1875 (Fort William, 1968).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Elinor Barr, “MARKS, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marks_thomas_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/marks_thomas_12E.html
Author of Article: Elinor Barr
Title of Article: MARKS, THOMAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: April 17, 2014