EWART, JAMES BELL, businessman, justice of the peace, office holder, politician, and gentleman farmer; b. c. 1801 in Surrey, England; m. 23 May 1832 Mary Margaret Crooks, daughter of James Crooks, and they had at least two sons and two daughters; d. 17 Dec. 1853 in Dundas, Upper Canada, and was buried at nearby Crooks’ Hollow (near present-day Greensville).
In 1817 James Bell Ewart immigrated to Upper Canada, where he accepted a clerkship in the large mercantile firm of Thomas Clark* and Samuel Street* at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Three years later, while still in their employ, he opened a general store in Coote’s Paradise (Dundas), near the head of Lake Ontario. He did not move there, however, until 1825, when he left Clark and Street and purchased the Dundas Mills from the estate of Richard Hatt*.
Ewart quickly dominated business at Dundas. Although his success was based on a diversity of enterprise, his principal activities were grain trading and milling at various locations throughout the western regions of the province. Besides the grist-mill at Dundas, with its ancillary cooperage, distillery, and blacksmith shop, he owned mills in Waterloo Township, Galt (Cambridge), Dawn Mills, St George, and Ayr. In partnership with John Gartshore, Ewart financed the establishment of the large Dundas Foundry in 1838. As part of his early mercantile activity he also operated a private bank; then, from 1832 to 1844, he held the Dundas agency of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District, of which he was president in 1841. He took up the agency in Dundas of the Bank of British North America in 1844, possibly because of that institution’s more extensive operations in the western section of Upper Canada.
Like many general merchants of the period, Ewart acted as a land agent for non-resident clients and business associates. A major landowner in Dundas, he also built up extensive property holdings throughout Upper Canada, notably in Waterloo, West Oxford, and Puslinch townships. Shortly before his death he had begun his most ambitious real estate venture, the development of land on Lake Simcoe (now the village of Bell Ewart) into a major port and a depot on the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Rail-road.
Ewart actively supported transportation projects which would enhance the commercial position of Dundas and facilitate his grain trade. A shareholder in the Desjardins Canal Company [see Pierre Desjardins*], he was also a founding director of two road companies: the Guelph and Dundas (incorporated in 1847) and the Dundas and Paris (1850). He was an early promoter of the London and Gore Rail Road (1834) and a director of its successor, the Great Western Rail-Road. Ewart and Sir Allan Napier MacNab* travelled to Great Britain in 1845, at the height of its boom in railway shares, to arrange financing for the Great Western. They were joined in this effort by Peter Buchanan of Glasgow and Malcolm Cowan, a London solicitor. The collapse of the boom that year panicked investors, but Ewart remained sanguine and urged cautious progress on the line which, he maintained, was “no doubt the best in British North America.”
As Dundas’s leading businessman of the period, Ewart was highly visible in the community’s social and political life. He belonged to the St Andrew’s Society, keenly supporting its curling club, and was an active member of the Church of England. The holder of a number of offices and appointments, he was first commissioned a justice of the peace in 1833; from 20 Dec. 1837 to his death he served as postmaster of Dundas. He led the movement for its incorporation as a town in 1847 and two years later succeeded John Paterson as president of the town council.
For most of his career Ewart was a wealthy man; in 1845 his financial worth was estimated at £100,000. His commercial and public success permitted him to enjoy the role of a gentleman farmer at his beloved Carfin Farm, near Dundas, where he raised prizewinning cattle. The farm, which he bequeathed to his eldest son, James Bell, was the part of his estate for which Ewart left the most carefully detailed instructions in his will in 1852, at which time his other interests were suffering. He had experienced heavy losses in the wheat market and in 1846 both Galt Mills and Gartshore’s founding shops in Dundas had burned. Although he was able to finance the reconstruction of both facilities, he was forced to assume a heavy burden of indebtedness on mortgages (£5,000) against his Dundas property alone. At his death the mortgages had not been retired and his creditors were compelled to sue his estate.
AO, MS 35, letter-books, 1839–43: 128; 1844–49: 109; RG 22, ser.155, will of J. B. Ewart. BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 25: 155. Dundas Hist. Soc. Museum (Dundas, Ont.), Richard Hatt, folder no.2, indenture between J. B. Ewart and Hatt estate, 28 Dec. 1830. PAC, MG 24, D 16, 25: 21558–61; RG 31, A1, 1851, Waterloo Township, pt.5: 288; Galt Village: 19; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 474, 511. Simcoe Land Registry Office (Barrie, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Innisfil and Medonte townships: 68–70, 273 (mfm. at AO, GS 5437). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1846, app.F. Cobourg Star, 30 May 1832. Dundas Warder, 13 Nov. 1846; 2 July, 8 Oct. 1847; 7 April 1848; 21 Aug. 1851; 23 Dec. 1853; 31 March 1854. Dundas Weekly Post, 25 Aug., 8 Dec. 1835; 19 Jan. 1836. Western Mercury (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 17 March 1831, 18 Oct. 1832, 18 July 1833. Canada directory, 1851: 74. The history of the town of Dundas, comp. T. R. Woodhouse (3v., [Dundas], 1965–68). Johnson, Hist. of Guelph, 86. Douglas McCalla, “Peter Buchanan, London agent for the Grand Western Railway of Canada,” Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 198–99. R. D. Smith, “The early years of the Grand Western Railway, 1833–1857,” OH, 60 (1968): 205–27.