INNES, JAMES, newspaperman, politician, and businessman; b. 1 Feb. 1833 in Huntly, Scotland, son of Alexander Innes and Elsbeth Fordyce; m. 30 Sept. 1873 Helen Gerrard, widow of Jonathan Date, in Stratford (London), England; they had no children; d. 16 July 1903 in Sydney, N.S., and was buried in Guelph, Ont.
James Innes taught school in Aberdeen, Scotland, for five years after attending the Huntly and Aberdeen grammar schools. In 1853, following a sojourn in Missouri, he arrived in Upper Canada. He worked as a reporter and journalist in Toronto at the Globe and the British Colonist and in Hamilton at the Morning Banner. He had returned to the Globe to work in its business office when he accepted employment as editor of the Guelph Advertiser in 1861. A year later he joined George Palmer as a co-owner of the Guelph Weekly Mercury. In 1867 Palmer sold out to Innes and John Campbell McLagan, who added a daily edition. After McLagan dissolved the partnership in 1869, Innes operated the journal as sole publisher until 1874, when John A. Davidson, his brother-in-law and office manager, became his partner. In 1873 Innes had amalgamated the Mercury with the Guelph Advertiser. The Guelph Mercury and Advertiser was purchased by his nephew, James Innes McIntosh, and Francis W. Galbraith in 1898, at which time Innes was reportedly the oldest active journalist in Ontario.
Innes’s early associations with Globe publisher and Grit Reformer George Brown* left an indelible mark on his approach towards publishing and politics. This political bias was further fed by Innes’s close relationship with Liberal power-broker Charles Clarke of nearby Elora. His paper provided the foil to Guelph’s Conservative voice, the Herald. During the 36 years that Innes was an owner of the Mercury, it became one of the leading Reform journals in the province. Though known for his moderation, he was quite capable of delivering scathing denunciations of Tory platforms. In 1881, for example, he attacked both the National Policy and the awarding of Canadian Pacific Railway contracts. As mp for Wellington South from 1882 to 1896, he continued to use the paper as a forum for expounding his political views.
Throughout his careers in journalism and politics, Innes retained the respect of Guelphites, who were attracted by his eloquence, warm-heartedness, and sense of fair play. A civic booster from the beginning, he instilled local pride by writing a series of sketches on the early history of Guelph, which ran in the Weekly Mercury from 11 January to 2 August 1866: these remain a key synopsis. Later Innes used his paper to shape local thought on a variety of progressive economic schemes. He applauded new initiatives, among them efforts in 1870 to make Guelph a centre for the manufacture of agricultural implements and the board of trade’s proposal in 1881 to offer bonus incentives to assist industrial expansion.
As was common within Guelph’s commercial industrial élite, Innes accepted various civic leadership roles. He crowned 17 years of service on the Board of Education with a term as chairman in 1882, retiring when he was elected to parliament. He was president of the St Andrew’s Society (1873) and the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Institute (1876), and sat on the library board that in 1883 established the province’s first free library. A member of the Guelph Board of Trade, he was an incorporator in 1884 of the Guelph Junction Railway along with John Belmer Armstrong*, Charles Raymond, and others. He served as well as a founding director of the Guelph and Ontario Investment and Savings Society and the Guelph Light and Power Company; in 1898 he was president of the Dominion Life Assurance Company. The building funds of the Guelph General Hospital and Chalmers Church (Presbyterian) both benefited from his interest.
James Innes died of pneumonia in Sydney while en route to visit a friend in Newfoundland. He left an estate valued at more than $125,000, the largest part of which went to James Innes McIntosh to care for his parents. In a further act of generosity Innes dissolved his nephew’s share of the mortgage on the Mercury and of money owing on equipment.
AO, F 26, MS 76, Innes and Davidson to Clarke, 11 April 1878; RG 22, ser.318, no.5062. City of Guelph, Ont., City Clerk’s Office, Council, minutes, 1851–79 (town of Guelph); 1879–1900 (city of Guelph); Property assessment, assessment rolls, 1861, 1871, 1881. GRO-L, Marriage certificate, St Paul’s (Stratford), 30 Sept. 1873. Guelph Public Library, Douglass coll.; Guelph and Ontario Investment and Savings Soc., board of directors, minutes, 1876–84; McIlwraith coll., Findlay Weaver scrapbook; St Andrew’s Soc. of Guelph, minutes, 1859–1940. Woodlawn Cemetery (Guelph), Geneal. files; Reg. Guelph Evening Mercury, centennial ed., 20 July 1927 (various items concerning Innes, including a picture on p.116). Guelph Mercury, 1860–1904, including trade ed., 23 June 1894. Herald (Guelph), 1860–1904, including illustrated ed., 1895. C. A. Burrows, The annals of the town of Guelph, 1822–1877 (Guelph, 1877). Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. Directory, Guelph, 1873, 1882/83. Guelph, Board of Education, Annual report, 1877 (copy at AO). Historical atlas of the county of Wellington, Ontario (Toronto, 1906); repr. as Illustrated historical atlas of Wellington County, Ontario (Belleville, Ont., 1972), 2. L. A. Johnson, History of Guelph, 1827–1927 (Guelph, 1977). Mercantile agency reference book, July 1881. D. L. Nash-Chambers, “Two steps forward or one step back? The impact of industrialization on community & family in a small industrial city: Guelph, Ontario, 1861–1881”