SHAW, JAMES, businessman and politician; b. 1798 at New Ross, Ireland, son of Richard (?) Shaw and Anne Dowsley; m. Helen Forgie of Glasgow, Scotland; d. 6 Feb. 1878 in Smiths Falls, Ont.
James Shaw was educated in Dublin, Ireland, and emigrated to Upper Canada in 1820. He was employed by the British authorities as clerk of the military settlement at Lanark-on-Clyde (Lanark) and Perth, assisting settlers to get established. After nine years he left to become an overseer, probably in the provisioning of the workers, on the section of the Rideau Canal from Smiths Falls to Bytown (Ottawa). He was a member of the Carleton and Lanark militias and had attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel when he retired in 1860. During the rebellion of 1837–38 he was stationed at Brockville with the 3rd Leeds militia.
Shaw’s economic interests were varied: he opened a general merchandise store and a blacksmith shop in Smiths Falls, where he settled after working on the canal, and he assisted his sons in establishing a general merchandise store and a foundry, and also a newspaper, the British Standard, in Perth. He was involved briefly in banking and he invested in land and in the Brockville and Ottawa Railway.
A political career complemented his business ventures. He actively supported the Conservative party and included among his friends prominent Conservatives of the region such as William*, James*, and Alexander Morris, George Sherwood, Roderick Matheson, Colonel Andrew William Playfair, and James and Bennett Rosamond. The local political offices he held – county and town reeve and councillor of the district of Johnstown – perhaps influenced him to seek other political positions. In 1851 he successfully contested the Lanark riding and, when the constituency was divided, retained the seat of South Lanark in 1854. He lost in 1857, however, in large measure because of his moderate attitude towards Roman Catholic demands for separate schools. Shaw was a staunch Anglican and assisted in the founding of St Johns Church in Smiths Falls. He was sympathetic to the Orange Order, although not a member, and belonged to the freemasons.
Shaw was elected for the Bathurst division to the Legislative Council in 1860, and in 1867 he was appointed to the Senate, having been a supporter of confederation. Politically he was a moderate, a strong supporter of John A. Macdonald*’s conservatism, and he was influential in dispensing patronage for the area.
Shaw’s business ventures proved disastrous; he lost heavily in the crash of 1857–58 because of overspeculation, and the financial difficulties of a son contributed to his business failures in the 1860s. His situation had not improved when the recession of the 1870s began, and he never recovered. The family, however, remained prominent in the area. Shaw was recalled as “Liberal in his opinions and broad in his views upon public questions,” and as “a kind and sympathizing friend . . . . Full of anecdote & repartee he was a great favourite with all who knew him.”
PAC, MG 26, A (Macdonald papers); RG 8, I, A1, 130, 202; RG 9, I, B5, 1–8. Queen’s University Archives, Alexander Morris papers. St Johns Church (Smiths Falls, Ont.), Burial records, entry 38, 9 Feb. 1878. British Whig (Kingston), 8 Feb. 1878. Perth Courier (Bathurst Courier, 1834–57), 1834–Feb. 1878. Can. parl. comp., 1862; 1867; 1871; 1878. Cyclopædia of Can. biog. (Rose, 1888). Andrew Haydon, Pioneer sketches in the district of Bathurst (Toronto, 1925). A summary of the proceedings of the council of the district of Johnstown and the council of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, 1842–1942, comp. William Jelly (Brockville, Ont., 1943).