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THEN AND NOW: James Ross left his mark on Simcoe County

Ross was a businessman before getting into politics, eventually becoming county warden

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, as well as the story behind them.

James Ross farm implements (143 Dunlop St. E.)

James Ross’s well-stocked store in the Boys Block had all the latest machinery needed in the farm industry.

He was considered an experienced implement dealer and was an agent for the Massey Manufacturing Company before it merged to become Massey-Harris.

Business was good. Not only did Ross specialize in farming supplies, but he also carried household items such as organs and sewing machines.

Despite this prosperous emporium, farming was Ross’s primary occupation.

James was the son of William Ross and Lillias Clunas, of Dyke, Morayshire, Scotland. The Highland couple came to Canada in 1835, and James was born in Kingston two years later.

As a young man, James courted Euphemia Jane Pringle of the Napanee area, the only daughter of James and Mary Ann Pringle. The couple married in Ashburn, a hamlet of Whitby, in the summer of 1858.

Life in Ashburn was good for James, a successful businessman, and his wife, Jane.

Until it wasn’t.

When required to redeem a promissory note, which he had guaranteed, James lost everything.

His father-in-law’s situation wasn’t much better — a serious drinking habit had depleted his finances.

The two men now found themselves assessing a potential lifeline to save them from their troubles.

James’s mother-in-law, Mary Ann, had been left a parcel of land on Lot 21 of the 6th Line of Oro by her father, Andrew Masson. Ross and Pringle made the trip to the ‘wilderness’ to see if the property would be decent for farming, once cleared of trees. They must have been suitably convinced or just desperate, as they built two log houses, plus a workshop with a cellar, before heading back to Ashburn.

The two families said goodbye to relatives and friends in Ashburn and, in 1864, began the arduous journey by team and wagon to Oro and their new life.

James Ross was about to start a new career as a farmer and James Pringle, having taken the temperance pledge, was starting afresh as well. Fittingly, New Hope Farm would be the name of their new home — perhaps inspired by the Clan Ross coat of arms motto: ‘spem successus alit,’ which means ‘success nourishes hope.’

Launching his implement business not long after arriving in the area and starting a farm, Ross was busy supporting the community of Guthrie as well. By 1866, the Guthrie Presbyterian Church was fully organized, although the frame building wouldn’t be replaced by the current brick church until 1892 (now the United Church). James was one of the first elders, superintendent of the Sunday school for more than 20 years and clerk of session.

Beside his faith, education was important and of great interest to Ross, who served as a school trustee and secretary-treasurer of the board for many years. He also found time to be a justice of the peace.

Although often suggested as a candidate in the East Simcoe Liberal party, Ross was not interested. He preferred to be active in the municipal affairs of Oro, representing the township on county council as deputy or reeve.

Ross’s farm implement store was thriving, allowing him to enlarge his farm holdings by purchasing land at Lot 21, Concession 5, about 1885.

The Ross family had nine children: William, Lillias, Arthur, May, Thomas, Euphemia, Agnes, Victor and Fred.

Understandably, the log house could no longer accommodate this large family. In 1888, construction of a new home began. It was a massive project. The stone foundation of the house was more than two feet thick, the walls of the ground floor of the home were three bricks thick, and the walls of the upper floors were two bricks thick.

Reportedly, 92,000 bricks were required to build the house. The bricks, supplied by Freek’s brickyard in Barrie, were loaded by hand and, upon arrival in Oro, unloaded by hand. It was son Tom’s job to use a team of horses to haul the bricks from Barrie.

In 1895, James Ross, well acquainted with municipal law and highly respected in the township, was elected warden of the county. Sadly, that same year, his beloved wife, Jane, much admired in the Guthrie community, died. The funeral was held at her residence, with her large family in attendance, before she was buried in the Guthrie cemetery.

James, the young man who lost it all, conquering staggering misfortune and adversity and establishing a successful farm and business, becoming a highly respected and well-regarded member of the community, joined his partner 22 years later. His family and friends mourned the loss of this good and decent man: his kindness, his devotion, a life of service and a fine character.

Four of the Ross boys became doctors. William, Arthur and Victor completed their post-graduate training in both London and Edinburgh, while Capt. Fred’s post-graduate experience was as a medical officer in the Royal Medical Corps during the First World War.

Tom, who took over the farm from his father in the early 1900s, was elected to the House of Commons for the Simcoe North riding in 1921.

Sadly, Tom sustained serious injuries as a result of a farm accident, and New Hope Farm was sold about 1940.