Main content of the website

About the Name

The Township of Conmee was named after James Conmee, a prominent local politician and well known businessman and contractor. Mr. Conmee was born in 1848 in Sydenham Township, Upper Canada, son of Matthew Conmee and Rosanna O'Shaughnessy. James was the son of poor Irish immigrants and had little formal schooling according to some accounts. James was legendary for his poor grammatical skills, which seems to support this view. At the age of 15 he enlisted with his brother in the 8th New York Regiment of Cavalry under General Custer. Newspaper and family accounts of this time make James's stint in the cavalry sound like the exploits of a daredevil and man of adventure, but this is highly unlikely as James and his brother had the misfortune to enlist in the last month of the American Civil War.

Conmee came to Fort William (Thunder Bay) in 1872 to work at a sawmill. He quickly saw opportunities for himself however, and by 1876 he held the contract to carry the mail between Silver Islet and Pigeon River. From this Conmee branched out to lumbering and laying track for the Prince Arthur's Landing and Kaministiquia Railway. In 1877 Conmee received the contract to lay the rails for Pacific Railway on government controlled Section A, and then with partner John Donald McLennan, on the stretch between Port Arthur and Current River and on the Michipicoten section north of Lake Superior.

In 1874 James Conmee married Emily Florence Cox, a daughter of Joseph Cox of Meaford, Ontario, in St. Vincent Township, Ontario. They had seven daughters and one son.

James entered public life in 1878 as an Assessor and Tax Collector for the Township of Shuniah. In 1879 he ran for a seat on City Council and became the ward representative for Prince Arthur's Landing South. Conmee had a gift for debate and in December of 1884 he was elected Mayor of Port Arthur. A few months later the Province added another riding in the north called Algoma West, and James jumped at the chance to move into Provincial politics. He ran as the Liberal candidate and won a by-election in 1885. His inaugural speech to the Legislature brought him to the attention of the Toronto press and more importantly, to Oliver Mowats's Ministers. In his speech, James passionately defended Provincial rights. Conmee was soon known as a M.P.P., statesman, patriot and thinker.

In 1885 James Conmee was charged with defrauding the Canadian Pacific Railway on contracts. It took four years but Conmee emerged victorious and his reputation as a fighter grew. Although Conmee had been elected to Provincial Parliament, he continued to operate his other businesses which included the Port Arthur (Ontario) Telephone Company, the Port Arthur Water, Light and Power Company, the Sault Ste. Marie Water, Gas and Light Company and other developments. None of these schemes ever came to much. Conmee was accused by some of using his position to ensure his son-in-law, James Walen, received government contracts, but the working men voters who support Conmee didn't believe the rumours and called Conmee a politician who created jobs. In the early 1890's silver mining collapsed and created a depression in the Thunder Bay area. Although James would hold his Liberal seat until 1904, he sided with his constituents against the Province's new mining legislation which gave them more control over the industry. This action ensured he would not become the Province's first Minister of Mines.

In 1904 James Conmee was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Thunder Bay and Rainy River, and won the seat again in 1908. His primary interest and focus in those years was on the development of water and electric power.

Conmee's reputation grew and the people soon were calling him "Fighting Jim" and the "People's Jim". He shared his constituent's feelings on development in the north and exploitation of its resources. He became a favourite of the Toronto journalists and cartoonists. They marveled that someone who had so little formal education could speak so eloquently and passionately. Conmee was instrumental in the proceedings that gave labour organizations the benefits of the "Lien Act". At the time this Act did not apply to lumbermen and miners, but through Mr. Conmee's work they also obtained the right of liens. James Conmee even wrote a patriotic song called "The National Flag".

Ill health eventually forced James Conmee to retire from politics in 1911. He began to winter in the warmer climate of Arizona and he died there in 1913. He left an estate worth $245,347.00, much of it in property. James Conmee lived to see a wonderful period of development which was largely made possible by his patriotic and tireless effort to push back frontiers against isolation and wildness and replacing it with small trading and mining centres, and subsequently Great Lakes rail and waterway terminals. Conmee's legacy lives on in the Township, street and isle named after him.