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BEATY, JAMES, shoemaker, politician, businessman, and office holder; b. 1798 in Killashandra (Republic of Ireland), the youngest of five sons of Robert Beaty; m. 26 Dec. 1822 in York (Toronto) Sarah Anne Armstrong (d. 1829), and they had two children; d. 5 March 1892 in Toronto.
James Beaty learned his trade in Ireland, and then emigrated to New York City about 1815. In the spring of 1818 he moved to York, where he entered into a partnership in bootmaking and shoemaking with William Armstrong. The two lived and worked in the same house, and their connections were further strengthened by Beaty’s marriage to Armstrong’s sister. In 1818 his brother John had begun to farm in Trafalgar Township, in Halton County. Later, a number of nephews, including several from John’s family, would work in Beaty’s Toronto enterprises; one, James Beaty Jr, had a distinguished legal and political career in Toronto.
Beaty, who later claimed to have carried the Orange flag in the town’s first Orange parade, took the reform side in politics, although Orangemen in Toronto were to be prominently associated with the conservatives. Reform in Toronto had, of course, its own links with Protestant Ireland, for example through the Baldwin family. Moreover, shoemakers had a strong tradition of radicalism. Beaty himself had left the Church of England for a dissenting sect, the Disciples of Christ [see James Black*]. Tories might criticize his “unpolished delivery,” but Beaty was effective in the sometimes rough debates of local politics. In 1836, when reformers regained a majority on Toronto City Council, he was elected a councilman for St Lawrence Ward, a particularly Irish district. It was he who moved that Thomas David Morrison* be mayor for the year. Equally, he played a role of some prominence in the public meeting on 10 Oct. 1836 at which the City of Toronto Political Union was established. He participated in organizing the Home District Mutual Fire Insurance Company and also the Bank of the People which had its office in a house he owned. In these ventures he came into close contact with Francis Hincks*. Beaty was important enough in boosting and perhaps, at times, financing Hincks in the 1840s to put the latter clearly in his political debt.
Beaty and Armstrong were still listed as shoemakers in the 1837 city directory, and as late as 1842 the assessment roll showed them as joint owners of their King Street location. By 1843, however, the property was in Beaty’s name, and he was listed as a leather merchant. He had always traded in leather, having had connections in New York since his time there, but now he specialized in the trade, which chiefly involved selling American leather to the shoemaking and saddlery community in and around Toronto. In addition, he speculated modestly, apparently with success, in residential real estate.
The 1840s were not good years for reformers in Toronto, but in 1846 Beaty won a seat as an alderman for St Lawrence Ward. In 1847 no fewer than 14 of the 24 members of city council were Protestant Irishmen; the majority of the Protestant Irish in Toronto, including most of those on council in the mid 1840s, were conservative. Beaty was joined on council in 1847 by another Irish reformer with whom he would be much linked, Dr Joseph Workman. In the mid winter provincial election of 1847–48, Beaty was involved in Hincks’s campaign in Oxford, and then carried the reform colours alone, unsuccessfully, in Toronto. He described himself in December as “a mechanic [who] had risen to independence by his own industry, . . . a humble citizen untrammelled by any party ties – the advocate of equal rights and equal justice to all social classes.” In line with reform policy and to his credit, he made clear that French Canadians and Roman Catholics were among those entitled to equal justice. He had already earned ministerial gratitude in October 1843 by engineering a public meeting in Toronto that supported the reform government’s decision to move the seat of government from Kingston to Montreal. With Workman, he resigned from city council in July 1849 – others had resigned in April – in a belated response to its refusal to condemn a Toronto riot against the Rebellion Losses Bill [see James Bruce*]. In November 1853, however, a mass resignation of councillors protesting council’s refusal to condemn Mayor John George Bowes* for his role in a conflict of interest scandal, the “£10,000 job” [see Sir Francis Hincks], would lead to by-elections that returned Beaty briefly to council as a supporter of Bowes.
Beaty’s impeccable reform credentials and his “bosom” friendship with Hincks (as George Brown* described it to Robert Baldwin*) placed Beaty well to benefit from the reformers’ return to power in 1847–48, despite his personal defeat. He was, for example, soon appointed to the board of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, a position he would hold for at least a decade, undoubtedly in support of Workman, who became its superintendent in 1853. More significant were the business opportunities that began to appear at the municipal level as a consequence of municipal incorporation, assessment law reform (which facilitated the raising of tax revenue), and rapid local growth. Beaty had learned much from his years on city council and its committees. Thus, in 1848 he was one of the founding directors of the Consumers’ Gas Company, which successfully challenged Toronto’s existing gas company.
In 1850, in what appeared to be a coup, he used the knowledge he had acquired on council and his ties to Hincks, now provincial inspector general, to outmanœuvre the York County Council and buy from the province the three main toll-roads leading into the city. The purchase was made by a chartered company, the Toronto Roads Company, of which he was effectively the sole proprietor. In a transaction defended by the Globe, then a government newspaper, but denounced in August by William McDougall*’s Clear Grit North American as “the boldest and most flagrant piece of corruption ever perpetrated by a Canadian government,” Beaty pledged to pay £75,100 over 21 years in return for the right to collect tolls on the roads as well as the obligation to maintain them. For two years this seemed to be a successful arrangement, as revenues rose rapidly, though only to a level that was not quite sufficient to cover interest charges on the capital. But the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Rail-road, completed in 1853, began to draw off trade from the Yonge Street route. Curiously, Beaty himself was considerably involved in railways, as a director of the Toronto and Guelph and then for a number of years of the Grand Trunk, and as president of an 1853 promotion, the Toronto Locomotive Manufacturing Company, the board of which also included Bowes and Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski.
By 1856 the roads company was substantially in arrears on its payments. It then made the first of at least two compromises with the provincial government. Neither worked out, and in 1863 the roads reverted to the province. They then passed to York County for a fraction of what the county would have paid 13 years before. In 1858, when he had explored the company’s default on its payments, John Langton, the respected provincial auditor, accepted its figures and at least part of its case. Two years later, however, the Globe, now an opposition newspaper, described Beaty’s original deal in scathing terms, despite his apparent failure to show a profit. “Of all the numerous cases of Executive malversation and actual stealing of public money, . . . the york road job . . . is, perhaps, the most daring and most flagitious.”
The success of the Consumers’ Gas Company had prompted a group, including a number of men closely tied to Hincks such as Samuel Zimmerman*, James Hervey Price*, Frederick Chase Capreol*, and Joseph Curran Morrison*, to organize the Metropolitan Gas and Water Company in 1853. There was no mention of Beaty in its charter, but by late 1856, if not sooner, he controlled it, although Capreol continued to act as its spokesman. The company had powers to build gasworks and waterworks in Toronto and other municipalities, and, following the then-developing practice of municipal support for railways, with which Zimmerman and others were abundantly familiar, the company hoped to raise initial capital by selling shares to municipalities. A revision of the charter in 1855 provided that Toronto might set a water-rate to be collected by the company. Under the original charter, the city was authorized to buy the company, but only if it paid a premium of not less than 20 per cent of the “amount actually expended.” By the time the city obtained the power to build its own waterworks, in 1857, the company was in a position to claim that it possessed vested rights, which the city was required to buy out should it wish to collect a water-tax in support of municipal works.
The promoters had a strong basis for a profitable franchise, provided the city could be persuaded to support the company. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the service provided by the existing waterworks, and in 1856–57 Toronto’s options appeared to be to build municipally owned works or to assist the Metropolitan company by buying shares in it and setting a water-rate for it to collect. Early in 1857 the company announced that it was ready to proceed, having already signed a contract with experienced English builders. Critics, familiar with recent railway projects, considered the £400,000 cost figure in the contract to be inflated. Alderman Alfred Brunel*, a proponent of a city-built system, was not alone when in June 1857 he attacked “the dangerous character of these speculators” and charged that there was a “deep under-current” in the support given by fellow councillors to the Metropolitan proposal. The company, however, had denounced the city in April for its “repudiation” of earlier support, given in the form of backing for the company’s petitions for its charter and later amendments. In the end, the depression of 1857 defeated both schemes. Under its charter, the Metropolitan company could not buy stock in rival companies, but in 1858 it bought the works of the existing water company, owned by Albert Furniss. As with the roads, however, Beaty had overestimated future revenues. When he fell behind on payments, Furniss resumed ownership and management of the works.
Through all these episodes, Beaty’s views were put before the public in his newspaper, the Toronto Leader, which he had established in July 1852 to support the government of Hincks and Augustin-Norbert Morin*. It is unclear what prior knowledge of publishing Beaty possessed, though in 1836 and in the late 1840s he had served on city council’s committee on printing. The paper added a daily edition in the summer of 1853 and Beaty bought its conservative rivals the Patriot in December 1854 and the British Colonist in September 1860. After the provincial election and the subsequent formation in 1854 of the coalition government of Sir Allan Napier MacNab* and Morin, the Leader supported it, emerging as the chief Liberal-Conservative organ in Upper Canada, and sharing the Toronto market with its larger rival, the reform Globe. Ably edited by Charles Lindsey*, who was occasionally and provocatively spelled off by George Sheppard, the paper was an effective voice for the government and for Beaty. With a job-printing plant (in 1856–59 Beaty was the printer to the Legislative Council), the Leader was also profitable, netting as much as $10,000 a year for Beaty in the 1860s. Credit for this result was due in part to Beaty’s nephew Robert, who handled the day-to-day management of the journal from 1862 to 1867, when he left to found a banking, brokerage, and exchange business. As the Leader showed in its excellent and rather independent-minded coverage of the confederation negotiations and debates, it was at times one of Canada’s best newspapers.
Following Lindsey’s departure in 1867, the editorship was assumed by Charles Belford*, a great nephew of Beaty and a fine journalist. But the Conservatives were increasingly dissatisfied. In November 1871 Sir John A. Macdonald complained, “The ‘Leader’ is so completely run down as to be of no value, but Beaty keeps it going as a toy to play with and will neither sell nor take any steps to make it an efficient paper.” As a result, Macdonald and his allies arranged for the foundation of a new party organ in Toronto, the Mail, which started under Belford in the spring of 1872. For the remaining six years of its life, the Leader was of diminishing influence in the city, and increasingly tended towards strident Protestant nationalism.
Beaty had not confined his political interests to commentary. In 1856, when the Legislative Council had been made elective, he had contested the Saugeen division, which included Grey County where he held property. He had become a supporter of Macdonald; indeed, the meeting at which a key group of Hincksite reformers resolved that Sir Allan MacNab had to be deposed as premier in favour of Macdonald was held at Beaty’s house on 14 April. Beaty ran third in the 1856 contest, behind James Patton and John McMurrich*. In the election for the first dominion parliament, in 1867, he ran successfully as a Conservative in Toronto East, one of the few ridings in Canada where the working class was an important electoral factor. In his maiden speech in the House of Commons that December he evoked laughter with his description of himself as “a young member.” Re-elected in a close contest in 1872, he did not run in 1874.
While he was an mp Beaty joined, in 1871, American promoters George William McMullen and Charles Mather Smith in an effort to secure a commission to build the projected railway to the Pacific. That July they presented their proposal to Macdonald and Hincks in Ottawa. Beaty, however, was no longer associated with the syndicate when Smith and McMullen in the fall allied themselves with Sir Hugh Allan*. Indeed, in November 1872 he and William Kersteman, with whom he had also been associated in the 1871 negotiations, were urging Macdonald to abandon the “rings” of both Allan and David Lewis Macpherson in favour of a group they represented, which would be “all English.”
Beaty was a man of considerable wealth (the credit reporter for R. G. Dun and Company showed his worth at $150,000 in 1873, down from $250,000 in the previous report), but in the political and business circles of the 1870s within which he moved his chief capital was influence. Although he is often described in the context of events in that decade as a leather merchant or manufacturer, he had left the leather business in 1857. He was a politician-capitalist, finding his opportunities on the ill-defined but attractive borders between the two spheres. The failure of his water and road franchises, from which he evidently escaped without having to commit his personal fortune, and the gradual decline of the Leader accounted for a considerable reduction in his wealth. He disposed of his remaining real-estate holdings in the city in the 1870s. Nevertheless, he seems to have been at least comfortable in his retirement.
Wealth did not prevent his being hailed in 1872 as a hero of the working class. The occasion was the emerging “nine hour” movement, which led to a sharp confrontation between the typographers of Toronto and most of the city’s printers, organized into the Master Printers’ Association by George Brown of the Globe. Beaty declined to join the association, and when, in March, a strike began, he accepted the union’s terms and brought out the Leader in support of the strikers. His columns provided them with direct access to the public, and his decision to back them was important to Sir John A. Macdonald’s decision in April to introduce legislation legalizing trade unions. There were both commercial and political benefits for Beaty in his stand, which may also have owed something to the intensity of his long-standing rivalry with Brown. But the Leader had been a union shop from its beginning, and Beaty claimed that he had always been a sincere supporter of working men’s rights. Many workers might not have agreed that all of his stands justified this claim; in 1871, for example, the Leader had virulently denounced the Knights of St Crispin, then engaged in an intense dispute with the owners of Toronto’s shoe factories, portraying the union as seditious and condemning it for being American-led. For a time, this side of his record was overlooked. On 11 July 1872 Beaty, Andrew McCormick (president of the Toronto Trades Assembly), and Sir John and Lady Macdonald [Bernard*] were drawn through the streets in triumph.
It may seem ironic that Beaty began his public career with political unions and ended with trade unions, for in its middle years few represented more than he the “politics of enterprise” that were the hallmarks of Hincksite reform at mid century. Yet, when viewed in the context of his entire career, with its Irish, entrepreneurial, and artisan dimensions, these positions were neither inconsistent nor illogical. Like Hincks, Beaty was one of those quick to see opportunities created by the changing shape of municipal and provincial politics in Canada in the era of responsible government. That he was perhaps more attuned to the new rules of politics than to those of business, however, is indicated by the fact that, of his politico-business ventures, only the Leader was truly profitable.
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Cite This Article
Douglas McCalla, “BEATY, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/beaty_james_12E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Douglas McCalla|
|Title of Article:||BEATY, JAMES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||June 5, 2023|