SIMPSON, JOHN, businessman, politician, and public servant; b. 27 Dec. 1807, at Helmsley, Yorkshire, Eng.; d. 19 Sept. 1878, at Ottawa, Ont., and buried at Niagara.
John Simpson was a linen draper in London, England, before moving to Niagara, Upper Canada, in 1835, and setting up as a bookseller and stationer. In September 1837 he began publishing the Niagara Chronicle in partnership with George Menzies*, and became its sole owner in 1839. In January 1837 he had edited a volume of poems, tales, and essays by local authors, and from 1843 to 1849 he published, in some years associated with Hugh Scobie*, annual editions of The Canadian mercantile almanack. He continued to centre his interests in the paper, its press, and associated bookstore until he disposed of the whole undertaking in 1852. Simpson married a local lady, Miss Baker, on 12 May 1841 in St Mark’s Church.
Simpson had shifted and enlarged his business interests in the late 1840s. The subscription list of the newly launched Niagara District Bank was located in the Chronicle office in 1845. In the following years he subscribed to the stock of the Erie and Ontario Insurance Company and a proposed Niagara Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company. In addition, he was secretary of the Niagara and Ten Mile Creek Plank Road Company, the Niagara Permanent Building Society, the Niagara District Building Society, and the Erie and Ontario Railroad Company. Niagara’s economy was declining under competition from neighbouring towns, however, and Simpson was content to be sustained by the collectorship of customs at Niagara in the years 1855–57. Early in 1857 he was projecting a large woollen mill.
Simpson’s political apprenticeship began in1846–47 when he was president of the Niagara board of police. In 1848 he was elected to the Lincoln district council and in 1851 to the town council of Niagara. He served as mayor of Niagara for four years beginning in 1852. He then entered provincial politics. In recent parliaments Niagara had been represented by the moderate Reformers Francis Hincks* and Joseph Curran Morrison*. Simpson was returned in 1857 as a Conservative, defeating Charles Curry. He was successful in the two following general elections, defeating T. McMicking in 1861 and Henry John Boulton* in 1863. A man of proven competence and party loyalty, Simpson was appointed provincial secretary in the Étienne-Paschal Taché* –John A. Macdonald* government on 30 March 1864, and continued in the cabinet until the formation of the “Great Coalition” in 1864. He then resigned on 29 June to make way for three Grit ministers, including George Brown, to enter the cabinet. In compensation he was appointed deputy auditor general, an office he continued to hold until his death at Ottawa in 1878.
In his years at Niagara Simpson was a close associate of William Kirby* who was his election agent. A requisition to him, requesting that he stand for nomination in 1857, held 206 signatures, a veritable directory of the business community and the social register of Niagara. Throughout his career he was a member of the Church of England, and he was active in Christ Church in Ottawa.
John Simpson was the editor of The Canadian forget me not for MDCCCXXXVII . . . (Niagara, Ont., ), and publisher of The Canadian mercantile almanack . . . (Niagara, Ont., and Toronto), 1843–49. Niagara Chronicle, 1838–52. Niagara Mail (Niagara; St Catharines), 1847–64. Ottawa Citizen, 20 Sept. 1878. Dom. ann. reg., 1878. Wallace, Macmillan dictionary, 693. L. A. Pierce, William Kirby, the portrait of a Tory loyalist (Toronto, 1929).