James L. Ross

Canadian Railroad Builder, Businessman and Philanthropist

James L. Rossa

James Levison Ross was the son of Captain John R. Ross, merchant and ship owner, and Mary B. McKeddie, formerly of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. His birth occurred in the year 1848 at Cromarty, Scotland and, after attending Inverness Royal Academy in his native land, he continued his learning about railway, harbour and water works in England for a few years.

In 1868, Ross came to North America and applied his talents to the rapidly expanding North American railway industry. In 1870 he was appointed resident engineer of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad; he subsequently became its chief engineer. In 1872 Mr. Ross was united in marriage to Miss Annie Kerr, a daughter of the late John Kerr of Kingston, New York, and sheriff of Ulster County. In 1873 he went west to become resident engineer of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. He held the same post with the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad. Work on the Lake Ontario line brought Ross into contact with George Laidlaw and other ambitious railway promoters from Ontario with excellent political and financial connections. When Mr. Ross arrived in Canada, the country was deeply engrossed in the discussion of free trade versus protection. Realizing the potential benefits to Canada, he espoused the cause then championed by Sir John A MacDonald and Sir Charles Tupper, both as regards to the fiscal policy of the Dominion and their railway program.

By 1876, Ross was working in Canada and he and his wife were settled in Lindsay, Ontario, where their only child, John Kenneth Levison Ross, was born. As Manager and chief engineer of the Victoria Railway between Lindsay and Haliburton, ON, Ross also served in 1878–79 as construction manager for the Credit Valley Railway. In the late 1800s, James Ross' parents moved to Canada and also settled in Lindsay. In later years, he would honour their memory by constructing a hospital there.

Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, Ontario (1902)b

James Ross took control of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway west of Winnipeg in 1883 after the CPR syndicate became dissatisfied with its American contractors, and in 1885 he completed the most difficult portion of the main line from Calgary over the Rocky and Selkirk Mountain Ranges. He enjoyed the full confidence of CPR's general manager, William Cornelius Van Horne, to such an extent that he was granted a generous bonus upon completion of the work. In 1886 Ross was appointed manager of construction for the CPR's Ontario and Quebec Railway to fill in the gaps. He took up his residence in Montreal in 1888. Mr. Ross and his contractors agreed to extend the system from Montreal to Bangor, Maine, with an extension to St. John. He formed a strong partnership with three of his best contractors - Mann (grading roadbeds) Mackenzie (organizing the ties, trestles and bridges) and Holt (laying track and finishing up) - to build three prairie lines. The talented foursome took advantage of economic opportunities by incorporating several land promotion and development companies with Ross serving as president of the Calgary and Edmonton Land Company, the Canada Land and Investment Company, and the Columbia River Lumber Company. Thereafter, Ross was responsible for electrifying many street railways, such as those in Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, St. John, etc. He also did work of a similar character in England and Jamaica, and was the first president of the Mexican Power Company which developed an immense water power at Nacaxa, and controlled the electric business of the City of Mexico. In perhaps his final involvement with railroads, James Ross was paid a US$20 million consultant's fee for advising both Lord Strathcona (Sir Donald Smith) and William Mackenzie on railway contracts involvong just two countries in South America (Argentina and Chile).

The Famous Photo of The Last Spikec

Last Spike IDdLast Spike Keye

Group at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885f

Residence of James Ross at 3644 Peel Street Built in 1888g
The Ross wing at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, and the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun, Quebec, are reminders of his generosity and activity as a board member. While he resided in Montreal, Ross was also a benefactor and board member of McGill University. An avid art collector, James had one of the finest collections of old masters in the entire North American continent, and he was made a president of the Montreal Art Association after giving generous donations of $25,000 during his lifetime, and latterly $100,000 in his will. He also supported the erection of a new building in 1912, now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

As a keen sailor and an honorary commodore of the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club, Ross was a member of the New York Yacht Club, and the first Canadian member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Thames Yacht Club in England. During these years, having retired from active participation in railroad interests, Ross saw the great need for steel and formed a syndicate to buy the Dominion Coal Company of Cape Breton becoming its vice-president. Investing in further shares independently, Ross built up such a huge stake in Dominion Coal that he was invited to become the managing director of the Dominion Iron and Steel Company in 1901. However, his influence could not resolve a long contract dispute between the two for the supply of high-grade coal at a disadvantageous price, which resulted in a case review at the High Court of Justice in London, England. Although fault was found on both sides, the contract was found to be legal. Ross resigned from both boards, thus allowing a merger in late 1909.

Possibly Glencairn IIh

Cape Breton Island, NSi
Retiring from active investment, he became a board director of many companies, including the Bank of Montreal and the Rotal Trust Company. He was likewise a trustee of Bishop's College at Lennoxville, P.Q., a member of both the American and Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, and in 1900 he was appointed honorary lieutenant-colonel of the 17th Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars. Last, but certainly not least, Commodore James L. Ross was elected as vice-president (and Premier Sir George Ross of Ontario as president) when a meeting of influential men was held in 1910 in New York to form a Clan Ross Society in North America, but this society became dormant due to the outbreak of World War I.

The status of James Ross as a commodore was greatly enhanced in 1912 when he purchased the luxurious steam yacht Liberty owned by Joseph Pulitzer. He renamed it the Glencairn and undertook a world cruise to restore his health. The yacht required a staff of sixty-five and had a full auditorium, numerous staterooms, and first-class dining-rooms. Unfortunately, the cruise failed to restore Ross’s health. He returned to Montreal after his cruise, but his heart condition deteriorated and in September 1913 he died at his home in Montreal.

James Levison Rossj
Canadian Pacific Archives

Mount Royal Cemetery, Pine Hill Sectionk


5 OCTOBER 1889

BORN 1852 . DIED 1893

The following email was received from Annick Labrie, Customer Service Representative of the Mount Royal Cemetery, on May 11, 2012. The misspelling of Mary McKeddie's name is noted.
I searched our records and found that James Ross (who as per our records died on Sept. 20, 1913) and Annie Kerr (1915) are buried together in section M 1599. Also buried with them are: John Ross (1893), Mary McKiddie (sic) (1896), James Kenneth Matthews Ross (1966), and Marjorie Arnott Ballantyne (1974). The registered owner of the grave is James Ross. l

Links to References:

Cordova Bay Station on the world wide web

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta

History of the Seawanhaka Cup PLUS photo of James Ross and Glencairn II

McCord Museum of Canadian History

Old Time Trains by webmaster, R. L. Kennedy

Quebec Encyclopedia of History - See James Ross under R.

Rootsweb Ancestry

Ross Memorial Hospital - Lindsay, Ontario
* Kim Coulter, RMH Employee and Community Relations (See also acknowledgements)

Wikipedia Link


  • James L. Rossa - Kim Coulter (McCord Museum)
  • Ross Memorial Hospitalb - Kim Coulter, photo from 1902
  • The Last Spikec - Wikimedia
  • Last Spike IDd - National Archives na-1494-5 and na-218-2os, Cordova Bay Station, etc.
  • Last Spike Keye - R. L. Kennedy, webmaster of Old Time Trains
  • Group at Craigellachief - Glenbow Museum na-218-2os
  • Montreal Residence of James Ross Built in 1888g - Flickr Photo Sharing
  • Glencairn IIh - Sailing Scuttlebut website
  • Cape Breton Coal and Steeli - pictures from Donald Fraser Ross of West Chezzetcook, NS
  • James Levison Rossj - Bob Kennell, Manager, Canadian Pacific Archives
  • Mount Royal Cemeteryk - pictures from Donald Fraser Ross of West Chezzetcook, NS
  • Email from Annick Labrie, Customer Service Representative of Mount Royal Cemetery l - to Donald Fraser Ross on May 11, 2012.