Sir James Morris

Sir James Morris - McCord Museum Collection

Sir James Morris
McCord Museum Collection

Born November 1, 1798 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, James Morris moved to Canada in 1801 with his parents to Elizabethtown, Leeds County, Upper Canada. The family returned to Scotland the following year, then moved permanently to Elizabethtown in 1808. In 1812, Elizabethtown was renamed Brockville.

Morris’ early adulthood saw him work for Brockville’s Commercial Bank, and then appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1825 for the Johnstown District. He served as coroner for the Bathhurst District in 1835 and on the police board for Brockville from 1832-37.

Morris was elected in 1837 to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada as a Reformer, representing Leeds County.  As a member of the Legislative Assembly, he advocated for the creation of canals on the St. Lawrence River to improve navigation.

In 1838 he was appointed commissioner in charge of raising the funds (debentures) to implement the first canals on the St. Lawrence River.

Morris attended the first meeting in Toronto in 1839 which was to form a Presbyterian college in Kingston, and was one of four trustees appointed serving from 1840-44 to establish Queen’s College (now Queen’s University).

Morris was elected as member of Legislative Assembly for Canada West, in the United province of Canada in 1841, then receiving an appointment to the Legislative Council in 1844.

Early in his life, Morris was appointed lieutenant in the 2nd battalion, Carleton militia (1821). He also served as lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Leeds Light Infantry (1828) and lieutenant-colonel, 1st battalion, Leeds militia (1846).

In 1850, Great Britain granted the Province of Canada the power to operate their own postal system and issue their own stamps. Morris was appointed to the post of Postmaster-General in the Baldwin-Lafontaine government and named to the Executive Council that same year. Within days of his appointment, Morris journeyed to Washington, D.C. and successfully negotiated the first postal treaty with the United States. He lowered postal rates in Canada and was responsible for establishing rural post offices throughout the Province of Canada.  Included in the treaty was the provision that mail was not to be opened while in transit between the two countries.

Morris commissioned Sanford Fleming to design and engrave Canada’s first stamps.

In recognition of his efforts on the St. Lawrence River and his establishment of the province’s postal system, the unincorporated village of West Williamsburg in Williamsburg Township was renamed Morrisburg. Morris gifted $100 to the village in appreciation of the honour, which was used to buy a bell for the village. Morrisburg was incorporated in 1861.

Morris was appointed Speaker of the House in 1853 and received his knighthood the same year.

As Postmaster-General, he implemented Canada’s first mail service by railroad, with mail traveling the Great Western Railroad between London and Niagara Falls.

During the time of railway building in Canada in the 1850’s, the government had the right to appoint a director on railroad boards. Morris served this post for the government from 1852-1854 on the Grand Trunk Railroad.

Morris’s business interests included ownership in shares of several banks, railroads and property throughout Leeds County.

Morris can be considered by today’s standards as a mover-and-shaker within the government. He served under several administrations in the province, as Speaker of the House (1853-54), Speaker of the Legislative Council (1858),  Receiver General for Canada from 1862 until he was incapacitated by a stroke in 1863. He was appointed Speaker of the House in the George Brown/Antoine-Aimé Dorion “brief” administration. The Brown/Dorion government was tossed from office three days later due to the infamous political “Double-Shuffle” maneuver by John A. Macdonald of Kingston in 1858.

As a reformer serving in government, he advocated for leniency and the rights of those involved in the 1837-38 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada, including restoration of property ceased by the crown when the rebellions were put down.

Morris was married Emily Rosamond Murney from Kingston and raised nine children. Sir James Morris died in Brockville, Leeds County, Canada West, on September 23, 1865.