From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This . . . ‘Mr. Sault Ste. Marie’ – Jack McMeeken
William John “Jack” McMeeken was born in Durham, Ontario in 1894. As the second eldest in a family that would eventually include nine children, his family moved to the Sault in 1896.
His father, David McMeeken began working for the town’s Board of Works and eventually was appointed as superintendent. After his elementary education Jack then went on to complete 2 years at Sault Collegiate before deciding to attend Business College in order to pursue training in bookkeeping and stenographer training.
He married Georgina Wheeler in 1923 and they had two children, Donald and Marilyn.
Jack got his first job in 1911 at Lemon Brothers, a wholesale firm on Pim Street and was paid $4.50 a week. He worked 11 hours a day for six days a week! In 1913, he changed jobs and joined the Algoma Produce Company and worked in the shipping department. During these early years he began to take a strong interest in civics and sports groups.
By the age of 24, he was ready to take on a larger role in the political scene of Sault Ste. Marie and in 1919, he ran in the election for the Ward 1 alderman position against four veteran politicians, unexpectedly receiving the highest number of votes. He became the youngest member on City Council for the 1919 term and retained his Ward 1 seat on council until 1931.
During this year he initially announced his intention to run for the position of mayor but later withdrew when the Honourable James Lyons entered the race.
In 1937, Jack McMeeken ran for and won the election for mayor, holding the office for nine years. By the time he became mayor, he had already served under the leadership of six different mayors and had served as chairman of every standing committee, including the very important finance committee, providing him with a well-informed viewpoint of the inner workings of city politics.
Most of the previous mayors were in power for no more than 1 or 2 years so McMeeken’s length of service made him the longest serving mayor, up to that point. His mathematical mind and experience from council meant that he was able to guide the city through the end of the Depression and the difficult war years as many had to learn how to survive on very little money.
With his significant financial experience he resigned as mayor and city council immediately offered him the job of city treasurer in December of 1945. He immersed himself in this job with the goal to maintain a sound credit rating for the city and achieve a balanced budget.
His dedication to this task was illustrated by an incident in 1954. Shortly before the council began preparing the budget for the coming year, Jack McMeeken became ill and had to be admitted to the General Hospital with orders to have complete rest. However he soon had the financial records transferred from his office to the hospital and he began creating the budget from his hospital bed!
He continued to work on it while recuperating at home and was able to have the final budget presented to city council prior to the spring deadline! Therefore it came as no surprise to anyone of the day that city council chose him to become the first city administrator.
Jack McMeeken was an avid sports fan and supporter. He sponsored hockey, basketball and baseball teams. He was the sponsor for the hockey team, the Beavers who were junior hockey champions for two years and featured the following players, Fergie Boson, Jack McKay and Clarence Moore.
One of his softball teams, known as Jack’s Kids, won the championship one year and finished second during the following year. In 1942, he was one of the first people to begin the campaign for a new hockey and sports arena and with one of his last acts as mayor he set up an organization committee to handle the financing of the proposed Memorial Gardens.
Wearing his glasses and puffing away on his trademark cigar, Jack McMeeken was a familiar sight to the people of Sault Ste. Marie having served the city for almost 50 years with integrity and dedication. He served for 13 years as alderman, nine years as mayor, 17 years as city treasurer and nearly seven years as city administrator.
In the mid-1940’s he also ran for the Ontario Legislature under the Conservative party but lost the election by just 117 votes. In 1948, he was appointed as Justice of the Peace for the District of Algoma. While preparing the 1967 budget, he suffered a stroke in March of 1967 and died in May of 1967.
In addition to his strong civic pride and concern for the financial security of the city, he also recognized the importance of sports in the life of the residents. Therefore it was a fitting tribute that immediately following his death the Community Services Board chose to re-name the city’s new Centennial Recreation Centre to become the W.J. McMeeken Recreation Centre.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.