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Remember This? The first Sault-born mayor

He was both an Odd Fellow and all business
SSMPL James Dawson cenotaph
James Dawson, reading a welcome speech to Earl Haig, Viscount Byng, and Lady Byng, on the occasion of the unveiling of the cenotaph in memory of the dead who fell in the Great war 1914-1918, on the grounds of the Sault Ste Marie Court House. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Remember This?...Mayor James Dawson

James Dawson was the eighth mayor of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, and was the first mayor who was actually born in Sault Ste. Marie.

SSMPL James Dawson 1901James Dawson, Sault Ste. Marie's eighth mayor, is pictured in 1901. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

John Dawson and Elizabeth Todd immigrated to Canada around 1869.  In 1892 John established the Dawson Real Estate and Fire Insurance Company near the corner of Queen and East Streets.  When he built the Dawson Block in 1898 at the corner of Queen and East Streets he opened the Dawson Grocery Store and moved the Dawson Real Estate and Fire Insurance Company into the same building.

John was an alderman in Sault Ste Marie in 1902, 1903, and 1908. He was initiated in the Arthur Lodge Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1890 and became Grand Marshall for Ontario for the I.O.O.F. in 1912. He was the also first president of the Children’s Aid Society in Sault Ste. Marie.

John Dawson’s son James was born on April 15, 1879 in Sault Ste Marie. James along with his brother George purchased the Dawson Block from their father in 1902.  James married Charlotte Hopkins of Owen Sound, Ontario on June 22, 1904 and continued in his father’s grocery and insurance business.  Upon the death of their father John in 1915, James took over the running of the insurance business and his brother George partnered with Gibson to form the Dawson and Gibson Grocery.

James followed in his father’s footsteps and became an alderman for Sault Ste Marie in 1919 and 1920 and would go on to become the mayor during four difficult years after the war, from 1922 until 1925. James was a man who didn’t like the idea of canvassing for votes. A Sault Star article quotes Dawson as saying “in order to get elected it appears to be thought necessary by the public that a candidate should canvass for votes. This, I have neither the time nor the inclination to do. Under the present system the man who canvasses is the one chosen. It may be the right system, but I do not agree with it.” According to the same Sault Star article dedicated to past mayors, “(Dawson) was all business with friend or foe when it concerned city affairs.”

In 1923, Mayor Dawson decided to hold Discovery Week and the New Ontario Soldiers’ Reunion.  This event commemorated those who went overseas from Northern Ontario during the Great War, marking the fifth anniversary of the ending of the war and the return of the soldiers. This event was held in tandem with the 300th anniversary celebrations marking the discovery of Lake Superior and St. Mary’s Rapids by Etienne Brule.  

James, like his father, also served as the Grand Marshall of the I.O.O.F. in 1927 and was a member of the Masonic Lodge.  James Dawson died April 26, 1941, leaving behind his wife Charlotte and their only child Frederick James Dawson. Like his father and grandfather, Frederick went on to work in the family insurance business.  In 1962, Fred Dawson partnered with Cliff Keenan to form the new company that we now know as Dawson & Keenan Insurance.  

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

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