Among the eminently successful business men of Ottawa is James Skead, lumberman, who almost, in a literal sense, hewed his way to fortune through the dense forests of Canada, as a brief sketch of his life will show. He was born on January 31, 1816, near Moresby Hall, Cumberland, England. His father, William Skead, was born in Scotland. The Skeads are a race of agriculturists and gardeners, William Skead being classed among the number. The mother of our subject was Mary Selkirk, who was also of Scotch descent. She died before James was nine years old, having taught him to read before she took her departure to “that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” This was the great loss of his life, for a year or two later his father immigrated to Canada, and settled on a farm back of Montreal, on the Isle of Jesus, where there were no schools, and the lad had no schooling, and no tutor. After farming there a few seasons, the father brought his family, consisting of three children, to Ottawa,.
In 1840, Mr. Skead went into the woods, a distance of 120 miles, west of Ottawa, taking with him a squad of men and provisions for fall operations. The only means of transportation were bark canoes, and he made thirty-seven portages before reaching his destination, the voyage consuming nine days. That was forty years ago, and Mr. Skead is still in the lumber business. Like most other merchants in his line, during the last five or six years, he has met with some losses; but during more than thirty years he had almost uninterrupted prosperity.
Mr. Skead is President of the Dominion Board of Trade, and is President of the Ottawa Board of Trade; of the Ottawa Agricultural Insurance Society; of the City of Ottawa Agricultural Society; of the Ottawa Liberal Conservative Association, and of the Upper Ottawa Steamboat Company. He is a Director of the Ottawa Association of Lumber Manufacturers; of the Madawaska River Improvement Company; of the Ontario Fruit Growers’ Association, and was a Director of the Caughnawaga Ship Canal Company; of the Canada Central Railway; and of the Montreal and Ottawa City Junction Railway, and other railroad companies, being still a Director of one or two of them.
He has been a member of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa; President of the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario, and of the Ottawa St. George’s Society, which body, in 1876, presented him with a beautiful gold cross of St. George, for valuable services in promoting the interests of the Society. In the year last named the Centennial of the United States he was appointed a juror of the Timber Department and Products of the Forests in the great International Exposition, held in Philadelphia.
The politics of Mr. Skead have always been Conservative. In 1867, he contested Carleton for the Ontario Assembly, at the general election, and was unsuccessful. He represented Rideau Division in the Legislative Council, Canada, from 1862 until the Union, being elected twice by acclamation, and was called to the Senate by Royal Proclamation, at the time of the Confederation, in May, 1867. He was President of the Liberal Conservative Convention, which met in Toronto, in September, 1874.
Though a lumber manufacturer for forty years, Senator Skead has never lost his interest in agricultural pursuits, which claimed his youthful attention and energies. As President of the Ottawa Agricultural Society, he is something more than a “figure head,” his heart is in its objects, and he does all he can to promote them. Years ago he imported Ayrshire and Durham cattle, and now has some fine shorthorn stock, which he takes pride in exhibiting at county and other fairs, receiving a liberal share of the premiums.
The wife of Senator Skead was Rosanna McKay, a native of the North of Ireland. They were joined in wedlock at Ottawa, February 1, 1842, and have had thirteen children, only seven of them now living. The eldest daughter, Mary, is the wife of William McKay Wright, of Hull, Province of Quebec. He represented the County of Pontiac, in that Province, in the late Mackenzie Government. The other children are single. Their names are Annie, Jennie, Isabella, Edward Selkirk, Eleanor, and Katie. All of these seven children were educated at the best institutions in the Dominion, and bid fair to make the very best use of their mental accomplishments. Their father has long felt that the greatest deprivation of his life was the lack of school privileges in his early day, and many years ago resolved that none of his children should suffer in like manner. Their literary attainments and mental polish, as the writer happens to know, are a source of solid comfort and gratification to their parents. The family attend the Presbyterian Church, of which they are members and adherents.