James Metclafe, one of the leading citizens of Toronto, and ex-member of Parliament for the East Riding of York, is an Englishman by birth, and was born in Cumberland in the year 1822. The Metcalfe family, though very numerous, are all of the same stock and descendants of a very ancient family, justly entitled to the compliment paid them by the compiler of the life of Lord Metcalfe, a gentleman of our time, well known in Canada, viz., that they were industrious, honest, and unassuming people, whose integrity was a better inheritance
than titles. One of them was knighted at the famous battle of “Bosworth Field,” by Richard the Third, for bravery. The father of our subject was James Metcalfe, a practical builder and contractor in Cumberland, but who removed to the city of Manchester to engage in the same business, shortly after the birth of his son James. The mother of the latter was Anne Finlinson, of an old North of England family.
Our subject was sent to school in Manchester, where he obtained an ordinary education. His studies were devoted chiefly to mathematics, for which branch he seemed to possess an aptitude, which with the knowledge he afterwards gained of men and their affairs, peculiarly fitted him for the business to which he has principally devoted his attention contractor, builder, and real estate. After leaving school he entered his father’s office in Manchester, and under his direction studied architecture and other practical branches of the builder’s art. When about nineteen years of age his attention was attracted to the new world as offering more inviting fields and better chances for a young man, and before the end of the year (1841), he had emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. Being a young man of energy, pluck and integrity, and not afraid to work, Mr. Metcalfe soon established for himself a favorable reputation. Forming a partnership here, the business of contracting and building was actively and entensively engaged in. After the dissolution of the partnership in 1851, Mr. Metcalfe again decided to immigrate with the desire to better his fortunes, this time to Australia, then the centre of attraction to large numbers on account of recent discoveries of gold. He reached Melbourne in 1852, and remained there about four years, engaged in building on contracts. During this time he made several important building contracts, and was employed by Sir Redmund Barry (now Chief Justice of Victoria), to build the Public Library, of which he was the Commissioner. He also built the Bank of New South Wales, the London Chartered Bank of Australia, and the Hall of Commerce, all of which were at the time the best buildings in Melbourne. After a very successful career, especially from a financial point of view, Mr. Metcalfe returned to Toronto in 1858, and since that has resided in Yorkville. His attention has been chiefly devoted to real estate transactions, especially of late years, but he has also been prominently connected with many of the monetary institutions of the city. The evidence of his skill as a builder will remain as long as the following mentioned buildings, with many others, are seen in Toronto: St. James Cathedral, the old Post Office on Toronto Street, Trinity College, the Normal School, and St. Lawrence Hall.
Mr. Metcalfe’s usefulness has not, however, been confined to private business, for at the first general election after Confederation, he was induced to contest East York for the House of Commons; was successful, and, by re-elections continued to represent that constituency in Parliament till 1878, when in common with the Reform Administration, he was defeated. His career in the House was a creditable one, and the confidence of his constituents in his ability, was shown by their returning him by acclamation in 1872, and again in 1874.
Mr. Metcalfe was married in the County of Peterborough, Ontario, in 1843, to Ellen, daughter of John Howson, of that county. By this union he has one surviving son, Rev. James Finlinson Metcalfe, who resides in East York, and is married to a daughter of the late Rev. H. W. Wilkinson. He is a Minister of the Methodist Church of Canada, but has retired from active pastoral duties.
In the foregoing sketch we have given a brief notice of the career of one eminently worthy of being classed among the self made men of Ontario, and one who by honest industry, integrity and uprightness, has won his way from a small beginning to a recognised position among the solid and respected citizens of Canada.