James Somerville was born June 7, 1834 in Dundas to Scottish parents. James received his education at the schools in Dundas as well as the Simcoe grammar school. As a young man, he took an interest in journalism and served an apprenticeship at the Dundas Warder newspaper. At the age of 20, Somerville relocated to Ayr, Ontario where he established the Ayr Observer. He met his wife, Jeanette Rogers during this time with whom he had four daughters and a son. In 1858 James took the opportunity to come back to his hometown where he and his business partner, Edward Oliver purchased the Dundas Tribune and renamed the paper the “Dundas True Banner”.
During this time period, it was common for newspapers to hold a particular political viewpoint. John Graves Simcoe commissioned Canada’s first newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette, to act as a messenger of government matters. Private newspapers began to report on domestic affairs and editors began to see the influence they had on their readership. The renaming by Somerville, similarly served a political purpose as the previously liberal Hamilton Banner changed its name to the Hamilton Times when it began to hold a more conservative viewpoint. James Somerville, being a Reformer, wanted a liberal perspective to remain within the region. Somerville was a staunch opponent of Sir John A. Macdonald and took his political interests further by becoming Deputy Reeve and Reeve of West Flamborough Township. He continued his political career as councillor and warden of Wentworth County before being elected Mayor of Dundas in 1874. Somerville served a year and then was elected as Member of Parliament of North Brant in 1882. He was re-elected three times and had a well-regarded political career. James Somerville was a contemporary of Alexander Mackenzie, Edward Blake and Sir Wilfred Laurier and was considered an important member of the Liberal Party opposition.
Somerville fought throughout his career for more responsible government. He wanted elected officials to be increasingly accountable to their constituents. On this point, Somerville repeatedly asked for government documents such as expense reports and financial statements of government departments be made public or at least that such records were properly audited.
Somerville took his desire for accountability to heart and consistently fought for his Dundas constituents’ best interests. During the 1880s, Somerville saw that Dundas was in an economic recession and refused to downplay the situation. He argued that, “business in the town is more depressed than it has been for years.” Somerville’s goal was to protect workers in Dundas from competition from new workers who would be introduced as part of Sir John A. Macdonald’s foreign policy.
James Somerville stepped away from his post as MP for Brant and Wentworth North in 1900 expecting a senate appointment from Sir Wilfred Laurier, which he never received. Having already given control of the True Banner to his son, Roy early in his political career, Somerville decided to retire. He lived at his home in Dundas known as “Uplands” until his death on May 24, 1916.
Somerville was respected by both his colleagues and political opponents. He embodied the motto he devised for the Dundas True Banner – The Liberty to know, to utter, to argue freely according to the dictates of the conscience, I prize above all others.
James Somerville is positioned in Discover Your Historical Dundas at 14 Main Street, the offices of the Dundas True Banner.
Transcriptions of documents in the gallery
The Coming Elections – We observe that the supporters of the Patent [Coordination] Have been holding a meeting in Hamilton for the purpose of organizing for the approaching election. The example they have set is worthy of imitation, and we therefore urge upon the Reformers of North and South Wentworth the necessity of making a move as speedily as possible with regard to the representation of these Ridings. We presume however, that this important matter will be readily settled in both Ridings, as we have no idea that any change is desired in either the North or South, Moreso, Christie and Sexton having given thorough satisfaction as the peoples’ representatives. It would indeed be difficult to find two men better fitted for the positions they occupy, and we feel convinced that general satisfaction will be expressed at the announcement we feel authorised to make that both these gentlemen will consent to become candidates at the ensuing elections if it is the desire of their constituents that they should so appear before them. We think, however that it is highly desirable that general meetings of the Party should be held in both Ridings as speedily as possible, so that a formal understanding may be arrived at. In the meantime, however, we are pleased to be in a position to announce that the true gentlemen who have served Wentworth so well for the past four years, are still available, and we have every confidence that their strength in their respective Ridings is such as to insure their triumphant return by handsome [mayorial].
Fees Collected by Somerville for Estate Sale
for advertising sale of Hamilton Estate from Robertson and Wardell January 14th 1878
Fees Collected for Posters
100 sale posters 4 00
50 lines + 5 in 8 00
Town Council Meeting – A special meeting of the Council was held on Friday last, for the purpose of considering a proposition made by Hamilton at/of Milton Road Co., to the effect that the Town of Dundas, the Desjardins Council Co., and the Milton Road Co. should jointly petition Parliament for an act to enable them to settle their difficulties. It was contended By those in favour of the proposition that it was only a permissive act to be asked for, but on the other hand it was contended that the Milton Road Co. should make known the towns they proposed.
Temperance Lecture – On Tuesday evening, Mr. W.L. Stuart, of this town, delivered a lecture in the town hall on the subject of temperance. The attendance was somewhat extraordinary for a lecture, every seat in the hall being occupied. The lecture was an eloquent exposition of the evils produced by the use of intoxicating liquors upon individuals, communities and nations, interspersed with statistical information to support the positions taken up, and during its delivery the lecturer was frequently applauded. Mr. Howe, Esq., occupied the chair and both before and after the lecture he delivered an excellent temperance speech, as did also the Rev. Mr. Laird and Mr. Hugh Magill in proposing and seconding a vote of thanks to the lecturer. The Rev. Mr Surrie Of Elora, was likewise present and joined in complimenting and thanking the lecturer.
School Trustee Meeting – The first regular meeting of the Board of School Trustees for the town of Dundas was held last night: Present – the Rev Mr. McCall, Rev, Mr. Gerald, Palmer, Hopkins, Scott, Bertram, Wilson, Somerville, McKenzie, and Smith.
The board proceeded with the election of officers, with the following result:
Chairman – Rev. Mr. McCall
Secretary – treasurer and superintendent – Rev. Mr. Gerald. Salary $175
Caretaker – Mrs. Siles, Salary $180
Property Committee – Allan, Bertram and Palmer
Examining Committee – The Chairman, Superintendent and Headmaster
Visiting Committee – Robertson, Hopkins and Burrows
Finance – Wilson, South and Somerville
A report from the Examining Committee showing the recent Promotions made in the schools was submitted as also a statement as showing the past two months. A number of accounts were presented and ordered to be paid
Draft Advertisement for Dundas True Banner – for a few weeks only before taking stock John Parkin Will offer all surplus stock at wholesale prices many lines of seasonable goods are to be cleared at positively below cost. a magnificent show of Winter Millinery, Mantles, Shaush, Fancy Woollen Socks are now all marked down and ready for inspection. The heavier portion of the stock will be remarked in a few days. This is a golden opportunity for every one who can command a little ready money.
King St. Dundas
Thanks to the students of McMaster University Department of History for their assistance with this project.