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May 21, 2010

The Life and Times of James Arthurs, MP 1866-1937

James Arthurs was a remarkable leader and entrepreneur beginning in Commanda at age 19 in 1885 He is being remembered at the Commanda Heritage Centre May 22-24. A 36” panoramic photograph showing the 162nd Algonquin Regiment is part of the display.

Arthurs in Commanda

James Arthurs built a general store and residence on the Rosseau-Nipissing Colonization Road going through Commanda to service the settlers coming into the “New Ontario” He also had a lumber operation on Commanda Lake. After 20 years he moved on and the store was operated by various people into the 1970s . It was relocated nearby to Hwy 522 in the 1930s to pick up the highway traffic passing by.

The Gurd Township Historical Society restored it and opened it as a Museum in 1981 and it has provided a fascinating High Victorian General Store history to the present day. It is now called the Commanda Heritage Centre and has an ambitious plan to continue the work of the Centre. I wrote about an April 24th presentation there by Bill Allen in a recent Community Voices. The current display is part of their program. An Ontario Historical Foundation Plaque at the Centre credits Arthurs’ work.

Arthurs moved to Powassan to a home that remains today and built a hardware store across from the old Windsor Hotel which was torn down recently. Arthurs store burned in 1911 along with other businesses. A photo 0f the store burning appears in Powassan’s 75th anniversary history book. About 10 years ago Arthurs great great granddaughter and her husband bought a house in Powassan that coincidentally backed on the original Arthurs’property.

A Company of the Algonquin Regiment with Commanding Officer James Arthurs front and centre in front of the Parry Sound Court House in 1916 - from John Macfie’s book Sons of the Pioneers 2001.


Arthurs third career was as the founder of the 162nd Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Army in 1914. He served in France until 1917 attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel. There is a photo (seen here) of a Company of the Regiment with Arthurs front and centre- in John Macfie’s book The Sons of the Pioneers.

Member of Parliament and Senator

Another Arthurs’ career was as a Conservative Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1908 to 1935. Finally he was a Senator from 1935 to 1937. He died in Toronto in 1937.

The volunteers in Commanda preparing the display wonder why there is a live bear in the photo of the Algonquin Regiment in their display. I don’t know if there is a direct connection but the man who mentored Archie Belaney (Grey Owl) on his arrival in Canada – Bill Guppy -had a moose and a bear he trained as mascots and took to England in the war. It may not be the same bear but the one in the photo is probably a mascot to the troops.

Google James Arthurs MP for more information. There is a Wikepedia file and there are several interesting references including a photo of the store and the plaque.

Discovery North Bay Museum

Goodbye and thanks to Jennifer Buell the Director of The Discovery North Bay Museum. She has moved to a new job at Nipissing University. She will be missed.

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