NOVEMBER 12, 1857 - MARCH 4, 1945
James Lockie Wilson was born in Alexandria, Glengarry County, Ontario. Growing up Wilson took a keen interest in athletics and especially, farming. For decades, he owned and expanded a farm in the County, accumulating a significant herd of Ayrshire cattle. Wilson also took on local leadership roles, serving as the County’s Chief Magistrate and, for a short time, the editor of the local paper, The Glengarrian.
During the 1890s, Wilson got involved with the Patrons of Industry. The Patrons were an advocacy group and political alliance that represented both farmers and urban labour groups. Wilson was particularly incensed into politics by the Federal appointment of Auguste-Réal Angers as Minister of Agriculture in 1893. He believed that the position should be held by a farmer, rather than someone without agricultural experience.
In the 1896 Federal election Wilson ran for The Patrons as their candidate in Glengarry. The Patrons won only two seats and Wilson was defeated by the conservative incumbent. By 1898 Wilson had become the leader of the party. Wilson added a focus on what he viewed as “discriminatory” railway shipping rates, but in that year’s provincial election the party fared little better. The Patrons became virtually extinct by the turn of the century. However, the demographic alliance made by The Patrons was an important predecessor for the eventual United Farmers and Labour alliance that came to power during Ontario’s 1919 election.
In 1903 Wilson was made President of the Farmer’s Association of Canada. Wilson’s next instance of political involvement came in Saskatchewan. In 1905 he became a strong supporter of Frederick Haultain’s Provincial Rights Party, who contested the provinces first election and formed the official opposition.
The Saskatchewan Liberals were backed by Wilfred Laurier’s Federal Liberal party. Wilson harboured a dislike of Laurier due to the 1896 “salary grab” and a perceived hypocrisy regarding the Prime Minister’s support for Manitoban provincial rights in the past. Contrary to his position on the newly formed Alberta and Saskatchewan. Wilson saw the Provincial Rights Party as another farm focused political organization deserving of his support.
In 1907 Wilson entered the service of the Ontario Department of Agriculture as the Superintendent of the Agricultural and Horticultural Societies Branch. By 1910 Wilson was also superintendent of Fall Fairs for the department. He worked across the province to promote and organize agricultural shows.
In 1911 Wilson started crop growing contests for Ontario farmers. As an employee of the Department of Agriculture Wilson focused on providing infrastructure and opportunities for Ontario’s farmers and horticulturalists. He continued to promote farmer involvement in policy and technological development to the implied detriment of existing bureaucrats. Wilson stated in 1930 “It takes more brains to be a farmer than to be a high court judge.”
Wilson was involved in numerous local, provincial and national organizations. His most notable roles were as a founder of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association and his various positions in the Ontario Horticultural Society. During his tenure, the O.H.A.’s membership increased six-fold.
As Wilson’s public persona grew, he developed a contentious relationship with The Globe and Mail. The Globe would frequently run critical stories on what they perceived to be mishaps of Wilson’s. Some highlights of The Globe’s coverage included a confrontational interview headlined “Awkward Questions” and an extensive narrative retelling of Wilson’s failure to track down a misplaced coat on a train in Western Canada.
Wilson also had a wacky side. In 1917 he presented an idea to create employment for returning soldiers. He intended for the veterans to serve as shepherds, for the four or five hundred sheep he would introduce to Toronto’s High Park. Wilson also intended to introduce a contingent of ovine creatures to Queen’s Park. Neither of the plans were successfully enacted.
Wilson retired in 1933. Even into his retirement, Wilson continued to organize agricultural fairs, plowing matches and machinery exhibitions to showcase and educate Ontario’s talented farmers. In 1945 Wilson passed away. He was retired from public service, but remained engaged as a life director of the International Plowman’s Association, Ontario Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, Ontario Horticultural Association, Ontario Vegetable Growers’ Association and the Ontario Field Crops and Seed Growers’ Improvement Association until his final illness.
Wilson was survived by his wife, four children and fiery devotion to farmers. When he passed his arch-nemesis, The Globe and Mail, described him as a “Zealous Worker for Agriculture.”
Thank you to the Ontario Horticultural Association for their contributions of resources used in this article.