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Montreal Then & Now – James L. Ross House

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by Dick Nieuwendyk – Montreal Times

Ross01James Leveson Ross was a Scottish-born Canadian engineer, businessman and philanthropist, who established his fortune mainly through railway construction, notably for the Canadian Pacific Railway, of which he was the major shareholder. In 1888, he turned his attention to the electrification of street railways in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saint John, Birmingham (England), and Mexico City. He was also president of the Dominion Bridge Company, the Mexican Power Company, and Governor of McGill University and the Royal Victoria Hospital. Later in his life, he became one of the founders of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He funded the construction of the Ross Memorial Wing at the Royal Vic, the Ross Memorial Hospital and Nurse’s Home at Lindsay, Ontario, and the Protestant Hospital for the Insane in Verdun.

Ross03In 1892, James Ross commissioned Bruce Price, a renowned American architect, who also designed McGill’s Royal Victoria College, Windsor Station and CPR’s Château Frontenac in Quebec City, to build a house for him on Peel Street. The French Chateau style house, with its two circular turrets and large central tower, was constructed of Credit Valley limestone. Between 1897 and 1912, Montreal architects Edward and William Maxwell, were commissioned to redesign and expand the mansion, which included the re-decoration of all main rooms, the addition of a loggia on the south face for breakfast, and a new wing on the north side to accommodate a gallery for Ross’ collection of old masters painters. Besides collecting masterpieces, his interests included yachting. Ross’ father had been a shipowner, and James too had become a keen sailor after settling in Montreal in 1888. He was a member of the
Forest and Stream Club and the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club (of which he was made a honorary Commodore) in Dorval.

During his lifetime he owned several yachts, however, his most famous yacht was the Liberty, which belonged to the late newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. The yacht, which he bought in 1912, was renamed Glencairn, required a staff of sixty-five and had a full auditorium, numerous state rooms, and first-class dining-rooms. Towards the end of his life, Ross devoted most of his time to sailing in European and Canadian waters. Following his around the world trip aboard the Glencairn, Ross died of existing heart complications at his home in the Golden Square Mile on September 20, 1913.

His son, James Kenneth Levenson Ross, who had built his own house on Peel Street in 1910, inherited the house and his father’s considerable fortune. He moved back to his childhood home and hired thefirm of Trowbridge and Livingston to expand and remodel his late father’s home, giving it a more classical appearance. In 1935, having spent all of his fortune on parties, horse racing, and yachts, J.K.L. Ross went bankrupt and was forced to sell the house. It was sold for a mere $51,000.

In 1948, John W. McConnell bought the Ross Mansion and donated it to McGill University. It was renamed Chancellor Day Hall, after one of the University’s first Chancellors, and was given to the Faculty of Law, which still occupies it today.

The house is located at 3664 Peel Street in Montreal.

Source: McGill University, Can. Encyclopedia, Heritage Montreal, Ottawa Citizen

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