Historical Plaque Properties


John William James - Civil Engineer/Surveyor
137 Mornington Street
Stratford, ON

John William James was born about 1821 in Ireland, of English ancestry. He was living in Stratford in 1868 when he submitted his application to become a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, England. According to his application form, John served a period of five years of training in Ireland under William Stokes. He was for four years Resident Engineer on the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railway (begun in 1852), followed by one year as Chief Engineer of the same railway.  For three years he was Resident Engineer of the Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway, the successor to the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railway. Once the line was completed in 1858, he was put in charge of the whole line. On both railways he was in charge of the design and construction of the works.


John William James was District Engineer on the East Indian Railway for nearly nine years. The East Indian Railway was built to connect Calcutta to Benares, with the initial surveys taking place in 1850, the opening of the first stretch in 1854, and completion to Benares in 1862. It would appear that John William James held this position after his time in Canada, starting in approximately 1860. He returned to Canada by 1868, when he submitted his application for membership.


In the 1871 census, John W. James, 50,  and his wife Jenney, 35, are listed living in Stratford. John is listed as a Civil Engineer, and Jenney is listed as having been born in Ontario of Scottish descent. There are no available records of their marriage, but it can be assumed that they were married in Ontario. There is no record of them having any children.

On the tax roll assessment of April 22, 1871, John W. James, Surveyor, is listed as the owner of Lots 2 and 37 (½ acre) on Mornington Street. Some time between that assessment and the following one of April 24, 1872, a house, now 137 Mornington Street,  was built on those lots. Interestingly, the tax information of 1872 lists the total family number as ten, not two, but there is no record of John and Jenney having had any children. There is also no listing of the names of any tenants, so it would appear that the other eight members of the household were family. It is possible that John’s brother Charles, his wife, and six children were the other occupants of the house, as they were living in Stratford around that time, and Charles eventually built a house at 60 Shrewsbury Street in 1881.


Both John William James and Charles James were civil engineers and surveyors. Charles was an engineer with two railways until he was appointed the County Engineer for Perth County in 1854. He then returned to railway work in Canada, as well as involvement with a project for the enlargement of the Welland Canal and harbour work at Port Colborne.


It is possible that John William James returned to Stratford to be near his brother and family. Perhaps they worked together on one or more projects. Unfortunately, there are no further records available of John William James and his wife Jenney: no city directories, censuses, death records, etc., except for a possible “Jennie James” in the 1911 census who is listed as a widowed lodger living in Hamilton. Perhaps John William  and Jenney James had returned to India, and that is why they are not listed in any later censuses or city directories other than the possible mention of Jenney in the 1911 Canadian census.


The house at 137 Mornington Street was sold by April 1875 to John M. Moran.