SIR JAMES AIKINS
Manitoba’s Two Term Lieut Gov
by George Siamandas
Sir James Aikins who was appointed Manitoba’s 9th Lieut Gov on August 3, 1916, and was the founder of Winnipeg’s oldest law firm Aikins MaCaulay Thorvaldson founded in 1879. Aikins was the son of Sir James Cox Aikins who served in Sir John A Mcdonald’s cabinet and who himself was Lieut gov of Manitoba during 1882-1888. The younger James was born in Peele County Ontario in 1851 and was educated in upper Canada College becoming a lawyer like his father in 1878.
Aikins was drawn to the promise of the west and came to Manitoba in 1879 for just a look and returned only to pack and move to Manitoba’s new west. He took an office in Winnipeg over Richardson’s store and worked on a kitchen table from the corner of Main St and Rupert Ave. Aikins became involved in the temperance movement and was a popular speaker. When he arrived in 1879 there were 17 lawyers in Winnipeg. The great land boom of 1881 swelled the city’s population of lawyers such that in one day in June 1882 79 new lawyers were called to the bar. By the end of 1882 Winnipeg had 213 lawyers.
MOVING UP IN LEGAL CIRCLES
Aikins rose fast in Manitoba legal circles. He was appointed counsel for the CPR expansion in the west. By 1884 he was made a QC. Aikins was considered a gifted speaker and an expert constitutional lawyer. His firm was now known as Aikins Culver and Hamilton and it was handling 1/3 of the city’s legal cases. In the early 1890s as the city was in recession and the city tried to begin taxing the CPR railway from school taxes, Aikins took Winnipeg to the supreme court and won the CPR’s continued exemption from municipal taxation. In 1914 he received a knighthood and he became the first President of the Canadian Bar Assoc and was a noted speaker at many of its sessions. The Canadian Bar seemed his greatest joy and he was considered a master orator. His friends referred to him as J. A. M.
POLITICS & GOVERNMENT
With his many years of participation in the Temperance movement, Aikins was chosen to draft the 1900 Manitoba Liquor Control Act. A staunch Conservative he represented Brandon. Aikins headed the Conservative party in Manitoba after 1915 and they supported women’s suffrage and prohibition. They were snubbed at the polls as the country and Manitoba went Liberal.
Aikins worked on behalf of major companies such as great West Life for which he served as solicitor for 37 years. He was a director of many other firms including the Imperial Bank. Aikins left his name to the legal firm Aikins MaCaulay & Thorvaldson and Aikins St in the North end. Aikins built the Sommerset Block in 1900 just east of Eatons at Donald and Portage named after his older brother. It was the first concrete building to be built in Winnipeg. He helped get eh Royal Alex and the Main St CPR subway. JAM had been a lavish entertainer at Govt house.
Aikins was active in numerous community organizations including serving as one of the founders of the Winnipeg YMCA, chair of Wesley College, Boy Scouts.
He was an ardent golfer and was considered one of Manitoba ‘s most skilled marksmen. His first marriage went sour as work preoccupied his time.
AN IRONIC END
Aikins career was to be celebrated in a special reception. In the large program for this special event one hundred and nineteen letters had been written congratulating Aikins for 50 years as a lawyer. They came from the prime Minister McKenzie King, from the Us Supreme court and from every important lawyer in the world. Ironically the day before the celebration was to be held to commemorate his 50 years on the Manitoba Bar James Aikins took ill and died two days later. He left one son and two daughters. He died in February 1929. He left a $6 M estate. His home Riverbend became Balmoral Hall school for girls.
His son Harold trained in law and fought in WW1 losing a leg. He became a member of the firm but unlike his dad, he was a most sour personality.