Conmee Syndicate: Spurred by the notion that Sault Ste. Marie was finally on the road to growth and prosperity, a group of local businessmen formed a syndicate (referred to by Zephrin T. Mailhot as the Conmee Syndicate) in 1888 for the purpose of developing the water power potential of the St. Mary’s River. Riding on the crest of the wave of optimism that swept through the Town, a group of leading citizens including Colonel R. B. Hamilton, Henry C. Hamilton, James Conmee, J. James Kehoe, N. M. Neeld, and William Henry Plummer incorporated the Sault Ste. Marie Water Gas and Light Company. It was their intention to produce hydroelectricity in order both to attract new industry and to supply water and light to the Town.
James Conmee (1848-1913) contractor, office holder (MP, MPP), politician, businessman and inventor. Photograph: Gwendolyn Corley Conmee.
Nathaniel M. Neeld was a member of the Conmee Syndicate, a group of Sault St. Marie entrepreneurs who attempted to harness the force of the St. Mary's Rapids to produce hydroelectricity. Photograph: Private Collection.
William Henry Carney, sheriff for the District of Algoma, was also a member of the Conmee Syndicate. Photograph: Private Collection.
Wemyss M. Simpson, the last factor at the Hudson's Bay post at Sault Ste. Marie and the first Member of Parliament for the community following Confederation, was also a member of the Conmee Syndicate. Photograph: Private Collection.
John James Kehoe. a local lawyer, was also a member of the Conmee Syndicate. Photograph: Private Collection.
Members of the Conmee Syndicate along with their friends and supporters gathered to witness the sod being turned for the first power canal. James Conmee stands to the right with hat raised overhead. Photograph: Sault Ste. Marie Museum.
|Turning of the first sod for the Water Power |
Canal, Sault Ste. Marie by Mayor Harry C.
Hamilton July 30, 1890.
In the 1920's, Henry C. Hamilton, a local lawyer and long-time colleague of Francis H.Clergue contemplated the notion of writing a history of the evolution of the Clergue industrial complex at Sault Ste. Marie. Mr. Hamilton extensively researched the subject, writing letters to numerous people who had been involved in the industries during their early days. One of the persons with whom he corresponded was Zephrin T. Mailhot, an engineer hired to supervise the construction of the power canal. In the following excerpt of a letter from Mr. Mailhot to Mr. Hamilton dated 21 April 1923, Mr. Mailhot describes his association with what he refers to as the "Conmee Syndicate".
...I imagine that only a few Soo people who participated in the Sault Ste. Marie Hydraulic Power enterprise survive.
I have not with me the books and papers that would refresh my memory as to the date my connections began and ceased with the enterprise but I may yet trace the papers when I return West.
My first connection with the Sault Ste. Marie Hydraulic Canal dated from the winter of 1888-1889 when connected with the Ontario and Manitoba Railway Co; I was called by representatives of the Conmee Syndicate to Sault Ste. Marie to report as to the feasibility, estimate of cost, etc. of the proposed works; which I answered by coming to the Sault, making the necessary surveys, and completing the information that was delivered and utilized at a Public Meeting held for the purpose of discussing the question and the advisability of securing the Town of Sault Ste. Maries guarantee of bonds, etc.
About August 1889 on behalf of said Conmee syndicate, Messrs. Kehoe and Hamilton or perhaps Mr. Hamilton himself - wired me at Three Rivers, P.Q., Lower Laurentian Railway Office offering me the position of Chief Engineer of the Conmee Syndicate proposed Hydro-Electric works at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I accepted and proceeded to the Sault when and where I started the work of surveys, plans, etc. and continued until the Town took over the works, appointed a Board of Directors in about 1890; that was composed of Messrs. Campbell, Munro, Johnson the jailer, etc. Mr. Farwell acting as the Boards attorney.
I was required by the Board of Directors to remain in charge of the proposed works; which I did; contracts and specifications were drawn by me. At the Boards instigation a consulting engineer Col. J. T. Fanning of Minneapolis was selected amongst a number of other applicants; who was asked to visit the works and report such as he did, examined plans, controls and specifications with some modifications and alterations were approved. Special design of the Dam at the foot of the Head Race was entrusted to Mr. Fanning who executed the same and furnished the Board with it.
Call for tenders were issued. Messrs. Luke Madigan and Arthur Ferland were the successful bidders and awarded the contract; Attorney Farwell acting for the Board of Directors.
The work of constructing was started; some of it sublet by the contractors, Director Johnson securing one of these contracts. I continued in charge until the fall of 1891 or 1892 when I was called away in connection with the Ontario and Manitoba Railway during my absence Mr. Wilde was put in charge of the work done by the Board of Directors.
When I returned the following spring, the contractors asked me to take charge of their work which I did until the completion of the Head Race etc. and final settlement of the Madigan and Co. contract.
Col. J.T. Fanning was requested by the Board of Directors to visit the works after the rupture of my connection with the Board but I am sorry to say never paid him his fair claim for services rendered up to date which reflects little credit on the part of the Board....