Memorable Manitobans: James Wasson Speirs (1888-1980)
Born at Glasgow, Scotland in March 1888, son of William Alexander Speirs (1862-1914) and Margaret Wasson (1861-1922), nephew of John T. Speirs, he emigrated to Canada with his family at the age of two months. He was educated at Wellington School and Somerset School in Winnipeg. He worked in his father’s milk production and processing plant on West Notre Dame, the first one in Manitoba to sell pasteurized milk in bottles. From 1911 to 1931, he worked for the Crescent Creamery, rising to the position of Superintendent, then Assistant to the President. In 1931, he purchased the near-bankrupt firm of Modern Dairy Limited and was its President and General Manager until his retirement in 1974, at which time it was the largest privately-owned dairy operation in Canada. He was a founding member and past President of the Dairy Council of Canada, a past President and honorary life member of the Manitoba Dairy Association and the Dairy Manufacturers Association of Manitoba.
On 27 June 1918, he married Elizabeth Black Turner (1893-1997) in the RM of Assiniboia and they had three sons: James Gordon Speirs (1920-1998), Donald Alexander “Don” Speirs (1923-2001), and Douglas Ross Speirs (1928-1985). He served as a Director and Chairman of the Board of the St. Boniface General Hospital and, for 17 years, was Chairman of the Sanatorium Board of Manitoba (1958-1964). When the St. Boniface Tuberculosis Sanatorium was threatened with closure and demolition, he saw the possibilities of converting it into a facility for handicapped children. He was largely responsible for the sanatorium’s transformation to the St. Amant Centre. He also played a leading role in the building of the Rehabilitation Centre in Winnipeg. For several years he was Chairman of the Board of Managers for the Middlechurch Home. He was a past President and honorary life member of the Carleton Club, and a member of the AF & AM (King Edward Lodge No. 93), Manitoba Club, First Presbyterian Church, and St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg.
1901 and 1911 Canada censuses, Automated Genealogy.
“William Speirs, oldtimer, dies,” Winnipeg Tribune, 18 July 1914, page 1.
Marriage and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“John T. Speirs dies after long illness,” Manitoba Free Press, 14 March 1925.
“Men of Winnipeg in Diamond Jubilee Sketches,” Winnipeg Free Press, December 1934. [Winnipeg Elite Study, G. Friesen Fonds, Mss 154, Box 15, File 8, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections]
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 19 March 1980.
A Proud Heritage: A History of The St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg 1871-1982 by Thomas Saunders, Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers (1982).
Obituary [Douglas Ross Speirs], Winnipeg Free Press, 1 March 1985, page 24.
Obituary [Elizabeth Speirs], Winnipeg Free Press, 3 April 1997, page 34.
Obituary [James Gordon Speirs], Winnipeg Free Press, 15 November 1998, page 39.
Burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.
We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 4 October 2019
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