James Speight, the largest wagon manufacturer in the Province, and a very enterprising man, has always lived in Markham, being born here August 30, 1830. His father, Thomas Speight, from Yorkshire, England, left the old country a little more than half a century ago, and after spending a year or two in the Southern States, in 1830 came to Canada, settling in Markham, and carrying on the wagon business many years, dying in 1875. James’ mother, whose maiden name was Martha Drake, is still living.
Mr. Speight attended the district school until in his fifteenth year; learned the wagon maker’s trade, and has carried on the business since 1852, enlarging his force from time to time as his business demanded. For several years he has usually employed from forty to fifty skilled workmen, and turns out about 600 wagons a year. The best of material goes into them, and in point of durability and excellence they have no superior in the Province probably not anywhere. The reputation of Mr. Speight is a part of his capital; he prides himself on the character of the work which he puts on the market, and owes his great success to the high grade of his class of farm wagons. They find a market in Ontario and Manitoba, a very brisk demand having recently sprung up in the latter Province. The difficulty is to fill the orders.
Mr. Speight has a saw mill and a planing mill, and not only manufactures his lumber, but sash and blinds as well. His several factories give steady employment to his men, and have drawn into the village an excellent class of mechanics, and his works have added very much to its life as well as growth. Take his mills and shops away, together with two or three other parties, and Markham would soon have a forsaken look.
In November, 1877, he had his entire buildings destroyed by fire, and thirty days afterwards had the brick walls of his shops up and the roof on a fair sample of his energy and go aheadtiveness. He is the live man of the place.
Mr Speight is very public spirited, and his good business qualities are in constant demand by his fellow citizens. He was in the township council one year; has been reeve ever since the village was incorporated in 1873; was warden of the county in 1875, a high school trustee one term, and for several years secretary-treasurer of the Township Agricultural Society.
In politics, we understand he calls himself a “Grit;” certainly in that respect he is solid, unmovable, and he is one of that class who can give a reason for their political tenets and adherence to party.
He is a Master Mason, a member of Markham Union Lodge, No. 87, and is also an Odd Fellow.
Mr. Speight was first married in 1855, to Miss Mary Jane Crosby, of Markham, she having nine children, and dying in 1875, two of her children being also dead; and the second time in 1877, to a sister, Miss Ellen Crosby.