Barnett Museum Visitors - The Macklem Family

A Family Outing: The Macklem Family

Signatures of members of the Macklem family in the 1846 Niagara Falls Museum Register, Niagara Falls Museums.

A museum is a wonderful place to have a family outing, and that fact was just as true in 1846. In that year, the Macklem family of Chippawa made a family trip to the Niagara Falls Museum. Harriet Maria (Ransom) Macklem (who signed as “Mrs. James Macklem) came to the Museum with her children James Francis (14), Samuel Street (11), Sarah (9) and John Smith (5).

The Macklems were a prominent family in Chippawa for more than a hundred years. The children’s grandfather, also named James Macklem, emigrated to North America from Ireland, settling in Chippawa in 1790.

An economic and manufacturing force to be reckoned with, generations of Macklems owned and operated the “Chippaway Steam Foundry” (managed and run by Oliver Tiffany Macklem, elder brother of the children’s father, James Smith Macklem), “Chippawa Distillery”, a line of steamboats crossing the Niagara River, the local branch of the Bank of Upper Canada, a tannery, and the local dry goods store/post office. There were very few Chippawa institutions the family did not have a hand in establishing or running.

In addition to their reputation as captains of industry, the Macklems were regarded as “generous hosts and excellent entertainers”. Several Residence of J. F. Macklem. Credit: Niagara Falls Public Library.generations and branches of the family lived at some point or another at the Macklem Manor, a huge Classical Revival mansion built by James Smith’s brother, Dr. Thomas Street Macklem.  It can be presumed, then, that the children had happy, idyllic upbringings with all the comforts of wealth, a close-knit family and the respect of the community.

James Francis Macklem (1832-1921), a child of 14 when he visited the Museum, started off his working life under his father’s wing. At the age of 20, the census indicates that he worked as a clerk for his father, who operated the Chippawa branch of the Bank of Upper Canada.  Like his father, he stayed in Chippawa his whole life, sharing in and growing the family businesses. Later on, he partnered with his two sons, Herbert and Leon, to establish a tannery and leather belting manufactory. Like the generations of Macklem patriarchs before him, he was giving his children a leg up into business. After he retired, James Francis purchased a ½ mile racetrack and several horses which he regularly hitched to a sulky, a two-wheeled cart, and rode for his pleasure.

Paper bag from John S. Macklem’s store. Willoughby Historical Museum, W985.D.021.002b. Overlain is an advertisement printed in “The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory” (1869). By this time, younger brother Thomas had joined him in business.Store ad for J S and T MacklemHis younger brother, Samuel Street Macklem (1835-1872), did not stay in Chippawa, but did make the most of his family connections. Studying first privately with his uncle, Dr. Thomas Clark Macklem, and with his uncle’s former professor Dr. Sutherland, Samuel finished his medical education at McGill. He took a post as the village doctor for Oil Springs, a small Western Ontario town that was the first place where oil was pumped commercially in North America.

Sarah Macklem (1837-1915), who was 9 at the time of their visit, is reported to have been a sickly and delicate child. Nonetheless, she was an accomplished pianist who was, for several years, organist at the Anglican Church. In 1866, at a ball given at Clifton House in honour of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Sarah had the opportunity to dance with the Prince, a memory she cherished for the rest of her life.

The youngest Macklem child in attendance that day, John Smith Macklem (1841-1909), operated a grocery and dry goods store and acted as The Macklem Family crest. The motto is “Semper Paratus” (Always Prepared). Published in Chadwick, Edward M (1894) “Ontarian Families”, pg.177.Chippawa’s Postmaster from 1866-1881. With part ownership of the Chippawa distillery, he looked set to remain there indefinitely. In 1881, however, John and his family moved across the river to Niagara Falls, where he had a very successful career. He owned a large malting house with former Niagara Falls ontario mayor R.P. Slater, had ownership in the Old Cataract and Frontier Banks, was a financial agent for the Canadian Niagara Power Company, was a trustee and treasurer of Deveaux College for 10 years and financial secretary of St. Peter’s Church for 25. A brief biography written by a relative states, “Due to his activity both in business and socially, Mr. Macklem became well known throughout the Niagara District, where he was universally liked and respected.”

It seems like the secret of the Macklem family’s success was not just their shrewdness or work ethic, but also the powerful system of mutual support they offered one another.


  • Chadwick, E.M. (1894) Ontarian Families: genealogies of United-Empire-Loyalist and other pioneer families of Upper Canada. Toronto : Rolph, Smith & Co.
  • Roebuck, A.W. (1969) The Macklems of Chippawa: being an account of the lives of the descendants of James Macklem, standard bearer to King William III at the Battle of the Boyne 1690 and in particular of James Macklem who emigrated from Ireland and settled at Chippawa, Ontario in 1791. Don Mills, Ont.: T. H. Best Print. (A photocopy of this volume is available for research during the summer months at Willoughby Historical Museum. Contact Niagara Falls Museums for access information)
 To discover more about the people who visited the first museum in Canada, check out our guest registry page
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