James Grassick (1868-1956)
Building the City
James came to Regina in 1882 as a 14-year-old boy. As a youth, he worked at a variety of jobs, including driving a supply wagon during the Riel Rebellion. In 1888, James became the first Imperial Oil agent in Regina. In 1906, he established the Capital Ice Company (Draying, Livery, and Feed Business), and for 50 years hauled ice from Boggy Creek and Wascana Lake to sell to hotels and butcher shops.
James served on city council on numerous occasions and as mayor for two separate terms. He was active in provincial politics and served as a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister from 1929 to 1935.
In addition, he also participated in a variety of civic organizations and groups. His interest in Indian matters earned him the honourary title of Chief Strongheart, which was bestowed by the Piapot Reserve. An avenue, park and playground are named for Grassick.
One of Regina’s earliest settlers, James was born in Fergus, Ont. At the age of 14 Grassick came west by wagon with his father from Rapid City, Man., in June of 1882 to select land near Pile of Bones Creek, having to swim the oxen over unbridged streams and sloughs. Two years later, he began his first job as a milk delivery boy for Mallory’s Dairy while also clearing land for new settlers with his father’s oxen-drawn hand plow. He later clerked in Daniel Mowat’s general store before becoming foreman at the Mowat ranch southwest of Regina. For the greater part of his youth, James did a man’s work.
During the 1885 Northwest Rebellion, James drove a transport wagon carrying army supplies. Afterwards, he became the first Imperial Oil agent in Regina, a position he filled from 1888 to 1909. He married Jessie A. Beattie (1875-1938) a native of Ontario in Regina in 1897; and won his first seat on town council the following year and remained there until 1903. They lived at 1604 College Ave. James was a member of Regina’s volunteer fire department and almost invariably won the bonus money for having the first teamster to arrive at the fire hall. “When the team heard the (fire) alarm, no matter what they were doing, they’d swing around and hit lickety-split for the firehall.” In 1906, he established the Capital Ice Company, located at 8th Avenue and Halifax Street, which soon became Regina’s foremost ice distributor; and served as its president until his death. Storage of perishable goods depended almost entirely upon natural refrigeration methods — ice. However, after more than a decade of successful commerce in that field, he resumed his political career during the First World War.
A city alderman from 1915 to 1919, James was elected mayor in 1920, and held that position until 1922. After returning to his business interests for a few years, he was elected to the provincial legislature as a Conservative member for Regina in the J. T. M. Anderson cabinet from 1929 to 1935. In 1939, he returned to civic office as an alderman, and in 1940 he was once again elected mayor for a two-year term.
Known as Regina’s “grand old man” or “Mr. Regina”, James also devoted much of his time to various organizations. He was present at the first presbyterian church service held in Regina; and was seldom absent on Sunday, first at Knox Presbyterian, and then at Knox- Metropolitan Church. He served as chairman of the Board of Managers of Knox Church for 45 years. He was a director of the Regina Exhibition Board for 25 years, two years as president, then manager in 1943. He was a member of the public school board from 1928 to 1937; chairman and director of the Boxing and Wrestling Commission for 33 years; a member of the Rotary Club; the Masonic Order; the Sons of Scotland; and the Canadian Order of Foresters. In 1955, the Plains Cree tribe from the Piapot reserve bestowed upon him the honourary title of Chief Strongheart in recognition of his unceasing devotion to Indian matters. He helped and gave advice to the elders of the tribe in the early days of white settlement. Grassick also had a farm on the outskirts of the city.
James died in an automobile accident. To recognize his many contributions, a park, a street, a playground, and a northern lake were named after him.