Francis Bernard McNamee, son of George McNamee and his wife Ellen Rehill, was born on the 7th of September, 1828, at Cavan, in Ireland, where he attended McCaffrey's (Independent) School, until, in 1839, the family sailed from Dublin, in the " Escort," commanded by Captain Minto, of Hartlepool.
The family settled almost on the site of Mr. McNamee's present residence. He was, successively, at school under Mr. DeLorimier, some Parisian Friars and Donald Frascr, who taught him book-keeping and grammar. In 1841, he received practical education in road-making, when, under supervision of Walter Shanley, C.E., the road up Cote des Neiges Hill was graded and a road was made around Mount Royal.
Time-keeping, at the quarries, proving uncongenial, he went to New York ; and, to avoid asking paternal aid, worked as a laborer on the Schuylkill Canal, until the contractor, James Brady, gave )iira, with lighter work, better pay. Returning to Canada, in 1847 and while overseer of building immigrant sheds, contracted ship-fever, of which the lamented mayor, John E. Mills, died from helping immigrants, of whom 9,634 died between ist of January and ist November, 1847.
Mr. McNamee has since constructed many good and important roads and streets, notably Mill street and Seigneurs street, Montreal; and dating good fortune from his marriage to Ann Byrne, of Quebec, in 1854, he, in the following year got his first paying contract, which was to widen the road up Mountain Hill, Quebec, so that a horse can economize its strength by a zigzag course up the steep.
He supervised several thousand men in macadamizing and planking the Government roads from Chambly to Granby, by Rougemont and Abbotsford, and afterwards made some Government roads in Hereford, Hampden, Ditton and Auckland. He first learned something of railway construction in 1851, under McCallum and Riley, contractors, between St. Johns and Rouse's Point.
In 1852, he was purchasing railway supplies between Quebec and Richmond for Rigney & Ferrie. When Messrs. Jackson, Brassey, Peto & Betts undertook to complete the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway (now Grand Trunk), the first Canadian their agent, the late Mr. Reekie, employed was Mr. McNamee, and he contmued until 1855.
He has since had many contracts with the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, supplying tanks, ties and fences, etc. with a force of twelve hundred men he constructed the necessary connecting railway line between the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk Systems, from Lachine Bank to St. Laurent.
He has largely contributed to the water supply of the three chief cities of Canada, including rock cuttings for pipe-laying both in Quebec and Montreal, the building of a pier at Lachine, protecting the mouth of the aqueduct from ice, and the " inland cut," or canal, three miles below Lachine j and the laying in Lake Ontario an oaken pipe, six feet in diameter and constructed of staves six inches thick, extending twenty-four hundred feet into the Lake, placed on a bed prepared by dredging and cribwork secured by stones, which was effective, until the authorities grew negligent after fourteen or fifteen years, when some lengths appeared like a huge sea-serpent on the surface, and failed to do accustomed duty.
He has built several canal locks '/and in 1875-6-7 and 8, by working in winter, he enlarged section 3 of Lachine Canal, costing nearly $1,000,000. Upon section 34 of Welland Canal, 1600 men helped him to earn $225,000. In partnership with William G. Turner, (native of Montreal, educated here, and successively employed by Tylee & Co., the Union Navigation Company and Mr. McNamee, as confidential jclerk, during many years,) he is engaged upon deepening a section of Lachine Canal, for about $1,000,000, carried on with many labor-saving inventions.
The work goes on at night by electric light; steam-drills preparing for blasts, under water, the charges being exploded by electricity, and at such depth as to prevent serious injury to the boats containing the machinery. The dynamite required is made by the Company in the vicinity. He has constructed, many other wharves, one at Coteau Landing and several at the east end of Montreal Harbour. Among many timber slides, he has constructed several on the Back River.
He has dredged the Ottawa River, between Ottawa and Gatineau, and the Toronto Harbour, in successive years, to improve navigation, and west of Toronto to prevent pollution of the air and water supply.
One work, for which he received three quarters of a million dollars, has proved of disproportionately great public advantage, it being a dam drowning the Blondeau rapids, so as to afford a timber-slide a mile in length ; and it saves the necessity of using a troublesome and costly lock. By the graving dock in the Esquimault (B.C.) Harbour he experienced a loss.
Some of his men have followed his fortunes twenty years or more, and acquired a competence; and are not jealous of his having made considerable investments, which afford the public assurance of his ability to carry out future contracts.
He recollects among early elections, owd at Terrebonne, when Sir L. H. Lafontaine allowed Dr. McCullough to be elected by acclamation to prevent a faction fight. The division being then lingual, and Irishmen so being considered Englishmen, road-makers went out to keep the peace with pick-handles ; but finding no disturbance to quell, went to Si. Laurent, where the late A. M. DeLisle and Hon. James Leslie were candidates; and a Scotchman of Lachine having been killed at the first day's polling, was avenged by destruction of property, resulting in contestation of the return in Parliament.
During the election, when barricades across the street were erected to prevent fighting, the votes being cast on opposite sides of the barricades, the late Hon. Jean Louis Beaudry, Returning Officer, seeing that this device had so retarded polling as partially to disfranchise the constituency, disregarding the law requiring closing of the poll at 5 p. m. he proposed to continue at night until every vote should be polled ; but the military were sent to close the election, if need be, at the point of the bayonet.
Mr. McNamee has been Justice of the Peace, President of St. Patrick's Society in 1859-60 and from 1876 to 1881, when the Society presented him an almost life-size portrait of himself, wearing the gold chain of office, with Ireland's watch-dog pendant.
Both, Mr. and Mrs. McNamee have been well known as generous contributors to charitable Institutions. If from the sum of causes of Canada's prosperity were subtracted the roads, railways, canals, wharves, harbour improvements and timber-slides constructed by Mr. McNamee, every form of business in the country would be greatly discommoded. It is not, therefore, 100 much to expect that the future historian of Canada will make respectful mention of Francis Bernard McNamee
He was a very political person having seen his people coming in on ships by the thousands must have been horrific and thus he began his work. He raised money, he started the fenian movement in Montreal. He was accused of being a spy for Government but later on was proven otherwise.
The founder of the Fenian organization in Montreal was Francis Bernard McNamee, a contractor and prominent member of the St. Patrick's Society. In the fall of 1862, McNamee met John O'Mahony in New York and returned to Montreal with a warrant to form a Fenian "circle" in the city. For obvious reasons the society had to conceal its true nature and to operate under an assumed name; deception was the order of the day. After a regular meeting of the St. Patrick's Society, McNamee invited a handful of like-minded individuals back to his house, where they established the Hibernian Society, agreed to follow the orders of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York, and pledged to "assist Ireland in the revolutionary movement then in progress." The assistance took the form of raising money, ostensibly "to improve the condition of Ireland," but actually to buy arms for the Irish revolution.