A prominent Toronto lawyer and businessman, James Kerr was attracted to Liberal politics in Ontario early in his career. In 1862, he was called to the Upper Canada bar when he was 21, and joined the law firm of Samuel Blake and his brother Edward, who later became Premier of Ontario and leader of the federal Liberal Party. Two years later Kerr married Anne Margaret Blake, sister of Samuel and Edward. Kerr was a respected member of the legal profession, and he argued several cases in London before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, then Canada’s highest court.
Kerr’s political interests at first centred on provincial politics. In 1891, however, he contested a federal seat in Toronto for the Liberal Party, but he was defeated. He resumed his work with the provincial party, becoming its president in 1892. Several years after becoming Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier nominated Kerr for appointment to the Senate in 1903. He was appointed Speaker in January 1909, and served until October 1911.
Kerr was actively involved in Freemasonry, which presented opportunities to do charitable works and to make professional contacts. Over the years he held many offices, including Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada.
Once described as “urbane, energetic and emphatic,” Kerr was “a man who has won the respect and confidence of all,” according to former Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper.
Kerr’s distinguished record as a Freemason earned him the Grand Cross of the Temple, which he received from the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Next Speaker: Hon. Auguste-Charles-Philippe-Robert Landry
Previous Speaker: Right Hon. Raoul Dandurand
Born: Near Guelph, Canada West, 1841
Died: Toronto, Ontario, 1916
Professional Background: Law
Political Affiliation: Liberal
Prime Minister During Speakership: