Beaty, James (1798–1892), politician and newspaper proprietor in Canada, was born near Killeshandra, Co. Cavan, in 1798, possibly on 2 September. He was the youngest of five sons of Robert Beaty, land surveyor, and Catherine Beaty (née Crawford); his father was of a fairly prosperous Church of Ireland family, though all the sons eventually emigrated. Beaty was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but emigrated to New York when he was 17. He was unwilling to become a US citizen, so in 1818 moved to what was then known as the town of York (subsequently called Toronto) in Upper Canada. Several of his brothers were also in the area, and the family came to exert considerable local influence. James Beaty established a leather business and invested in property as the small town became a city; he built the first brick houses. He was one of the early members of the Orange order in York, and boasted of having carried the Orange flag in the first march of the order (1820) in York; the order became very influential in Toronto, and Beaty throughout his life associated himself with those whose identity as Canadians was founded on the protestantism and English language that had come with them from Ireland. However, he did not at first align himself with the traditional conservative position of the Orange order. At the beginning of his career his political allegiances were with the liberals, who favoured popular government and opposed the development in Canada of a system of government by landed élites and a privileged clergy, and he supported reformers such as Francis Hincks (qv) and members of the Baldwin family, who were also of Irish origin. He was accused of having taken part in William Mackenzie's 1837 armed rebellion against the abuses of colonial power, but was able to prove that he had attempted only mediation with the rebels; he was almost shot on the orders of a captain of militia, but the soldiers, knowing Beaty well, refused to obey the command.
He served on the town council from 1836; in 1847, of the municipal council's twenty-four members, fourteen, including Beaty, were Irish-born protestants. He was closely linked with the foundation of many Toronto institutions, particularly with the Bank of the People, which he helped to found when the Bank of Upper Canada discriminated against known liberal supporters. He also helped found the Toronto Asylum, and was a commissioner of the General Hospital. He stood for election to the legislative council of Upper Canada in 1856, but was defeated; he was elected in 1867 as a conservative for East Toronto to the first federal parliament of Canada, and was reelected in 1872; he retired in 1873, during a scandal that brought down the conservative government over the handling of contracts to build the Canadian Pacific railway.
Particularly during his time as chairman of the Toronto board of works, Beaty's personal business interests benefited from his political connections and experience. His conduct was often criticised, particularly when he manoeuvred the provincial authorities into selling to him (1850) the three tollroads leading to the city of York; this was attacked by his many opponents as flagrant municipal corruption. It turned out not to be a commercially sound move, since the railroads were being developed at the time, and undercut road transport; in 1863 he had to sell the roads back to the municipal authority at a considerable loss. At the same time, Beaty was investing in railway development, and was director of several railway companies; in 1871 he was briefly involved with the two American entrepreneurs whose relations with the government were to cause the financial scandal of 1873. He was one of the founders in 1848 of a successful company that manufactured gas for the city, but when he later tried to monopolise the city's gas and water supplies, he again misjudged the potential profits, and in 1875 had to declare his businesses bankrupt, though apparently preserving much of his personal fortune.
In July 1852 Beaty founded the Leader newspaper in Toronto to support Francis Hincks's government; it started daily publication in 1853 and became the leading liberal-conservative paper in the country. It was in existence until 1878, mainly directed very ably by Beaty's nephew Robert Beaty, and by a great-nephew, Charles Belford. Beaty bought up several rival papers, including that of Ogle Gowan (qv), and had a successful printing business alongside the newspaper; it was the official printer to the legislative council.
It was in connection with the newspaper that Beaty played yet another part in the history of the development of his adopted country: he allowed the printers to join trade unions, and in 1872, during a bitter strike, he opposed his peers in the Master Printers' Association in support of the workers' demands for the introduction of a compulsory nine-hour working day. In July 1872 he was accordingly fêted as a champion of the working class, though his commitment to this cause, as so often in his career, was not without inherent contradictions. As recently as 1871, the Leader's editorials had accused the shoemakers' union of sedition.
Beaty, though he grew up as a member of the Church of Ireland, joined in Canada a sect called the Disciples of Christ, or the Church of Christ, and was baptised again as an adult. He was responsible for founding several congregations, performed many acts of charity and kindness to the poor, and is said to have visited the sick and even laid out corpses for burial, when no one else dared go near them, during two cholera epidemics. Though a man of lifelong strong religious commitment, he nevertheless opposed with typically aggressive fervour the imposition in Canada of the structure of church organisation that he had known in the established Church of Ireland in his youth, and he was hostile even to the concept of salaried clergy. He is said to have told stories of how he had seen a widow's only cow confiscated by tithe proctors in Ireland; it is possible that this was an event that happened in his own family. If so, his subsequent political career becomes much more understandable. He supported the reformers until they did away with the clergy reserves, which were huge areas of land set aside originally by the crown to maintain the church, and once this goal was achieved, Beaty's political views became more conservative, though he continued to support responsible government and federation.
When Beaty first arrived in York, he went to live and work with William Armstrong, another Irish shoemaker, and on 26 December 1822 he married Sarah Anne Armstrong, his partner's sister. They had a son and a daughter; Sarah Anne died in 1829, and the son also predeceased his father. Beaty did not remarry; he died in Toronto on 5 March 1892.