A man of many interests, James Crooks became a wealthy and powerful figure during his lifetime and although his fame is largely attributed to his development of Upper Canada’s first industrial empire and the manufacture of paper, he should be remembered for many other contributions.Holding shares in the Desjardins Canal Company, Crooks boldly advocated that the canal be extended up through the escarpment to be linked with Crooks’ Hollow in an attempt to preserve his empire, but the project never materialized.
Throughout his life, Crooks was involved with politics. As early as the War of 1812, his name was prominent in local affairs. He was named foreman of the jury at Ancaster’s Bloody Assize in 1814 and represented West Flamborough as an elected member of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly from 1821 to 1841. Later the same year, he became an appointed member of the Legislative Council in the United Parliament of Canada East and Canada West and was thus entitled to be called the Honourable James Crooks. During these years in the theatre of Upper Canada politics, he “sought to chart a moderate middle course, rejecting the call for rebellion in 1837, but lobbying to have a stronger measure of liberal democracy in the Province’s parliament.”
After the death of Crooks in 1860, his sons chose not to continue the family’s interests in what remained of his industrial empire. Through the terms of his will, the paper mill was acquired by Thomas Helliwell, whose father, Lloyd, had managed it during the 1840s and it continued in operation until destroyed by fire in 1875.
Today, there is little physical evidence of the family’s presence in the township. John Weir’s purchase of the Crooks property on Crooks Hollow Road in 1884 resulted in the demolition of the family’s home. The Crooks Family Cemetery on the hillside west of the Darnley Mill, where several members of the family, including Crooks and his wife, were interred, became overgrown and abandoned as the little industrial community slowly disappeared.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 1 January 2010.