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Memorable Manitobans: James Sarsfield Coolican (1851-?)

Click to enlargeAuctioneer.

Born in Quebec City in 1851, Roman Catholic, married to Annie Coolican, with whom he had three children: John, Arthur, and daughter Bertie. He became active in auctioneering in Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto. Residing at Toronto in 1881, Coolican arrived in Winnipeg to join the 1881-82 real estate boom precipitated by the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was known in some circles as the “Marquis of Mud” for his role in the extensive sale of Main Street lots at the time. He had left Canada for St. Paul, Minnesota in 1882, after which his whereabouts are unknown.

The following biographical sketch of Coolican comes from an article by Charles N. Bell in the Manitoba Sun newspaper of 23 April 1887:

J. S. Coolican came from Toronto at an early date in the history of the boom, and soon made his mark as a vendor of real estate. He was an adept at drawing up advertisements which converted sections of wild lands into apparently crowded cities, already rivalling Chicago in commerce and general advantages of position. One of his chief efforts was the booming of St. Vincent, on the American side of the international line.

Coolican went to St. Paul in 1882 to boom St. Vincent, and this is how a St. Paul paper describesthe typical boom auctioneer: “Rivaling an electric light, in his scarf beams a two carat gem, while from the curve-describing, gesticulating middle finger of his left hand, shines another. His Prince Albert and natty pantaloons fit him as the mould does the iron, and his correctly cut mutton-chop whiskers and trip moustache, the sable, fringed with silver, as in his Cincinnati cut hair, show how the only Coolican, auctioneer of St. Vincent lots, appreciates the effect of outword [sic] adornment.” Glib? Well, his hearers should smile; and full of originality. As plausible and as prolix as Plonius, and keenly awake withal, he is an entertainment in himself, and helps to explain the Winnipeg boom as non-visible adjuncts cannot. The brass band tooted through the streets, as it has on former days, irresponsible youths shoved yellow dodgers into the hands of passers-by, the visiting Winnipeggers talked land and profits, and the boom was boomed as usual. In the evening a crowd of several hundred men and boys assembled in the Opera House, and soon Coolican took his stand before a huge plot of St. Vincent, ambitious enough in appearance for a city of a hundred thousand, and opened the ball. Shades of Andrew Johnston, how he talked! There was not a symptom of let up for two hours. Here is a sample:

“Gentlemen, I can’t go away from St. Pauland believe that you are all paupers. Twenty dollars for such a lot as that, two blocks from the shop reserves, and a corner lot, too; just the place for starting a saloon! Do I hear thirty? Going at thirty. Do I hear thirty-five? Remember, this sale is without reserve. Hitch on while the boom is on, and you will be wearing seal-skins and diamonds next year. Thirty dollars! Thirty dollars! Thirty dollars! Five do you say? Just in time; why I met a young man on the train the other day, and he showed me his bank book with a credit of $18,000, and he said he had $45,000 worth of real estate. He came to Winnipeg in a cattle car, and was returning in a Pullman. Made a little stake shingling roofs, caught on and there you are. Gentlemen, this double row of lots clear outside the town was bought by Winnipeggers yesterday at $250 per lot (whereupon he proceeded to sell a block in St. Vincent’s centre at prices ranging for $33 to $56 per lot). Hitch on to the boom boys, while she is moving. Telegraph to Sheppard, the town clerk in St. Vincent, or any one else there, and if he don’t say lots such as I am offering you are selling to-day at from $250 to $300, I'll open the wine for the house, provided there’s enough wine in town to fill such a thirsty crowd. Now pick your block; I’ll sell in any one of them not already purchased.”

More information:

Early Winnipeg Boom Makes History by Harry Shave
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 10, Number 3, Spring 1965.

The Great Winnipeg Boom by Charles N. Bell
Manitoba History, Number 53, October 2006.

Page revised: 31 July 2008

Memorable Manitobans

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