Memorable Manitobans: Thomas Russ Deacon (1865-1955)
Civil engineer, businessman, Mayor of Winnipeg (1913-1914).
Born at Perth, Ontario on 3 January 1865, son of James and Jane Deacon, he had an elementary education, then worked in the lumber camps of Northern Ontario, returning to school at the age of 20. In 1887, he worked as an assistant surveyor in the Rocky Mountains. He ultimately enrolled at the University of Toronto, graduating with degree in civil engineering in 1891. After graduation, he was employed as a construction superintendent of the water works system at North Bay, Ontario.
Deacon moved in 1892 to Rat Portage (now Kenora) as manager of the Ontario Gold Concessions for the district of Rainy River, also serving as managing director and consulting engineer for the Mikado Gold Mining Company. He was also a member of the town council, city engineer for five years, and acting mayor for a year. In 1902 he migrated to Winnipeg and founded Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works with Hugh Buxton Lyall. He was also President of the Manitoba Steel & Iron Company, and Vice-President of the Manitoba Rolling Mill Company.
He was on the Winnipeg city council in 1906 when the Shoal Lake water supply was discussed, and he promoted Shoal Lake as a source of water for Winnipeg for years thereafter. In 1913 he was elected Mayor of Winnipeg on a Shoal Lake platform and he implemented the scheme. He was re-elected mayor in 1914. Deacon was always hostile to trade unions. At one point he advised the city’s unemployed to “hit the trail.” He opposed any limitations on immigration. In 1917 he employed a private-detective agency to supply strikebreakers from Montreal, as well as an anti-picketing injunction and a suit for damages against one of the striking unions. His tactics as employer contributed to the Winnipeg General Strike. In November of 1919, after the strike he introduced a “Work’s Council” system of employee advisory boards into his shop to forestall unionization. Deacon was often employed by labour as the classic example of the anti-union strikebreaking Winnipeg employer.
In 1894, he married Lily Dingman (1871-1945) of Belleville, Ontario, with whom he had four children: Lester Jerome Deacon (1895-1917), Edith Deacon, Alfred Ernest Deacon, and Ronald Deacon (1907-?). Mrs. Deacon was born in Prince Edward County, Ontario, was educated at Pictou High School and Albert College, Belleville, Ontario and served as President of the Local Council of Women, President of the Mothers’ Association, a member of the Mothers’ Allowances Commission from its inception, and a member of the Social Service Council. Deacon was a member of the Masons, Manitoba Club, and Southwood Golf Club. He served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg (1914-1915), Mayor of Winnipeg Beach (1914), and a member of the Good Roads Board of Manitoba, Scientific Club of Winnipeg, Executive Council Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, and Vice-President of the Employers’ Association of Manitoba.
Deacon disappeared from the public eye after 1919. He died at his Winnipeg home, 144 Yale Avenue, on 28 May 1955 and was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. He is commemorated by the Deacon Reservoir. There is a clipping file at the Archives of Manitoba.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
A History of Manitoba: Its Resources and People by Prof. George Bryce, Toronto: The Canadian History Company, 1906.
The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 31 May 1955, page 30.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 May 2020