"Big Jim" McColm

One Saturday in October of 1972, while living in Toronto, I traveled out to Oshawa to meet some of the McColm family and to obtain more details of bygone generations. The only ones I can now recall visiting and meeting with were Scott and Annie McColm as well as someone I had heard my dad refer to as Aunt Ada. Aunt Ada had married Dave McColm (III,B,7) in 1921 in New Richmond but they later moved to the Oshawa area where they lived for many years. Dave had died a year or so prior to my visit but because Ada had grown up in Black Cape and was a part of our family for such a long time she was able to give me a lot of McColm family information that was quite useful to me. However, she also gave me a lot of information that I was unable to use because of the style of book that I was preparing. During our discussion I told her I had heard from someone in New Richmond that "Big Jim" McColm (III,C) had visited the Holy Lands and did she know anything about this. She said that was not true but did acknowledge that a major trip was involved but did not know what it was about. (Jim apparently was a tall man with a big red beard.) Of course, I could not use any of this in my book but was curious and tucked it away into the back of my mind.

On a Sunday afternoon in July, 1976 while cycling along the bicycle path that runs for several miles along the Ottawa River immediately west of the Parliament Buildings I stopped to read a bronze plaque that stands beside the river. It was dedicated to the Nile Voyageurs and described their significance in Canadian history. As I had never before heard of the Nile Voyageurs I read the plaque with considerable interest. It reads as follows:

The Nile Voyageurs 1884-1885

In 1884 the British Government decided to send a military expedition up the Nile river to relieve Major General Charles Gordon, who was besieged in Khartoum by Mahdist tribesmen. Appointed to command the relieving force, Viscount Wolseley, who had lead the expedition to the Red River in 1870, requested the recruitment of experienced Canadian Voyageurs. Almost 400 volunteered, including many superb riverman, and the largest group came from the Ottawa Valley area. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick C. Denison, they were largely responsible for the successful navigation of the Nile's difficult cataracts, although sixteen voyageurs died in service. The contingent returned to Canada in 1885.

Archaeological and Historical Sites Board of Ontario

I continued on cycling and thinking about the plaque. And suddenly I thought about Big Jim and wondered if he could have been one of these Nile Voyageurs. On Monday morning I phoned the National Archives and asked if James McColm had been one of the men on this expedition. In the afternoon they confirmed that Jim was indeed one of these men. A few days later I received mail from the Archives containing a copy of a payroll sheet with Big Jim's name and an entry that he had received $20 per month for his services on the expedition. They also informed me that he had received two service medals, the Sudan Medal and the Nile Clasp. They did not know what route he had taken between Canada and Egypt and thus were unable to confirm that he had in fact visited the Holy Lands as someone in New Richmond had indicated to me. However, because of the short distance between Cairo and Jerusalem, I would like to think that he did.

William R. "Bill" McColm
June 2001

Payroll Sheet

Entry No. 195
195 McColm James Henry Deschant (Ottawa) (Cash) 20.00 Hy Deschamps his x mark Val E. Graves?

Home | Table of Contents | Name List | Comments | Contributors | Guestbook | Notes | New Research | Submit New Information