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James Owen McNamee

June 13, 2013

On Peterson Hill there lived for many years in the 1950s and 60s an author largely unknown in his own community.  James O. McNamee wrote a series of entertaining national magazine stories and had a number of books published, all while living on the Trans-Canada Highway in Whalley.

James Owen McNamee was born February 26, 1904 at Port Townsend, Washington. His mother did not survive his birth.  Raised in Victoria BC, after being kicked out of high school he went to Montreal and attended McGill University, of which he wrote:
‘McGill turns out good men. They turned me out my first Christmas.’
McNamee  married a Quebecois, Elianne Dubord, and they went to live a while in Europe. Returning to Canada they ranched in Alberta, not altogether successfully.  Elianne became a school teacher;  James enlisted in the army, attaining the rank of Captain.  He was sent to Vancouver Island, to Florencia Bay,  to guard against an invasion.After the war the McNamee’s moved to BC where he found employment with the forest service.
By the mid-50s they had moved to North Surrey where they lived at 13438 Trans-Canada Highway ( now King George Blvd)  near Bolivar Crescent on the Peterson Hill.  It was an era of new housing subdivisions on the hill.
James became an insurance inspector and Elianne commuted daily to  Abbotsford Senior High School where she was head of the French department.
Of home life, McNamee wrote in characteristic style:
"There’s confusion in this house. We talk business in English and then throw cups and discuss each other’s ancestry in French."

Florencia Bay illus - MacleansAfter an injury to his back, McNamee quit working to write a novel: "There’s nothing to writing. You start at fifteen and you publish at fifty."

McNamee wrote a series of entertaining stories for Maclean’s, Canada’s "national" magazine.
He received his big break in 1957 when he won a new authors award. His first novel, Florencia Bay, was serialized in Maclean’s and afterwards published in hardcover.

The McNamee’s son was killed by a car on the King George not from their home in 1961.  The number of fatalities on this stretch of unlit highway prompted the Columbian newspaper to dub it the "highway of death." 
James McNamee’s next book dedication read: "A la douce memoire de mons fils Paul."

James Owen McNamee lived to the age of 76, passing away at White Rock in 1981.  Elianne McNamee died three years later. They were survived by two sons and grandchildren.

You won’t find any books by Surrey writer James O. McNamee in the catalogue of the Surrey Public Library,  but they are  well worth seeking out at the Vancouver Public Library and some others. 

three books by JO McNamee

A partial bibliography of stories and books by J.O. McNamee appears below.

Florencia Bay (1960)
My Uncle Joe (1962)
Those Damned Canadians Hanged Louis Riel! (1971)

Stories in Macleans magazine
Shameless wooing of Clarence Patterson. Maclean’s, April 2, 1953
Two ways to hook a sucker. Maclean’s, August 15, 1953
Give the bride a kiss, George. Maclean’s, September 15, 1953
Are people monkeys. Maclean’s, March 1,1954
Richest woman in town. Maclean’s, October 1, 1954
How to handle women. Maclean’s, October 1, 1955
Florencia Bay, serialized novel. Maclean’s, October to December, 1957

An article about J.O. McNamee appeared in Maclean’s, September 15, 1956

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