James S. Smiley was born in Port Dalhousie on September 19th, 1884. His father had operated a boat works and James spent his early years finding adventures along the Twelve Mile Creek. His family lived on Queen Street (Dalhousie Avenue).
Smiley was well known for his excellent marksmanship with both revolver and rifle. In his early years he worked as a barber but left that profession when he began a tour of the continent giving displays of his marksmanship skills on the stage of many leading theatres in both Canada and the United States sponsored by small arms manufacturers.
After retiring from the stage, Smiley returned to Port Dalhousie at the start of WWI. Legend has it that Smiley hid on Read Island and often dressed as a woman to avoid conscription. Eventually he operated a boat livery business. He also gave displays at the annual Henley Regattas by towing a large raft to the centre of the course and shooting at small silver balls that were thrown in the air. He was known for wearing high heeled boots, a Stetson hat and carrying six guns.
Smiley was sometimes asked to train police officers on how to shoot. With his rather rebellious behavior behind him, Smiley was a police constable in Port Dalhousie for a brief time and served as acting police chief for Port Dalhousie when the Chief was ill. It is not known if he ever held a fulltime position with the police department.
The people of Port Dalhousie either loved or hated Smiley but most had a story or two about him that got passed down for generations.
On March 18, 1948 he died in a fire in his one-room house above the boat livery at the age of 63. There was a funeral at St. John’s Church which drew a full crowd. He was interred in St. Andrew’s Cemetery however, according to his obituary there is no visible grave marker. Years later a headstone was erected by Smiley’s grandson which reads:
“FOR MY GRANDFATHER / JAMES “CHIEF” SMILEY / SEPT. 20, 1884 – MAR. 18, 1948 / THE HERMIT OF HENLEY AND MARKSMAN EXTRAORDINAIRE”
Note: Sources documenting James Smiley’s birthdate do not agree. The most reliable source is the birth registration which states he was born on September 19, 1884. The new gravestone was erected with a birthdate reflective of one of the other sources.
“One Hundred Years in a Row 1903-2003: a pictorial history” edited by Stan Lapinski, designed by Sheila A. Kennedy
“A Nickel A Ride And The Best Was Free” Christine Robertson and David Serafino