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J. K. L. Ross

J. K. L. Ross
Born 1876
Lindsay, Ontario
Died 1951
Residence Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Education Bishop's College School
McGill University.
Occupation Businessman
Racehorse owner/breeder
Religion Anglican
Spouse(s) Etheldine Matthews
Children James K. M. Ross
Parents James Ross & Annie Kerr

John Kenneth Leveson Ross CBE (1876 - 1951) was a Canadian businessman, sportsman, Thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder, and philanthropist. He is best remembered for winning the first United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in 1919 with his Hall of Fame colt, Sir Barton.


Birth and Early Years

J.K.L. Ross was born in Lindsay, Ontario, the only child of Kingston, New York native Annie Kerr and her husband James Ross, a wealthy co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a prominent art collector and the first Canadian to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. He grew up in the Golden Square Mile at his father's French Chateau-style mansion, 3644 Peel Street, designed by architect Bruce Price which was eventually bought by John W. McConnell and donated to McGill University which renamed it Chancellor Day Hall. Ross was sent to study at Bishop's College School in Lennoxville, Quebec then at McGill University. He played for the McGill ice hockey team and was a member of the university's Canadian football championship team.

Business ventures

In cooperation with prominent Montreal businessman, Sir Herbert Holt and others, Ross established Côte St. Luc Realties in 1911 which built the town of Hampstead, Quebec. In 1909 he built another home at 3647 Peel Street, opposite his father's, now known as J.K.L. Ross House, designed by William Sutherland Maxwell. But, after his father's death in 1913 (when he also inherited $16 million) he moved back to his childhood home and used the second one to house guests, the newer one being too small for parties. It was purchased by Marianopolis College in 1961 and used as administration offices until 1976 when McGill University acquired the property.

At one time, father James Ross owned a controlling interest in Dominion Coal Company and Dominion Iron and Steel Company. As a result, Jack Ross spent a number of summers at St. Ann's Bay in the northern part of Victoria County, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island. After his father's death, Jack Ross moved to Nova Scotia where for a time he was involved in the management of the companies.

Tuna Fishing

It was while staying at St. Ann's Bay that Ross developed a passion for the sport of deep-sea fishing and on August 28, 1911, after a struggle of fours hours and forty five minutes he landed a 680 pound tuna which set a record for the largest fish caught with a rod and reel (line). The Yarmouth County Museum and Archives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia has a photo of J.K.L. Ross and the fish. [1]

World War I

During World War I, Jack Ross donated three large yachts for use in the war effort by the Royal Canadian Navy and took command of one of them in the North Atlantic. He was made a Commanderof the Order of the British Empire for distinguished naval service. Afterwards, the media would commonly refer to him as "Commander J.K.L. Ross." Ross was the second Canadian (after his father) to be made a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron.


James Ross had used his enormous wealth to become a major benefactor to the city of Montreal, Quebec and his son continued the family's philanthropy. In 1916, acting on his late father's desire to support the Royal Victoria Hospital, Jack Ross donated $1 million for the building of the first major addition to the hospital which became known as the Ross Pavilion.

During the First World War he donated $500,000 in cash to the Royal Navy as well as three costly patrol vessels. He also gave a further $500,000 to be distributed between the families of enlisted men killed in the war. He donated money to fund a new building (Ross Boarding House) at his alma mater, Bishop's College School, Lennoxville, and also gave liberally to McGill University.

Thoroughbred racing

Jack Ross owned several riding horses that led to an interest in Thoroughbred horse racing and breeding. In 1915 he purchased twelve Thoroughbreds that immediately paid dividends when Damrosch won the 1916 Preakness Stakes. Later that year, he acquired a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) farm property at Vercheres, Quebec where he established his own breeding operation. Ross contracted jockeys Earl Sande, Carroll Shilling and John Loftus, all of whom would be elected to the United States Racing Hall of Fame, plus he hired H. Guy Bedwell who became one of America's leading trainers and who, too, was inducted in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. Running one of the most successful racing stables in North America, at Toronto's Old Woodbine Race Course, his horses won numerous races including five editions each of the Maple Leaf Stakes, the Connaught Cup, and the Grey Stakes. Racing success led Jack Ross to build a second breeding and racing stable near Toronto he called Agincourt Farms and a third such operation in the State of Maryland called the Yarrow Brae Stud Farm.

Sir Barton

In 1919, Ross owned two of the best three-year-olds in North America. Sir Barton and the 1918 American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt, Billy Kelly, finished one-two in the 1919 Kentucky Derby. Sir Barton then went on to win the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to become the first-ever winner of the U.S. Triple Crown. For 1919, Sir Barton was voted American Horse of the Year.

The following year, Sir Barton set a world record for 1 3/16 miles on dirt in winning the August 28, 1920, Merchants and Citizens Handicap at the Saratoga Race Course. However, plagued by tender hooves, Sir Barton was beaten in a now-famous match race on the hard dirt surface of the Kennilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario by the great Man o' War. In 1957, Sir Barton was inducted in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. [2].

In addition to Sir Barton, notable among the Ross stable of racehorses were:

  • Hallucination (b. 1920), multiple stakes winner including the Autumn and Durham Cups

Financial reverses forced Jack Ross to disband his entire racing operations in 1927. In 1920, he had been appointed president of Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal, and although no longer a stable owner after 1927, he held the position until 1931 when he retired to a home in Jamaica.


Jack Ross was widely respected for his good manners and sportsmanship, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame says that the United States press called him "the best sportsman Canada has ever sent to this country." On one race he put down $20,000 and won back $160,000, but he spotted an irregularity, and although legally he was allowed to keep his winnings he gave $40,000 back to the bookies. Though he betted frequently, he won as often as he lost, but he is remembered on one occasion for winning $50,000 from a notoriously sharp New Yorker.

The Rosses lived lavishly, even by many of his contemporaries standards. Princess Patricia of Connaught, who became engaged at Ross' fishing lodge in Cape Breton, was heard to remark that the Rosses lived more royally than royalty. He did keep thirty servants, but many of his supposed trappings were fictional: He had one or sometimes two Rolls-Royces, not eight, and his single private railway car was not an entire private train.


There was no doubt that he spent a fortune on parties, horse racing and yachts, but there was no single cause for the financial downfall that befell him in 1928, when he was down to his final $300 after inheriting $16 million fifteen years earlier. His investments in Turner Valley and the Mexican oil wells had been premature, and he had been exceedingly generous in his philanthropy and to many friends alike. His saddest memory was when his friends to who he'd been so generous before crossed the street when they saw him coming. Certainly his passion for horse racing though cost him dearly as his son explained,

To own a few mediocre horses is an expensive luxary. To own many good ones demands a truly vast sum of money. In those days a large racing establishment, even a highly successful one, never made back it's expenses.


He was saved from penury by a trust fund, and moved from his Montreal mansion (afterwards bought by his close friend the 2nd Baron Shaughnessy) into an apartment. After his wife divorced him he went to Jamaica where he met his new wife, Iris. He bought a house on Montego Bay (which after his death was purchased by Lord Beaverbrook), was made deputy governor of the island and apart from occasional visits to Montreal remained there until his death in 1951, happier (he told his confidantes), than when he was rich.

In accordance with his wishes, J.K.L. Ross was buried at sea. On its formation in 1976, he was inducted posthumously into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. In 1956, his only son, James K. M. (Jim) Ross, who shared his father's passion for racing, published a book titled Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing.


  • Ross, James K. M. Boots and Saddles : The Story of the Fabulous Ross Stable in the Golden Days of Racing (1956) E. P. Dutton, New York
  • Adams, Annmarie Medicine by Design: The Architect and the Modern Hospital, 1893-1943 (2008) University of Minnesota Press ISBN 978-0-8166-5113-9


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