Ames, Sir Herbert Brown

Sir Herbert Brown Ames, businessman, civic reformer, politician (b at Montréal 27 June 1863; d there 31 Mar 1954). Ames was the son of American parents who inherited a share in and became a director of the family firm Ames-Holden Limited, a successful boot and shoe company. He also became the director of several insurance companies, but devoted much of his life to political reform. In 1892 he was one of the organizers of the Volunteer Electoral League, which sought to combat municipal corruption in Montréal. There were some initial successes, and Ames himself served as a Montréal alderman in 1898 until 1906, working for reform, particularly in health and education. But he was not able to defeat permanently those he regarded as politically corrupt.

In 1904 Ames, running in the constituency of Montréal-St Antoine, won election to the House of Commons as a Conservative and served in federal politics until 1920. Late in 1919 he was appointed a financial director to the Secretariat of the League of Nations in Geneva, and also held other posts with the league. He is best remembered, however, for a series of articles published first in the Montreal Star and then in 1897, in a book entitled The City Below the Hill. It was one of the earliest sociological descriptions of the working-class district of west-end Montréal, and expressed Ames's conviction that poverty and the social problems associated with it were less a consequence of laziness and intemperance than of sporadic and irregular employment at inadequate rates of remuneration. He was convinced that the poor, if given the opportunity, would work to escape the poverty of slum life. In the companies with which he was associated, Ames tried to promote progressive employment practices, but in later life his reformist zeal was diverted to national and then to international politics, where he worked in the interests of imperial trade and international peace.