John J. Wright

Plot V, Lot 109
Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto

Wright was born in England in 1847 and at the age of twenty-three emigrated to Toronto where, for a short time, he worked as a proof reader for a local newspaper. He soon tired of this job and moved to Philadelphia where he met two young men who were conducting experiments using the marvel of the age, electricity. Wright too became fascinated with the new technology and assisted them in lighting the interior of Washington, D.C.’s posh hotels with electricity. Elihu Thomson and Edwin James Houston went to establish what would become the General Electric Company.
   Wright returned to Toronto and continued his experiments with electricity in a small shop near the corner of Yonge and King Streets and soon had contracts to electrify some of the city's shops and factories. Wright eventually sold his business to the new Toronto Electric Light Company which was backed by entrepreneurs such as Fred Nicholls (Plot 1, Lot 25) and Sir Henry Pellatt. (This company was bought out years later by Ontario Hydro.)
   In 1883 the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later the Canadian National Exhibition) hired the Toronto Electric Light Company and its manager, J. J. Wright to develop a new “electric passenger railway” which, it was hoped, would be in operation in time for that year's fair. Such a novel attraction, essential for the success of any exhibition, would doubtless draw thousands of eager visitors to the site. Working with American inventor Charles Van Depoele, together they got a system up and running in time for the fair. Over the next two years the project, which relied on a form of third-rail electrical pick-up (not the best method for on-street operation), was improved and in 1885 total success was assured when the pair introduced the under-running trolley pole, a method of collecting electricity similar to that used on most modern North American streetcars. The inauguration of the trolley pole at the 1885 Exhibition was a world first. Wright continued with his electrical experiments including the construction of an electric turbine boat in which he was frequently seen scooting across Lake Ontario to his summer home at Niagara-on-the-Lake where he died on February 1, 1922 at the age of 74.

Mike Filey
Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide
Second Edition Revised and Expanded

 Story Archives »