Famous with his colleagues around the world as an inventor of magic tricks, magician Stewart James is much lesser known close to home.
Born in 1908, Stewart James lived his entire life in Courtright, in a house called "Aberystwyth", named for his grandparents' birthplace in Wales. He was exposed to magic at an early age because his father, a tinsmith, enjoyed making mechanisms; therefore, he was often asked to make equipment for magicians. One story of Stewart's own beginnings with magic is that he learned the "Knot of Enchantment" trick from a Sunday School newspaper at age 7, beginning a life-long fascination with magic. Stewart's first performance of magic was at Stewart Hall in Courtright at the age of 9. In 1926, his first published trick appeared in print.
As a young man, Stewart James gave performances of magic in various parts of Canada and the U.S., but this was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. He enlisted in the Canadian armed forces where his talents were soon recognized, earning him a transfer into the army show, where he entertained his fellow soldiers.
Upon his return from the war, Stewart cared for his aging mother. Staying close to home, he gave up most of his public performances, but he certainly did not give up his love of magic. While working a mail route for 21 years, Stewart James created new magic effects, and operated a store in Courtright selling apparatus used by magicians.
The creation of magical effects made Stewart James famous among his peers. For many years, in his later life, an annual gathering was held in Courtright in his honour, with magicians from the United States and England in attendance. Not only was Stewart a prolific inventor, but, according to friend and fellow magician Ray Massecar, "each trick of Stewart's was original in principle" (Sarnia Observer, 1978). Rope and card tricks were his specialty.
Stewart James' magic fills dozens of books. His largest work, Stewart James in Print: The First 50 Years, released in February 1990, is estimated to contain as many as 1500 magical inventions in its 1025 pages. The contents of his books are trade secrets, with this work being available only to members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Notable among Stewart James' achievements was his prediction of the outbreak of WWII. On September 1, 1938, at the annual meeting of the Piff Paff Poof Society of magicians, Stewart predicted the headline that would appear one year later. On a piece of paper he wrote "World War Threatened, Germany Attacks Poland". This was put in a wooden box, then a metal one, which was soldered closed in front of an audience. One year later, the box was opened by Fort Erie's police chief and compared to the headline of a Buffalo newspaper which read "World War Threatened: Nazis Attack Poland".
Stewart James made an enormous contribution to the field of magic and was active in creating new magic tricks until his death in 1996.
A small collection of Stewart James' magic books and items he used in his tricks is currently on display at Moore Museum so that visitors can see a little of the work of someone who lived in the community his entire life but was very little known by it.