James Short was born near Elora, Ontario in 1862, to an English father and an Irish mother. After graduating from the University of Toronto he taught school at Chatham Collegiate in 1885 and in 1889 moved to Calgary. That year he was appointed Principal of Central School, (Calgary’s first multiple room school) a position he held until 1892. In 1893 he left teaching to study law with the old Calgary firm of Costigan, McCaul and Bangs, entering into practice with G.C.McCaul in 1897. Short was Crown Prosecutor for the Calgary Judicial District 1901-1926. Throughout his life he maintained his interest in the community and public education as a member of the Public School Board, the Board of Trade and as President of the Liberal Association of Calgary.
Short married teaching colleague, Janet Lafferty, but the couple had no children. In 1938 Central Public School was re-organized as a junior high and re-named James Short School in his honour.
At the time of his death in May 1942, Short was a senior member of the firm Short, Ross, Shaw and Mayhood.