From Grocer’s Apprentice to Senator

WALTER S. B. ARMSTRONG May 1 1906

From Grocer’s Apprentice to Senator

WALTER S. B. ARMSTRONG May 1 1906

From Grocer’s Apprentice to Senator

BY WALTER S. B. ARMSTRONG

The career of Hon. Robert Jaffray of Toronto, is one of solid progress. There has been nothing mete rio about his advancement. Beginning at the lowest rung of the ladder, he has climbed step by step to that position of affluence and honor which he now occupies.

HON. ROBERT JAFFRAY, who was created a Senator last March, was of Scotch farmer stock, and began life for himself as a grocer’s apprentice. It is a far cry from the Edinburgh grocery of J. R. Dymock to the Red Chamber at Ottawa; it is 60 years less one from the raw country lad and new apprentice of fifteen, just from school, to the tall, broad shouldered, athletic-looking old gentleman, financier, director of many companies, trusted counsellor of political leaders and captains of industry, now taking his seat in the Dominion Senate. How did he do it ?

Unless there is no truth in the old adage, “The boy is father of the man,” Mr. Dymock found his new apprentice absolutely trustworthy, generous, unobtrusive in manner, wonderously industrious, energetic and self-reliant in a marked degree. Latent then, but rapidly developed, was a keen, shrewd business acumen, combined with a farsightedness often remarkable.

It is not surprising that such a

lad, having served his apprenticeship of five years and grown to a young man of twenty, should respond to the call of the new world. He arrived in Toronto in 1852. There were 30,000 people in the then capital of Upper Canada, and the most northerly store on Yonge street was where what is now the corner of Louisa street, and it was kept by his brother-in-law, J. B. Smith. It was a grocery and provision store, and Mr. Smith, having other interests, placed his brother-in-law in charge of it. The young Scotchman found the business in an unsatisfactory financial position, but there was no daunting him. He was selfreliant and he obeyed the eleventh commandment, “Don’t worry.”

It is said of him at this time that he would go home at night with heavy obligations to meet on the morrow, and little in sight with which to liquidate ; sleep soundly and come down in the morning as cheery as a lark to grapple with his difficulties. Well, in five years he was a partner, and the year follow-

ing Mr. Smith decided to give his whole time to his other interests, and Mr. Jafíray took over the entire business. That was in 1858.

“I knew him well in those days,” recently remarked the general manager of one of Toronto’s banks. “I can see him now running down in his shirtsleeves to our bank to make his deposits ; and his deposits were not very large in those days either.”

The city grew past Louisa street. The business grew apace and developed a wholesale department. That was before the railways had diverted traffic from Yonge street and the hundreds of farmers who teamed to Toronto dealt at the Yonge street store. A dozen men were employed and a manager.

Gradually Mr. Jaffray relieved himself of the details of management and left himself time for other interests which his increasing means invited. He became one of the organizers of the Land Security Company, and as associate with him in that company was Hon. Alexander Mackenzie.

It is time to mention politics. Like most Scotchmen in Canada, Mr. Jaffray was by profession and profound conviction a Liberal; his indomnitable energy had made him a worker, and having large capacity for organization he attained gratifying results. His capacity for organization, his sound judgment, clearsightedness and breadth of view had made him a leader in the counsels of his party. When Mr. Mackenzie became Premier in 1874, and was looking about for some one to represent the Government on the directorate of the Northern Railway, what more natural than that he should hit upon his friend Jaffray, whose business capacity and industry he knew. Parliament had made

large advances to the railway and things were not looking too well. The Premier’s choice could not have been bettered. Through the representations of Mr. Jaffray the Government instituted an inquiry into the affairs of the railway that resulted very beneficially, and largely because of Mr. Jaffray’s efforts the indebtedness to the country was eventually paid.

His attainments in the realm of finance are due in a part at least to his association with Hon. Geo. A. Cox. In good or evil ways one thing leads to another. It was not luck that brought Geo. A. Cox and Robert Jaffray together in the management of the Midland Railway, then a small affair from Port Hope to Peterboro with a branch to Lindsay.

Sometime before this, how long it doesn’t matter, Hon. George Brown had said to a friend and business associate whom he knew to be a friend of Mr. Jaffray, “Why don’t you bring your friend Jaffray down ? I would like to meet him.” The request was complied with and the two Scots became and remained intimate friends. The Philadelphia Centennial brought to America a Scotch gentleman prominent at least in his own town. Having a friend in Toronto he came on to Canada to see him, and a few leading Caledonians' were got together to dine with him, among them Hon. George Brown and Mr. Jaffray. It came out in the course of conversation that Mr. Lyle, that was the visitor’s name, had invested £6,000 in the bonds of the Midland Railway, and was much disappointed because it had never paid interest and there didn’t appear much choice of saving the principal.

“A good property, but badly managed,” declared Mr. Brown. “Why don’t you get a good man on the

board to look after your interests there? Jaffray, there, is the kind of man you want.”

Mr. Lyle wouldn’t even go and look at the road, but the suggestion was not lost, for a year after a letter came from him stating that he and other Toondholders were prepared to place to the credit of Mr. Jaffray and any one else he would select sufficient interest in the road to make them directors. Mr. Jaffray consented to undertake the task and decided his associate should be a Peterboro man. He did not know any one at Peterboro, but he knew others who did. Mr. Cox was selected and within a day or two the matter was arranged. When they took hold they found many of the employes unpaid and things in rotten shape. Within a year the bonds that had been worth nothing were quoted at 50 per cent, of their face value, and the Scotch holders offered to sell out at that to their two Canadian trustees. Messrs. Jaffray and Cox said “No, we’ll do better than that,” and they did. Finally the road was absorbed by the Grand Trunk under a 99 years lease.

The association of business interests between Messrs. Cox and Jaffray then established has been continued and has meant much to both of them. Probably there are not in Canada to-day two men of sounder judgment, keener business acumen or more industrious.

Of business and finance it only need be added that Mr. Jaffray is, since last month, vice-president of the Imperial Bank, after thirty years on the directorate ; vice-president of the Crow’s Nest Pass Coal Co., director of the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, of the Canadian Gen-

eral Electric Co., and president of the Globe Co.

It is only as president of the Globe that Mr. Jaffray has become widely known. He was never much of a public speaker and so his political work was not of a kind to bring him before the footlights. He came upon the Globe directorate in 1880, and eight years later succeeded in the presidency Mr. James Maclennan, K.C., who had been transferred to the bench. It became his chief ambition to see the Globe a great newspaper, and in pursuance of that ambition Mr. Jaffray has probably rendered his greatest service to the public of Canada. It was not as a great party paper that he was ambitious for the Globe. He wanted it a newspaper eminently fair and absolutely reliable so far as its news columns were concerned. The fair conduct of a great newspaper is worth more to a country, and especially a young country, than many industries. Mr. Jaffray pursued his ambition with infinite patience and determination. For years the financial position of the company was precarious and the directors have had to give their personal security to the bank for large sums. Globe’s stock could be bought for 15c. on the dollar. Now it is above par, and difficult to get at any price. But it was not for money he labored.

Every intimate friend of Senator Jaffray will tell you of his untiring industry, his kindness of heart and his business foresight. If he promises a chap to try and get him a position he doesn’t just write a letter, or perhaps forget it. If he gives a promise he has it on his conscience and he hustles to find a place. His energy and goodheartedness are both illustrated in the story of Crow’s Nest Coal. Practically

worthless stock of the Crow’s Nest Coal Co. was kicking about and Mr. Jaffray undertook to investigate the proposition. He traveled 200 miles through the mountains and went over the coal areas at a tremendous expenditure of exertion. Then when he and other capitalists took it up and the stock began to advance, a widow whose husband had left her nothing but a large block \ of it wanted to dispose of it. Mr. Jaffray persuaded her not to, and it finally returned her a handsome competence.

Mr. Jaffray had always great faith in Toronto’s future. In the 70’s he said to a friend who was going to sell property on Yonge street, just north of Bloor, “I wouldn’t sell for three times what you paid for it. It will be the centre of a business district some day.” The “some day” has come, though there was nothing then to indicate it to the other man, a shrewd Scot like himself. Some years ago Mr. Jaffray foresaw that ultimately certain blocks of Yonge street property would bring large values, and he became heavily committed. The bad times delayed the fulfillment of his expectations, and for a while the property was a grievous burden, but the last year or

two have more than justified his judgment.

Aside from business and the Globe, Mr. Jaffray has few interests. Some years ago he gave some attention to theological and philosophical problems as recreation, and a sort of club comprising the best known university leaders and others used to meet at his home for the discussion of such {questions. He was chairman under the late Liberal Government in Ontario of the Temiscaming Railway and is now a member of the Queen Victoria Park Commission. He is an expert checker player and likes the game.

Mr. Jaffray’s home relations have been sacredly beautiful and tender, and a great sorrow is now resting upon him in the recent death of Mrs. Jaffray, a woman of deep piety and saintly living. There are four children, two daughters, both married, and two sons, one a stock broker the other a missionary in Africa.

To approach an adequate appreciation of this man’s sterling worth, large business ability and kindly nature, the stranger need talk with the friends who have known him longest and enter into enthusiasm of their panegyrics.