Sir William Macdonald and Practical Education
C. D. Cliffe.
Some Striking Characteristics of the Man who Stands Alone as One of the World’s Greatest Reformers—The Aged Philanthropist and Benefactor Allows Himself to be Interviewed for the First Time — Some of His Manners, Methods, Ideals and Gifts.
"I AM a solitary man. I do my own thinking. I do my own acting. I am sorry you ever suggested the idea of writing anything about me, because I do not like it.”
So spoke Sir William C. Macdonald the other day, the noted philanthropist, benefactor to McGill University and education generally, and highly successful business man of Montreal. This, then, in one para-
graph explains one side of the man. To call him a merchant prince would be no compliment. To say anything but just plain, unvarnished truth would be a waste. Cut out all platitudes and Sir William stands alone as one of the world’s great reformers. His munificent donations to education running into millions have established a monument to his memory “more lasting than bronze,” especially as it will dispense through countless generations numberless blessings to the land he serves.
‘“A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” So wrote Emerson, and it applies aptly to such benefactors when the fanatics say, “How did he make his money?” “Is it. tainted?” “How much did he pay his halfcapable employe who was discharged?” etc. “Whisper it not in Gath,” etc., for it would be a weary world, were it not for the openhanded generosity of the Carnegies, the Strathconas, the Mount Stephens and the Macdonalds.
Sir William Macdonald has been over half a century in the tobacco business. He has always been as near independent as human beings can be, because he believed early that when men get the crook out of their backs, the hinges out of their knees, and the cringe out of their souls, they arefree.
Erom his earliest childhood in Glenaldale, P.E.I., where he was born in 1831, his dominant characteristic has been thoroughness, an ambition to be first in his classes, first in competitive games in the field, and, later, first in affairs. Those who have known him all these years believe him to be just such a man all through—a man in whom the people could easily believe ; they heard his voice, the very intonation of kindness,, they looked upon his strong, lithe form, have seen the gleam of his honest eyes, and felt the presence of a man—a man who wants nothing and gives much—a man who has given more than his life for this country’s education. When asked how he came to turn his mind towards education improvement ; if it was want of education in his own life, etc., he smilingly replied : “Want of education applies to all
mankind.” So there is the key to his benevolence. the subtle basis of his scientific economy for education.
In the little Central Academy at Charlottetown, P.E.I., the future millionaire, knight and benefactor, was educated, his capacity for absorbing knowledge was marked. The traits of the rugged Scottish ancestry were his, even to a theological stiffness at home which robbed his mind of much of its humor. In fact, it is well known that reformers must be color-blind —they see only red or purple and nothing else. Young Macdonald left home early, and, to use his own expression, he escaped much religious rigidity. Morgan’s Book of Men states that he was of Roman Catholic family. This is wrong. Sir William says he is opposed in toto to the Roman Catholic doctrines and to much of the Protestant.
His parents, though not wealthy, were people of prominence, and were, best of all, thinking people. His father, Donald Macdonald was a well-known figure in the East, and was for some time President of the Legislative Council of Prince Edward Island. His mother, Anna Matilda Brecken, came of good old Lmited Empire Loyalist stock, and was very fond of William, her youngest son.
She it was who instilled into the young man the right principles of life, the careful thrift and the evenness of mind which have served him well. It is said by those who know that Sir William’s abiding affection for his mother prevented him from marrying at an early .age, and so he never took the step at all. It is, however, from his grandfather that Sir William inherits much ability. He was Captain John Macdonald, eighth chieftain of the Clan Macdonald, of Glenaldale. He was a leader of men and
a benefactor, living a life devoted to public 128
good. After founding the sterling Scotch settlements of Tracadie, Scotchforth, Glenfinnin and Fort Augustus, all known throughout the Province of Prince Edward Island to-day for their sound Scotch worth, he served during the American War as captain of the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, organized by Col. Allan Maclean for the defense of Quebec.
His young grandson was proud of his stirring parents, and it is easy to see that Sir William inherited the power to lead and rule men, by his mental strength, his excellent physique and the combination of poise and sympathy which go to make up the equipment. The Macdonalds were like most of their race, they always bought the things they should have bought, and never left unsold the things they should have worked off. William was at work early, although he acquired a fine education. He spent one year in the employ of Daniel Brennan, in Charlottletown, which is merely an incident, and is more honor to that man than to Sir William, now, as it was really the only man he ever worked for. At 23 years of age, a time when most young men are just beginning to find their feet and often are just “getting out of college,” young Macdonald left his native district and started business for himself as an importer and commission merchant in Montreal, subsequently going into the tobacco business. From crudest beginnings he has developed an immense business, and, incidentally, a large fortune. Employment is given to a large number of hands and the business ranks as one of Canada’s leading enterprises. His business methods and his opinions have been kept as secret as if in watertight compartments. Even in the matter of his donations to McGill College, he loathes even the mentioning of it. He has given nearly two millions of money alone to McGill, to say nothing of his five million-dollar college bearing his own name at St. Anne de Bellevue, and his hundreds of thousands distributed in other ways. He is the largest shareholder in Canada’s largest bank, the Montreal; is a director of it, as well as many other important financial and commercial institutions; is life governor of numerous charitable and beneficent institutions and a supporter of many, unknown to the public, yet he holds up his hands in apparent agonv and cries out. “LEAVE ME ALONE. I DO NOT WISH TO HEAR ABOUT IT." Though Sir William seems to have shut himself in he has never been a recluse nor has he ever been in danger of dying at the top from mental asphyxiation.
Asked why he did not now advertise his tobacco, he said he had for years used the papers freely. This, with a good factory system and a very high quality in his products, laid the foundation for the largest individually owned tobacco business in the world. He would have been equally successful in any other business. The methods he employed in his great career form the strongest object lesson for the present-day business man. Questioned further about his business and some of his peculiar methods, Sir William said he would be shocked to have any reference to his private business.
Many acts of munificent man to man charities, kindnesses to old employes, donations to needy and suffering ones are known to the writer, and when the idea of mentioning them was heard by Sir William he exclaimed, “Horrible ! Horrible ! I am sorry I ever met you.” What then can be done to dissipate the misunderstanding that is abroad regarding such men. Self-seekers invariably brand such a man as “the meanest man on earth,” “An old curmudgeon,” “A shyster millionaire,” “He made his money by grinding down his staff,” etc., and all the other puling stuff that is emitted
from incapables and jealous fortune seekers who hate, because this man or that man declines to dip down in his pocket and pass out his hard earned money whenever asked.
“Misunderstood, indeed! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Carnegie was misunderstood, and Rockefeller and Strathcona and Mount Stephen, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.
Sir William is on close and friendly terms with many of Canada's greatest men. He is friendly with his employes, and most of his customers. He does not dictate their religious opinions or tell them how they shall vote. He respects their convictions and they respect his. He has made money and is making money. But his first object in life has never been to make money—it is to be true to himself, and serve the public.
He has been well paid for his services.
“There is that which giveth and yet increaseth,” etc. Cool, practical and courageous. his feet are always on the earth, even though his head may be sometimes in the clouds. Think what it would mean to have his services at the disposal of the nation ! Firm, resolute and incorruptible, unmoved bv flattery, unshaken by fear, just and tenacious in conviction, he has enriched Canada by a modest and noble example of strength and fidelity. lie has given a rebirth to education; has quickened the aspiration of our children and planted firmly a heritage worth more far than a mint of gold.
In his home, and this is dangerous ground, as far as displeasing Sir William is concerned—one finds all the earmarks of a voracious student. He has a fondness for fine books, loves the work of fine artists and engravers ; joys in communing with the thoughts of great souls who have worked and loved and failed and died to help the world’s freedom. That he thinks his own thoughts or is a freethinker is his own business. He is familiar with Emerson, Carlyle, Darwin, Huxley, Spencer and Morris. His heroes are men like Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Paine.
Tiie students at McGill convocations have been heard to say, “Bill, we need the money.” But Sir William only smiles and gives more. Those who do not care for him do not know him.
Those who think Sir William anything but a high-minded gentleman of superior attainments, are like the old maid who had a profound belief in the rascality of man— it was all founded upon hearsay.
The man is a picture of what is known as character. Character is like an Alexandrian puzzle, read it backward, forward or across and it still reads the same thing. He wears a full beard, which is now flecked with grey, but to see that long, square lower jaw, with the chin almost sticking out, it is so prominent; pursed lips, the long, nicely curved nose with just the hint of a hook, topped by a broad, well-shaped, bare head, the forehead bulging out just over the eyes, which twinkle through his glasses, and the thought of mastery, control, serenity—success strike one with even ordinary observation. The face itself is smooth and rosy as if its owner had never known a care, while at 77 he walks as straight as a lance and with a step as firm as a lad of twenty.
At Christmas, 1898. he was knighted by her Majesty Queen Victoria for his services to • education. His great work has been, however, latterly. James Wilson Robertson, now principa! of the Macdonald College at St. Anne, had been for many years very successful in Canada as a dairy expert, and later as Agriculture Commissioner for the Dominion. Some years ago he had a plan for interesting the young people of the Dominion in the work of agri-
culture. He had offered $100 in prizes to boys and girls who would send him the largest heads of wheat and oats from their father’s farms.
The response was most gratifying, and Prof. Robertson saw its future possibilities. He enlisted the support of Sir William Macdonald, who offered $10,000 as prizes. As a result the yields of grains increased 27 and 28 per cent., and from this movement has grown the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, who estimate that in three years crops have been increased in value by half a million dollars.
From seed grain Professor Robertson interested Sir William in manual training. Professor Robertson had studied the best systems in vogue in the United States, England and elsewhere, and adapted their best features to his manual training schools. He founded twenty-one of these, attended by 7,000 children. Sir William contributed the whole cost for three years, and then left the municipalities free to continue the schools if they wished. In every case they have been continued, and the movement is spreading rapidly. In Ontario the number grew from three to forty.
Another move was to consolidate rural schools. Professor Robertson took up this work with his characteristic energy, and again enlisted the sympathies of Sir William Macdonald. In these consolidated schools the course was broadened to include gardening, sewing, cooking and manual training. Dr. Robertson felt that our elementary education system was too bookish, that it did not appeal to the skill of hand and eye which calls out intelligence, and prepares for the home, the farm and workshop, or the mill, where most boys and girls spend their lives. These schools were successful beyond all anticipation. The attendance was larger, the education better and broader, the results more permanent and effective. In these schools selected seed was sown in the gardens, attention paid to the value of rotation of crops, the protecting of crops against insects and fungus diseases.
The educational movement of these two men was now so broad that teachers were required to be trained. Recognizing this need, Sir William has provided at Guelph two large buildings fully equipped for instruction of teachers. Here are courses for manual training, household science, cooking, sewing, etc. ; also a course in nature study and gardening. At St. Anne he has taken all that he found best at Guelph and in other colleges, and combined them into a system as unique and perfect as is possible to obtain.
The farm consists of 561 acres, divided into three parts : the campus, 74 acres, with plots for illustration and research in grains, grasses and flowers; the small culture farm of 100 acres, for horticulture and poultrykeeping, and the live stock and grain farm of 387 acres. All the buildings are modern, fireproof structures, models of simplicity and good taste.
The college has three departments:
School for Teachers, which takes the place of the former Provincial Normal School. In this special attention is paid to the needs of the rural districts.
School of Agriculture, which aims to provide a training by combination of theory and practice.
School of Household Science, to impart instruction in all that pertains to good housekeeping.
In the School for Teachers, there are five classes—elementary, advanced elementary, kindergarten, model school instruction and pedagogy.
The .School of Household Science gives instruction in a wide range of subjects, including the study of foods, cooking, household economics, clothing materials, dress-
making, millinery, fuels, ventilation, home nursing and hygiene and home art. These courses admirably supplement those of the School of Agriculture and show the wonderful educational instinct of the principal. In the School of Agriculture, boys are taught how to win wealth' from the soil, the dairy, the cattle farm and the poultry yard. How to earn a good income is taught here and how to spend it wisely and carefully is taught in the department of household science.
Professor Robertson’s work has been a natural growth. From seed selection and manual training grew the movement to reorganize rural schools. From consolidated rural schools grew the plans for the great Macdonald College at St. Anne. The question naturally arises, Will he succeed in the larger sphere? To know the man is to say “Yes.”
St. Anne has won more than a national reputation. Delegations from the United States and Europe have visited Macdonald College in numbers. Prof. Robertson has so won the confidence of Sir William Macdonald that together they go forward developing ideas and applying them to the advancement of education and “the building up of the country.” Sir William has put over five millions of dollars into the movement for the betterment of rural conditions by means of education. Not many men are able to inspire such confidence as to receive co-operation and backing so magnificent. This is as true of the one man as of the other, for Prof. Robertson says Sir William has ever been the predominant partner in ideas and good-will, as well as in wealth.
Recently the Quebec Society for the Protection of Plants was formed at the Macdonald College, with Professor Wm. Lochhead as President, and Brother Liguori, of La Trappe, as Vice-President.
The purpose of this organization is to study and* control the insect and fungus pests that cause so much loss to farmers. Probably there is as good work to be done for agriculture in this way as any.
It will help to show the cause of loss, and when the cause is defined the remedy will be more readily discovered and applied.
It has been said that Sir William’s characteristic virtues are commonplace, and that it is easy to give money when you have it, then may Heaven send us more such commonplace men. He has accomplished a work which would have broken a genius and driven a creature of public flattery to despair. If this is not greatness, no man need desire tó be great.
His donations to education may be
enumerated as follows: $20,000 to en-
dowment for Mechanical Engineering ; erected the W. C. Macdonald Engineering Building, valued with its equipment at $350,000, with an endowment for its maintenance ; endowment of Electrical Engineering, with the sum of $40,000 ; erection and equipment of the Physics Building, valued at $300,000, and two Chairs of Physics, with endowments amounting to $90,000; the endowment of the Law Faculty with $150,000; a further sum of $150,000 for the maintenance of the Engineering Building; $50,000 towards the endowment of the Pension Fund ; erection of a new building for the Department of Chemistry, Mining and Architecture at a cost of $500,000, making a total of $1,650,000 in this list. In December, 1897, he founded a new Chair of Chemistry in McGill, and contributed a further sum of $250,000 towards those departments with which his name was associated.
A short time ago the McGill Engineering Building was completely destroyed by fire, and it is now in the course of reconstruction. Thanks also to private work on the part of Sir William.