WANTED—A NATIONAL POLICY
SIR GEORGE BURY
Formerly Vice-President of the C.P.R.
THREE things perience in come my to railroad my exmind in these days when “reconstruction” policies are the talk of every smoking room. The first of these is the story of a wealthy old lumberman who was seized with a fancy to build a line of railway through his timber limits. He was not—I may say at once—Mr. J. R. Booth. He declined to have an expert survey made by a railroad engineer, but built the road after his own fancy and with no particular destination in mind. His steel arrived finally in a blind valley from which there was no escape, and his railway died, like one of the Babes in the Wood. I may add that the old gentleman made a fortune, but not from his railroad. It failed because it had not been planned properly or rather because it had not been planned at all; and what makes one think of it now is the apparent lack of any plan— even a tentative plan—for the building of the Dominion of Canada. We are going somewhere— but where? Speech-makers assure us we have “a glorious destiny,” but what is it? The country seems to be full of phrase-making and cloudsnatching, but to be devoid of direction! Say, if you will, that nations are matters of growth, of evolution, of slow development. Point, if you like to the European nations, some (one of them at least) like bright diamonds coined by the terrific heat and pressure of European political history. But Canada, which was an arbitrary grouping of diversified and often hostile interests under the paper seals of Confederation, is essentially an artificially-created country—nota normal, unconscious growth or evolution. And Canada must be forwarded toward its destiny by the abnormal and conscious labors of real nationbuilders. But what is that Destiny? And how can we know that the things we do are the right things unless we know the object of our nation building? We lack a plan and to my mind we need one, badly. What Are Our Peace Terms? \\/E send a representative to a Peace Conference. * ’ At that Conference agreements are to be made which will profoundly affect the life and the prosperity of every nation. Yet does Canada’s representative know' what Canada wants at that Conference? Or, what is more important, what Canada NEEDS? If the whole world rose up and said to that representative —or to Mr. Rowell or any other Cabinet Minister to-day: “Canada! We’ve decided that you are to have first say about everything and first choice of the best things the world affords. You have this one opportunity. Choose now!”—could he answer? Could you? Or I? Or the Lord's Day Alliance of Ontario? Or the Trades and Labor Congress? Or the Grain Growers’ Grain Company? I think not. Other nations would not be quite so embarrassed. Australia, for example, has a pretty clear and level head when it comes to saying what she wants from her neighbors. She has definite notions about the Japanese and Chinese.’ She has fairly clear ideas about the United States and about the British Empire. When Australia speaks she speaks at least like one with a mind of her own, a consciousness of her ultimate interests and a clear desire to stand by those interests. Or Great Britain? She knows what she needs and what she must have. A guarantee among other things
of certain raw materials to maintain her industries! Control, among other matters, of certain naval bases! Such and such privileges in the Far East and in the Balkans ! France knows. Knows where she wants to sell her wines and where she must get coal and iron ! How she must foster her silk industry! And how maintain her position in Africa! The United States has even an American dream of an American destiny. A bit pompous perhaps. A trifle grandiloquent—arbiter of the rights of the weak, protector of the western hemisphere! She may not be as greatly concerned about raw' materials as the older nations, but she is not one whit less eager about markets for her exports. So with Germany, and even Bulgaria and Serbia. They have a consciousness of their destiny and their needs. But we have no such consciousness in Canada. rpHE second item out of railroad work that has, I 1 think, some interest at this time is what we call on all the railways of North America: the Boomer. The Boomer is a railroad man who won’t stay with his road—an itinerant railroader. Some of the best engineers, yard-masters, firemen, mechanics and telegraph operators, are “boomers.” They have to be the best because only good men could rely upon finding employment wherever they choose to work. For example, Mr. Boomer Engineer takes a fancy to Cali-
fornia, quits his job, gets a lift from one friendly conductor after another—the camaraderie of railroadom is marvellous —till he reaches some California railroad
centre that suits his taste. He shows his union card, meets the foreman or superintendent, starts in and makes good!—the Boomer can usually make good. But he w'ill not stay long. Spring comes and some newspaper item makes him hungry to see the prairie again ! Or to smell the Ontario northland. He quits and wanders north once more. Sometimes it is the poetic instinct of the wanderer that moves him. Sometimes it is debt— or domestic trouble—or melancholia. The Boomer is the hope and the despair of the railroad official. And to my mind the Boomer—taking now the Boomer in any and all trades or walks of life— is the hope and the despair of Canada. If it were not for the w'andering instinct, or for those other things which make men restless, Canada might never have had an immigrant. For that matter America might never have been discovered. If it were not for “boomers” in the trade of law, or medicine, or farming or butchering or paper-hanging, the prairie would never have flowered with sod huts, and Vancouver might never have had a Granville Street. The Boomer—I am still speaking in the wider sense of the word—gives to the place that knows him, things that the dull stay-at-home could rever give it. The stupid man dare not be a Boomer. His hold on life is weak. He is not in demand. He finds his place and clutches it tight. It is the Boomer who dreams and dares and does! But we must anchor the Boomer. Consider the Canadian “Boomers” who heap up a few thousand dollars in the profession of law and then fly away to the south of England to spend it. Making their sons as nearly like Englishmen as they can. Sending them to English schools. Depriving the soil that really bore these sons of its first return—to wit, their labor and affection.
Consider the brilliant member of the British Government whose whole fortune was won in this country— employing his brains on behalf of another community when Canada is so much in need of statesmanship. One of the most terrible items of export from the Dominion of Canada, an item not recorded in the reports of the Department of Trade and Commerce, is the hundreds of Canadian young men, trained in Canadian Universities, aided by the Canadian tax-payer, who are now working in foreign countries. We must anchor Canadians in Canada. If we did that I think you would see then more interest being taken in a “plan” for Canada’s destiny. We must make men see that they are not living just for themselves, but for their children, and not for to-day only, but for generations. That is your good English family point of view—or Scotch, Irish, French or Italian for that matter. The man of the moment, however brilliant, is not so necessary as the citizen with a stake by which he intends to stand. We cannot evolve plans for Canada or a Canadian consciousness without anchoring the “Boomer.” PERHAPS in that connection the story of a certain district on the Canadian Pacific Railway may be of interest. It is a district of which I myself was once General Superintendent—one of the hardest, I should almost say. of any railroad district in North America. Continued on page 70
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You pass through this district coming from Fort William east to Chalk River, and south towards Toronto as far as MacTier. It includes also the Sault Ste. Marie line. It is a cold, rocky, barren-looking wilderness. One of the divisional points is said to be th'1 coldest place in Canada. Re ports of the thermometer at White River are said to comfort even the coldest in Toronto and Montreal, by comparison.
This district used once to be known as “boomer country.” General Superintendents at North Bay—that is the capital of this little kingdom—used to break their hearts over the labor problem. In summer when the fishing was good and traffic light—because the lake boats were operating freely—labor was comparatively easy to obtain, Boomer labor. Crack engineers from the Santa Fé, and wonderful machinists from the Key West railway were available. But in winter—?
I had an excellent yard-master at Chapieau once, during my tenure of effice in that district. He knew his work and did it with such intelligence and quickness that I dreaded to face the winter at Ohap.eau without him. Stopping off at Chapieau one autumn day I made a point of talking to this man and, after the preliminaries, I said:
“Bill, hadn’t you better be getting into a warmer house for the winter? Now the Company has a notion to remodel a few of the present houses, and if you say the word I’ll give you first choice.
As I waited for an answer a fiock of
wild geese honk-honked overhead. They were flying south. As I looked, Bill pointed.
“See that last fellow, Mr. Bury?” he asked.
“Well sir—” and he hung his head a little, “I guess he’s carryin’ green—for me!”
That was my answer. When a train runs in two or more sections the first, or first and second, sections display a green light at night or a green flag by day, which means “another following.” Another “wild goose” was to follow the flock overhead, my crack yard-master.
To-day, if you travel over that district, you may possibly see at some station platform a boyish-faced, keen-eyed General Superintendent who has removed the name “boomer country” from his district. The district has finally acquired a settled population of good men. You might not think Chapieau or White River or Schreiber ideal places to winter, but you don’t know the workers on that district. Ride in the official car with its General Superintendent. He waves to every track gang. He knows every station agent and operator and he inculcates in them his own genuine affection for that sometimes unfriendly looking country. He will tell you there is no other country like it! And he means it.
To my way of thinking that is the sort of 'man and the sort of spirit we need and must obtain for all parts of Canada to “anchor” our “boomers.”
THIS brings me to the third point I had in mind when I began to write : i.e.—esprit de corps, or, to use the modern and better word, morale. It is high morale, let me say at once, that produces from the labor of certain railway employees in Canada, a higher return to that company than any other industrial organization in my acquaintance obtains for the same amount of pay—but of this more presently.
An engine with boxcars loaded with supplies for snow-bound and starving settlers in a certain part of Canada, was “stalled” twenty-miles from its destination. A severe blizzard was blowing and it had taken the utmost effort on the part of the fireman and engineer to keep the engine steaming. The high wind and bitter cold absorbed the heat from the engines almost as fast as the fires generated it. With difficulty the engine was kept moving.
Finally the tubes which carry the heat and smoke through the boiler and out via the smoke box began to leak at the joints. It became increasingly difficult to “keep” the engine in steam. In the end the engine failed altogether.
In these circumstances the crew' might readily have given up the fight, wired back for help, and waited to return to their homes with the heroic glamor upon them of men who had tried the impossible and been honorably defeated by superior forces. This was not, however, the course they chose. They drew' their fires, laid slabs of wrood on the still hot grates of the firebox and crawled in, in the intense heat, to caulk the leaking joints. It wras awkward work and fires had to be raised again quickly to keep the huge but fragile machine from freezing solid. It was done. The train won through, and what might have been a tragedy became merely one of many an episode in a snow blockade.
That is the sort of thing I mean by morale. The incident was by no means exceptional in the service referred to.
Any railroad man could recount to you others equally stirring or even more so. For example I remember a certain crew' that took upon itself to rebuild, in 25-below zero weather, a bridge that had been burned down. They worked steadily for thirty hours. They made a rough trestle and “carried on” when to stop meant tying up an already-congested link in the transcontinental chain. Every day little things of vast significance are being done by men w'ho expect no reward, but who have the honor of the service at heart. Many a conductor, trainman or engineman suffers frostbite in the efforts to keep your comfortable sleeping car moving on its way through the night from Toronto to Montreal or Winnipeg to Regina—or in a score of other winter runs. Morale, in short, is what makes or breaks a railway and, as we know' from the example of Germany, makes or breaks a nation.
To my w'ay of thinking it is of the utmost importance, then, to anchor our boomers, to achieve a tentative national plan or policy, and build up national morale.
Injustices Must He Righted T T cannot be built—let me say at 1 once—so long as we perpetuate injustices and w'rongs in our social and economic arrangements. If the railway workers in Canada have a higher industrial morale than the workers in other industries—and within the limits of my experience, I think that is the case—it is because they have gradually wfon better w'orking conditions than in other trades and because the ability to handle men has been recognized by railway executives as a first requisite in certain officials.
We are all selfish—of course. We must steer our own course toward our own post, else the world would be full of confusion. Capital has too often been absorbed with its own point of view and thereby done itself an injustice. A wise selfishness finds that the fair method pays. Perhaps because so many railroad officials were themselves workers in the ranks at one time, railway employees have, on the whole, been better handled than most of the rank and file of industrial labor.
Selfishness has led managements to
hold down the men: Selfishness led the
men to make exorbitant demands. But a via media has been found and it works to mutual advantage. Contented men, men who see open to them the goal of ambition if they can earn it, are the men who give good service, and who manifest and stimulate morale. It is r.rue in railroading. It is trutin national life.
The old-fashioned methods of handling men were bad. They have gone, never to return—at all events never in general practice. There was a time when the “sharp” official was supposed to be the successful man -always harsh, maintaining discipline on the German methods which proved so disastrous to them, who always nagged, indulged in fines, and kept men under suspension for long periods, in anxiety as to whether or not dismissal would follow.
That is old style man-handling. Today, under the Canadian Railway War Board, any complaint from a company or from an employee which is not settled locally is heard by a jury of twelve men. six managers and six labor union officials. The verdict of that court “goes.” It is invaluable in keeping up the morale of the railway men of Canada.
So in National affairs I believe we have got to get down to justice and a square deal for our citizens, high and low, intelligent and less intelligent. The state that allows its weaker people to be maltreated or exploited by the stronger cannot develop a real, lasting, indigenous morale! I believe in labor unions, in the eight-hour day and in fair wages—wages sufficient to buy even the
poorest class, of worker the necessities and at least most of the comforts of life.
“Morale” is a wonderful thing and I could tell many stories to illustrate ;vhat, in my experience, makes it and breaks it. How the big executive, for example, can “keep after his lieutenants” without breaking their spirit or lessening their self-confidence; how a certain high officer of a certain road maintained his own intelligence department, not to act as spotters and talecarriers, but to enable this officer to verify from time to time the reports from his assistants. I recall, as a junior official, being mystified by the precision of a certain senior official’s knowledge of my work—and I was'helped by his constructive criticism. Had I trouble in a round house he knew more about it than I did and wrote me accordingly. Were my trains running past signals or exceeding the authorized speed—he knew it. In time I learned his secret, and thereafter I knew before he knew and thereby—but this is a diversion from my theme.
To build up and maintain the morale of our Canadian people we must have equitable treatment for all citizens. We should be quit of the exploiter of lowclass labor and the speculator in necessaries of life We should see that working conditions and living conditions for our people are righ t. Sooner or later we shall thus be enabled to wipe out the “boomer” tradition in Canada, and create a national consciousness capable of formulating pians for our future as