J. R. BOOTH—ON THE JOB AT 95
CHARLES CHRISTOPHER JENKINS
TENNYSON reminded us that men may come and men may go but brooks go on
forever. Yet there are men who have put harness upon the murmuring brooks, caged their fury where they develop their mightiest in turbulent, white-foaming rivers, diverted their courses and made lakes of them at their will; men who have transformed the dreamy melody of the living waters into a roaring chant of commercial conquest. Such a man is John Rudolphus Booth, of Ottawa, who, on April 5 of this year, celebrated his ninety-fifth birthday. John R. Booth, who started his career with his brawn and ^a broad-axe as assets, a shingle-splitter working by the day, and became a multi-millionaire, did more than that. He engraved upon the face of nature, east, west, north and south of the centre of his activities, the rugged personality of John Rudolphus Booth. Within a territory that extends from the Canadian shores of the Great Lakes to the Ottawa River and from the Ottawa to points in the State of Vermont, U.S.A., he established industries and built railways that will remain as monuments to his genius and determination many generations after he has passed the way of men.
If at the outset one were to seek for the golden key to the tremendous successes of John R. Booth, the mightiest of all the big timber kings of this continent, he would surely discover it to have been an abiding faith in the future of his native Canada, a faith that was fixed and unswerving when other men seriously doubted that the struggling young British colony of the fifties would ever grow to merit its swaddling clothes as a self-governing Dominion within the Empire. Booth is one of the few history makers of those early days left to remind us of the intellectual giants who conceived and made come true the dream that is our Canada of to-day. Like some tall pine of the forests from which he took tribute is John Rudolphus Booth— left standing alone in patriarchal grandeur when others of his day and generation are gone and forgotten.
Still An Active Figure
LIKE the lone pine of the one-time forests, this grand old man of the roaring fifties and sixties shows little change in mien and habits with the passing of time. To-day were you to pay a chance visit to his mammoth pulp and paper factories at Hull, you would no doubt encounter in the yards somewhere, a sturdy figure, medium of stature and slightly stooped, with a face framed in snowwhite hair and beard that would remind you of chiselled granite. Now and then you would see him pause in his strides and hear him issue curt, incisive orders, his steelblue eyes snapping fire, orders which mill-men and yardmen alike are quick to fulfill; for, as in the days when he wielded the cant-hook and rode logs on the river with his men, his commands are final. The law of this iron man has ever been, “When I want a thing done, I want it done the way I say it should be done.” There is no alternative, and the over-man who fails to comply to the letter of the orders of the Big Boss might as well at once seek employment elsewhere. So far as one can learn, John R. Booth has never encouraged initiative or originality in those he has hired as executives, a failing which seemingly has not debarred him from becoming one of the wealthiest and mightiest masters of industry in Canada. It is a failing on his part that has dwarfed the careers of those associated with him in his enterprises and made them mere automata. It has also, no doubt, deprived him of opportunities to see the world and its wonders and of well earned relaxation when he could quite as well have shifted minor responsibilities to others.
But the world beyond the zones of Booth activities and expansion holds no sustaining charm for John R. Booth and never has. The twin gods of the material world to whom he pays tribute are Work and Achievement. While he is stoical, dogmatic, domineering and self-opinionated so far as the conduct of his businesses is concerned, he is almost totally without that conceit which makes some men picturesque and lovable and others merely ridiculous. Other men cannot appeal to his imagination or his vanity as a successful means to an end—unless that end has a distinct possibility of advantage to the Booth industries. He detests eulogy and shrinks from publicity with the shyness of ,a schoolboy.
The Man Who Is Not Interviewed
JOURNALISTS from the larger centres of Canada and the United States have time and again failed in their attempts to secure a Self-told story of his career from the lumber king. One writer for publications of international scope, about a year ago, encountered Mr. Booth while the latter was driving about his yards in his time-honored buggy, telling the lumberman he had travelled a thousand miles to get his story.
“Too bad, but I never give interviews to the papers,” remarked Mr. Booth, and he drove on.
The interviewer was not to be put off so easily. He endeavored twice more to get the ear of the timber king. His final attempt was made at the entrance to a building
where a big paper-making machine was operating. “Mr. Booth,” he insisted, “if there were no newspapers there would be no demand for the paper you manufacture.” “Is that so?” challenged the other.
"And if everybody refused to talk to the newspaper men there would be no newspapers.”
“Maybe so,” agreed John R., “but my job is making paper and you’re paid to get something to print on it. You are wasting your own time here and mine too.” With that he strode out to his buggy and drove away. Motion picture men have on occasion been successful in making “shots” of Mr. Booth, but always they have had to be resourceful enough to get him unawares. Though reticent and distinctly reserved in the presence of strangers, he is noted for his deftness at repartee. A story is told of a stableman who attended to Mr. Booth’s horse at one of his customary stopping-places up country to whom he usually gave a ten cent tip. One evening the stableman thought to suggest an increase in his honorarium.
"Mr. Booth, sir,” he opened, “did you know that you only gave me ten cents?”
“What’s that?” demanded Mr. Booth.
“You only gave me ten cents,” repeated the hostler. “Now your son, sir, never gives me less than a quarter.” “My son is better off than I am,” replied the magnate as he climbed into his buggy. “You see, he happens to have a rich father.”
Another story is told for whose veracity I cannot vouch but it goes to illustrate the modesty and simple tastes of
the man. Following injuries received in a fall in his yards, Mr Booth went to a well known Ameri-
can sanitarium for expert treatment. There he registered as “J. R. Booth, lumberman.” The hospital authorities, taking it for granted he was a worker in a Canadian lumber camp, thought to make his bill as reasonable as they possibly could and fixed it at a couple of hundred dollars. But when Mr. Booth went to pay up he drew out a roll of bills of such large denominations that the office staff stood aghast.
“The lumber business must be pretty healthy these days; Mr. Booth,” remarked the manager.
“Pretty fair,” replied the patient.
“By the way, what lumber company are you with in Ottawa?”
“I am with the Booth Mills.”
“You are a foreman there, I suppose?”
“No,” quietly replied the other. “I am the owner.” Since then, it is said, the management of that particular sanitarium has been diligent in looking up the rating of every quiet-appearing patient lest the institution be again treating some Canadian multi-millionaire unawares.
Though he has been ready to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in public-spirited enterprises that benefited Ottawa and the country as well as bringing in greater revenues to his own businesses, and, though he contributed toward the construction of the Ottawa Y.M.C.A. building, furnished funds for an addition to St. Luke’s hospital, now known as the Booth wing, and otherwise aided laudable undertakings, Mr. Booth is not a philanthropist in the sense that other millionaires have been. His conviction is that the best way to help others is to give them opportunity to help themselves. His own experience was that he got nothing from the world, that he did not work and strive for with little or no relaxation from the grind of duty.
The Human Side ,
NEVERTHELESS old-timers recall incidents that throw a light on his notion of charity—though J. R. Booth probably would not designate i,t by that name. Back in August, 1910, the Booth mills were shut down through the strike on the Grand Trunk railway. TVo thousand men, many of them with wives and families, were thrown out of work. After seven days of idleness the regular Booth pay day rolled around. The first man in the long line of workers who stopped at the cashier’s wicket opened his yellow envelope and gave a gasp of surprise. The next gave a shout of joy, and soon the small army of workmen who came with gloomy faces wondering how two week’s expenses were to be paid out of one week’s pay was turned into a happy, singing crowd. Each found his envelope to contain full pay for the week the railway strike had thrown him out of work.
Another instance is told of an old lumber-jack who was brought down with pneumonia. In the night while this man lay on his bed of fever and his family sat up mournfully watching his unequal struggle with the Grim Reaper, there came a light tap on the door of the little cottage, which was opened to admit the sturdy, stooped figure of John Rudolphus Booth, who brought with him a simple, old-time remedy. He had the patient wrapped in red flannel and insisted in sitting by the bedside and nursing him until a turn for the better came and he was on his way to recovery.
Though he has ever been a plain-living man of simple personal tastes the career of John R. Booth teems with color and big things. The empire of timber limits which his armies of lumber-jacks conquered with axe and saw is believed to include more than four thousand square miles.
The first of those virgin forests, which he acquired in 1867, known originally as the Egan Estate Limits, is still producing. Lumbering was his business, but because others had not faith enough in the future of railways to make the investment, and, because he must have them to get his products to the world markets, Mr. Booth financed and built railways himself, roads which, when he had proved their earning power, he sold to splendid advantage. Wise men, wealthy men and even royalty have called at Ottawa to meet this sturdy Canadian who rode logs in the river as a youth and lived to have his own private car on his own steam roads. His Majesty, King George the Fifth, once “broke bread and shared salt” with the Dominion’s greatest lumberman. That was when the present King was still a Prince and on a visit to Canada. His Majesty enjoyed a ride on a crib of squared timber with Mr. Booth through a lumber slide on the Ottawa, after which the loyal party were the guests of the timber king at a dinner of “pork and beans” served in a log shanty at Rockcliffe, which shanty is to this day known as the Royal Shanty.
Robert Dollar, the Canadian who became the well known millionaire ship-owner of San Francisco, and who
is believed to be the prototype of the “Gappy Ricks” stories, at a dinner given in Ottawa some little time ago recalled that one of his first employers was John R. Booth. Booth was at that date—1853—a shingle manufacturer, and Dollar worked by the day packing shingles for him.
His Early Days
JOHN RUDOLPHUS BOOTH was horn in Shefford •County, Eastern Quebec, near the site of what later became the Village of Waterloo. He was the son of Canadian pioneers of North of Ireland stock, and grew up as a hewer of wood and drawer of water on his father’s homestead. It was not until after his marriage to Miss Rosalina Cook, his wonderful life’s helpmeet whose demise occurred in 1886, that he heard the call of the outer world and shook the dust of Shefford County from his shoes. The rush of adventurous Canadian manhood in those days was to the States, and Mr. Booth, in company with his wife, and with nine dollars in his pocket, went to the State of Vermont, where he first secured employment as a carpenter. For three years he was mainly engaged working by the day as a bridge-builder, when he became convinced there was no big future in the job. He packed his tools and left for Ottawa. That was about the year 1857, when Ottawa was still living down the name of Bytown, an inconspicuous town in the Canadian wilderness.
It is told that Mr. Booth first worked in Ottawa as a shingle-splitter, walking three miles to and from his work. Shingles in those days were split from pine and cedar blocks with a broad-axe, one man placing the axe and another striking the head of it with a heavy wooden maul, the shingles being afterward graduated by being run through a mechanical shaper.
Ottawa was then beginning to hear the hum of awakening industry. Lumbering was in its infancy and E. B.
Eddy had promoted the nucleus of what later became an industry known in every Canadian household from the Maritimes to the Pacific Coast. The Bronsons were cutting timber and there were two small mills operated by Perley and Pattee, and Philip Thompson. The amber-colored Chaudière bearing the mountain waters from the unexplored hinterlands roared and swirled through Ottawa in majestic defiance of man’s might, little dreaming that the rugged youth who daily walked its banks and seldom smiled had come to subjugate its tumbling furies and bend its mighty energies to nation-building.
Booth subsequently worked in a machine shop and helped to build the Leamy sawmill at Leamy’s Lake. When the mill was completed he was made manager, a position which he held for a year. «This was the first recognition of his executive ability. Shortly afterwards he opened up in business for himself with a machine shop, but his plant was burned down after being eight months in operation. His next venture was a small shingle mill, which he vacated because the owner of the land on which it stood sought to double the rent, when Booth started to make a little money.
Following this latter venture he established his first mill on the site where his enormous pulp and paper enterprises operate to-day. He opened his mill with a single saw, and almost at the start was successful in securing a contract for supplying lumber for the new parliament buildings. He succeeded in handling this contract at a handsome profit, and later, in order to expand, he took a partner. In the early sixties the American Civil War broke out, with its aftermath of hard times. During the slump, Booth’s partner lost his nerve and wanted to quit. Booth refused to quit and by one means and another so financed matters that he was able to buy his partner out and continue the business alone. Almost immediately afterwards business on both sides of the international line commenced to pick up again and J. R. Booth started on his real career to accumulate ' millions.
His Originality and Courage
TT HAS been stated that Booth has never been prone to encourage initiative in those working under him, but that could not have been because he had not a superabundance of originality and courage himself. He was the first lumberman on the Ottawa to use horses for hauling logs and supplies in the woods, and other operators who employed oxen exclusively looked upon the Booth experiment as foolhardy. He next amazed his rivals by bringing in a crew of longshoremen to work in the bush for him. They set him down for plain crazy—as a wild dreamer who was courting swift financial disaster. But Booth’s horses soon proved their supremacy over oxen on the tote-roads and the winter-trails and his "dock-rats” put old-time lumberjacks to shame with their daring and skill at riding logs on the rivers.
Booth enterprises flourished and expanded like things so ordained by Destiny. He gained the confidence of great financial institutions, and, when several large tracts of timber, including the splendid John Egan Estate, were put
on the market, he readily obtained backing from the Bank of British North America to secure them. His first limit is said to have been purchased for $45,000, a mere fraction of its actual worth, with money which he secured from the bank at seven per cent. He extended his mills and bought more and more limits until fifty years later it was conceded he owned a larger area of pine forests than any other one person in Canada. By the year 1892 his mills had a capacity for turning out over one million feet of lumber in
ten hours. By working two shifts of men, the mills were capable of turning out two million feet in a day of twentyfour hours, exceeding considerably the maximum output of any other plant of its kind in the world.
Rising from the Ashes
TN THE month of May, 1893, this splendid mill was burned to the ground, but almost immediately afterward Booth bought out the old Perley and Pattee mill on property adjoining and fitted it out with modern machinery. He established a lath and a picket mill and shingle and boxboard mills. More than fifteen hundred men were employed in the new works and nearly half a thousand wagons were kept busy conveying the lumber from the mills to the yards. A good half of the products were shipped to the English market, and in those early days the lumber was loaded on river boats and towed to Montreal where it was transferred to ocean liners for transportation over the Atlantic. The balance of the lumber was sold in this country and the United States, Mr. Booth having established a yard at Rouse’s Point as early as 1867, a move that proved his far-sighted vision as a captain of industry. In 1875, he established a mill and sorting yard at Burlington, Vermont, with sales offices at Boston, Mass. He is said to be the only Canadian lumberman who manufactures his own lumber in his own United States mill. The American branch was first under the management of exGovernor U. A. Woodbury, of Vermont, and since his retirement has been conducted by Colonel E. J. Booth, a half brother of John R. The box factory in connection with this latter mill alone handles five million to six million feet of lumber a year.
During his career, John R. Booth met with a series of disasters, any one of which might have daunted ordinary business courage. Two more great fires ravished his property after the fire of 1893, one in 1900 and another in 1903. Millions of feet of valuable lumber were lost in these conflagrations, the first laying waste his magnificent stone residence on Wellington street as well. The net result of these set-backs was fresh determination on the part of the owner and further expansion of his enterprises, for he soon afterward added a pulp and paper mill to his factories, a mill with a capacity of eighty tons of ground pulp per day. It is said of John R. Booth that in all his struggles to make good in the face of great obstacles he never asked other men for financial assistance and even refused the offer of certain exemptions in taxation when he
May 15, 1922
was planning to rebuild plants destroyed by fire. When another fire destroyed his planing mills at Burlington, Vermont, the council of that place, fearing they might lose the industry, proposed a ten year exemption. Booth rebuilt the tn(jl but neverclaimed the exemption.
His Railway Experiences
DUT while Mr. Booth invariably refused favors that •D might interfere with the independence he exercised and held an inalienable right in the conduct of his business, he is just as tenacious in refusing to relinquish any property or privilege that he believes to be justly and legally his. This latter trait he particularly exemplified in the building and selling of railways. A lumberman, first, last and always, he became involved in railway construction because he needed steam roads to rush his products to the markets. American capitalists started to build the old Canada Atlantic back in the later seventies, and Booth, anxious to see the road completed as a quick outlet for his goods to the States and the seaboard, made them a considerable loan. The original promoters floundered into worse difficulties, and finally Mr. Booth took active control and built the road himself, completing it in 1882. This venture was followed by an extension from Ottawa west, then known as the Ottawa and Parry Sound Railway. Both roads he later sold to the Grand Trunk System, now the Canadian National, for $14,000,000. But before that deal took place Booth’s railways had opened up vast new territory and made history in Canada! At the time the Grand Trunk acquired the Booth system it was handling something in excess of 200,000 tons of flour and package freight and 20,000,000 bushels of western grain. It was equipped with sixty-seven locomotives, forty-one passenger cars and three thousand freight cars. This railway had lessened the distance between Montreal and Chicago by eight hundred miles and shortened the inland haul to and from the Liverpool market by four hundred and fifty miles.
When Booth was building the Canada Atlantic he was voted a bonus of fifty thousand dollars to bring it into the city of Ottawa, but, through exigencies over which he had no control, he was behind time in completing the road. When his steel reached the end of Elgin street, he applied to the city council for his fifty thousand dollars. He was refused on the technicality that the road was not completed on the specified date. Nothing daunted, and keeping his own counsel, Booth put steam shovels to work and literally dug out a pathway for his railway into the heart of Ottawa, using the dirt excavated to make new land in what was then a marsh in the south end of the city. On that site he located his round houses. He put up a small building to serve as a station, and one day took the aldermen down to see it. “Now,” he said, “I have carried out my agreement, don’t you think you ought to pay me the bonus that was promised ?” The council paid over the fifty thousand, taking it for granted the small shack Booth had put up was only to serve until he put up a real railway depot. But when they later approached Mr. Booth about it he said: “There’s your station as you accepted it when you paid over the bonus.” He refused to replace it, they had driven a hard bargain with him and he saw no reason to do more for them than the contract demanded.
While John R. Booth made a wonderful success of railway construction and railway operation, his heart was always in the lumbering business. He made it known that his roads could be purchased if a satisfactory price were offered. Sometime before the Grand Trunk System made its bid, a New Yorker representing United States capitalists, went on a scouting expedition over the road. Arriving in Ottawa, it is said, he came upon Mr. Booth in his mackinaw and overalls. He proposed to buy the road and paid down two hundred and fifty thousand dollars as an option on it, but he failed to complete the deal before the option expired. In the year 1904, when the American capitalists discovered that the road had been sold to the Grand Trunk, they entered suit against Mr. Booth for two million dollars damages and the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars they had paid over as an option. But the man in overalls with whom they had originally dealt had been careful that all his dealings were water-tight and within the law. The New Yorkers lost their case in the courts and John R. Booth retained the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars over and above the fourteen million dollars he secured from the Grand Trunk.
A Man of Daring
pOSÇESSED of a powerful constitution and exceptional * vitality, John R. Booth has scarcely lost a day’s work from ordinary sickness, though he is now in bis ninetyfifth year, but his penchant for sharing with his men risky jobs in the yards and the river has several times brought him to serious injuries and once or twice nearly cost him his life. He has had legs and limbs fractured by falling timbers, and it was in his ninety-second year while attempting to leap over a ditch on his farm near Ottawa that his foot slipped and in the fall he fractured his
THERE are ways and ways of achievement. One of them is free for all ; it is dogged determination. It is this quality that made John R. Booth one of Canada's multi-millionaires, it is the same quality that keeps him on the job, when past his four score years and ten. He got what he aimed to get, because in the face of many obstacles he refused to consider any other possibility. This is the unvarnished story of his life. It is a picture of one of the monumental figures in Canadian contemporary
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left arm. One of the narrowest escapes of his latter years occurred while he was down with his workmen in a coffer dam. The retaining timbers of the coffer dam gave way and Mr. Booth only succeeded in gettingout of the death trap a few seconds before the angry waters of the Ottawa swirled the timbers away and carried one of the workmen to his doom. Those who tried to get Mr. Booth away after his hairbreadth escape wasted their efforts. He persisted in remaining on the ground to direct the efforts of the men in recovering the body of the workman who was drowned, and in fact did not leave the vicinity until the break in the dam was repaired.
“Passing l'p" a Million!
THERE is a story tohl which goes to emphasize the rugged honesty of John Rudolphus Booth. While negotiations were on for the sale of certain Booth properties to the Federal government, a well-known member of a commission at that time wrote Mr. Booth assuring him he could hold the country up for a million dollars more than he was proposing to ask. Mr. Booth, instead of taking advantage of this advice, as a less honorable and patriotic citizen might have done, immediately enclosed the letter in an envelope and forwarded it to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then premier. Sir Wilfrid, wdth that farseeing patience for which he was noted, filed the letter away in one of his private archives.
Some time later the premier had considerable trouble with the very politician who wrote the letter, but he made no move until the latter resigned from the commission and announced that he was going on the stump to oppose the Grand Trunk Pacific deal. Then Sir Whlfrid sent him a telegram calling him to Ottawa. At the private conference which followed Sir Wilfrid produced the letter wrritten to Mr. Booth.
"Now,” said he, “if you are going on the stump to oppose the Grand Trunk Pacific, Mr. Blank, I too am going on the stump in your own constituency and 1 will read this letter, so that the people may judge your true motives.”
The politician fn question never set out publicly to oppose the Grand Trunk Pacific deal as he had announced he w ould. People wondered why he went into retirement, and there are many who to this day have never learned why he did so. A short time after his retirement liedied suddenly at his home.
Like many other millionaireMr Booth is not fond of extravagant cress. He wears much the same sort of oth.es to-day that he did in the old daywhet: he was struggling to make good. Not so many years ago a small party et Toronto men were going up the Ottawa river Oa tug. Standing nearby on the deck was an aged lumberjack resplendent in a navy blue serge suit and a gaudy red necktie who was telling them stories about the different points of interest they passed.
visiting the territory where he rode logs in his youth.
He pointed out the charred' skeleton of an old mill back in the bush relating that years and years ago he and John Booth worked together there making shingles by
“Mister Booth he save his money, and I buy fine clothes with mine,” philosophized the old French-Canadian. “Mister Booth he learn how to keep money, I learn to wear the fine suit; he have millions and millions and I have only the five-dollaire bill in my pocket. But,” he added as he adjusted his festive necktie, “I t’ink I learn somet’ings Mister Booth do not; Mister Booth nevaire learn to wear the fine suit and feel like a reech man.”
John R. Booth has at times taken a more than passing interest in athletics, and his picturesque figure graced the ice on the occasion of a championship hockey game between Ottawa and Vancouver at Ottawa in the Winter of 1919-20 when he consented to face off the puck, following which he was presented with a magnificent floral horseshoe by the home club. Flowers are his one hobby, and it is said he never misses an opportunity to visit a horticultural show. It was owing to this leaning of his that the officials at the Ottawa Experimental Farm named a new species after him, known as “J. R. Booth Poms.”
John R. Booth’s ruling passion, however, has always been for achievement as a lumberman. He knows no satisfying pastime but work. To-day, less than four years removed from his century milestone, in the very shadow of thingseternal, he makes his regular trips of inspection to his mills and yards and the music that has most charm for him is the roar of his pulp grinders and the screech and clash of his whirring saws.