His First Century
ON JANUARY 19 of this year Rt. Hon. Sir William Mulock, P.C., K.C.M.G., celebrated his ninety-ninth birthday. As on his two previous birthdays there was no party and no cake with candles. Sir William has given up those luxuries for the duration but intends to go back to cake and parties as soon as the war is over.
That he might not live so long occurs to him now and then but only as a flight of fancy. Thirty years ago people wondered when he would retire from public life. Twenty years ago they began to marvel that he was still alive. Today, as “Canada’s grand old man,” he is considered in Toronto, where he lives, as permanent as Yonge Street, just as important and far more decorative.
On the matter of his seeming permanence Sir William continues to be pleased but puzzled. Longevity was never a family trait. Abstinence from tobacco and alcohol never a Mulock fad. As a hint that his ninety-nine years were preordained, he recalls that his childhood wasfreefrom such ailments as measles and mumps. What he really believes is that any man who does what he likes, and gets a big enough bang out of doing it, deserves to keep on living.
If that theory works out, Sir William should be good for many years yet. At ninety-nine he is as careful of his appearance as a subaltern on parade. His white beard, rivalled only by that of Winnipeg’s late Archbishop Matheson, has a sprightly, cherished look. His cheeks are a well-scrubbed pink. His eyes a clear, childlike blue. His longfingered hands are white and well manicured.
The public thinks of Sir William as perpetually in a white tie, eating his dinner surrounded by public figures and press photographers. Even his friends don’t picture him in anything so relaxed as a robe and slippers. From early morning he is dressed to receive callers. His custom-tailored suits, frequently of a racy black and white check, give him a look of being ready to go off on a tear. His wing collars and wide, white starched cuffs have an air of gallant perfection.
People who expect Sir William to reminisce are frequently disappointed. He is proud of his elghty-four-year connection with the University of Toronto. Of his twenty-three years as Liberal member for York county. Of his thirty years on the Bench which did not terminate till he was in his nineties. He dislikes being marvelled at because he’s older than the Dominion of Canada and, on being asked about Confederation, is apt to say, “What Confederation?” He is tired of being famous for his walnut trees on his farm near / urora and sometimes denies having planted them, although they stand sixty feet high for everyone to see.
Sir William’s memory is excellent, but even at ninety-nine he refused to live in it. He has his day’s work to do, and because he is not permitted to take the stairs unaccompanied—a fact which
Says Sir William Mulock in his hundredth year: "To live long you've got to get a bang out of life"
annoys him intensely—he works and receives visitors in his second-floor bedroom. His day begins at nine or ten a.m. when his breakfast of porridge, bacon and applesauce made from Mulock spies, is brought up to him.
“He doesn’t have it in bed,” his housekeeper, Miss Pratt, explains. “He sits up for it and wants it laid properly.”
After breakfast Sir William gets to work. Ignoring the cushy type of furniture, he sits in a straight-backed armchair with a table in front of him. On this table is a heap of letters, all of which he attempts to answer personally. A great many
are from strangers who regard him as a cross between Dorothy Dix and the wise old man of the mountain. They tell him their troubles which are mostly marital and, according to Sir William, largely imaginary. He makes no attempt to offer practical suggestions.
“What they need most,” he says, “is a kind word.”
Many of them get the kind word in Sir William’s own bold, clear handwriting. When the mail becomes too heavy, he calls in a secretary to clear! up the correspondence on hand. He regards a full-
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time secretary as superfluous. Hasn’t much use for doctors. Gets along with the amount of attendance Miss Pratt and the chauffeurs can give him without him knowing they’re doing it. At ninety-nine, Sir William still eats what he likes—sago pudding and a baked Mulock apple for lunch, soup and a little meat for dinner. Still enjoys his after-dinner cigar. Is allowed whisky by the tablespoon only and in a medicine glass. And plays bridge with the boys every Saturday at two o’clock.
“There are about twelve of us,” he says. “Sometimes we play at one of their houses and sometimes at mine.” He plays for small stakes but is meticulous about paying his losses and collecting his winnings. It is said that once he was about to pay his debt with an American nickel, remembered it was worth more than five cents, and dug in his pocket for a Canadian coin.
Once a Farm Boy
SIR WILLIAM’S nose for values is no five-cent rumor. Seventy years ago he began his lucrative real estate deals by purchasing a lot in downtown Toronto for $16,000. He was a young man, married just three years and with a growing family, but he wrote a cheque for $6,000—all he had—as a down payment, and agreed to settle for the balance at $1,000 a year. Later he sold that same property for $102,000. His farm, in North York, was a bald, treeless property when he bought it for a few hundred dollars in 1882. When he gave the estate to his grandson in 1929 it had a stand of 29,000 black walnut trees grown from nuts planted by Sir William himself in 1887. At the time of the gift, the trees were valued at $100 each, the estate at several millions.
Sir William progressed to this affluence from the approved Alger boy beginning. He was born in a log house in the little town of Bondhead, Ont. His father, Dr. Thomas Mulock, died when he was a small boy. As the eldest of the family, he became his mother’s right-hand man. He pitched hay, sawed and split the winter’s wood. He still recommends farm work as good for the lungs, limbs and abdominal muscles. Later he did statutory labor on the roads to earn money to go'to university.
His early schooling he received in Newmarket, setting out each morning with a lunch pail packed by his mother.
“In those days,” he recalls, “our gymnasium was an open field and we bathed in the old swimming hole.” He played football and baseball in the summer and shinny in the winter. He also boxed, the tough way, without gloves.
When he went to Toronto to attend university, he lived on two dollars a week in a room on Melinda Street not far from Toronto’s waterfront. Evenings he worked as study master at Upper Canada College.
Sir William is still interested in U.C.C. and attends its annual prize giving. He singles out boys who do
well and frequently takes them aside for a personal word of advice and encouragement. He invariably begins by asking the boy if he is one of the Smiths he knew in Perth in 1874—or perhaps he’s connected with the Smiths who settled in Collingwood in 1882. To most boys of sixteen this is the equivalent of being asked if their great-grandmother was Queen Elizabeth. They are completely overwhelmed by Sir William’s great age and rarely say more than “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”
Although he believes in and has done much to further progress in education, Sir William feels the present generation lacks two important incentives.
“The rod was ever present in our home life,” he remembers. And, “In my day children were grateful for a chance to go to school.”
To some modern innovations he gives his complete approval. After being taken through a munitions plant he observed, “Women look first-rate in britches.”
“Architect of the U. of T.”
SIR WILLIAM retired from politics in 1905 and from the Bench in 1936 but he has not yet retired from the University. He enrolled as an Arts student in 1859, the year the University of Toronto came into being. At that time it consisted of the central building, 100 students and seven professors. Today Sir William regards the University of Toronto as one of the great institutions of learning in the world. He is proud of his connection with it as undergraduate, graduate, senator, vice-chancellor (from 1881 to 1900) and chancellor (from 1923 to the present time).
He has never missed a Convocation and has never let one interfere with anything he wanted to do. Only last year he arrived at Convocation Hall, the back of his car full of fish he had caught the previous day and was taking to his sister when the ceremony was over.
The proudest achievement in Sir William’s connection with the University was the part he played in bringing about the union of independent colleges with the University. The first to join was St. Michael’s in 1881.
“If the Catholics can co-operate with us, why can’t you?” was William Mulock’s argument to the others.
Knox followed in 1885, Victoria and Trinity later. In 1887 the Faculty of Medicine was revived as a part of the University. Later the Ontario Agricultural College, the Ontario College of Pharmacy and the Ontario Veterinary College were brought in. Still working for a bigger and better University in 1925, Sir William raised $600,000 and helped to establish the Banting Foundation for Medical Research.
For this he has been called the architect of the University of Toronto and as a tribute to him, last November the members of the Senate presented Sir William with an address of appreciation in Convocation Hall.
“We were afraid you might slip
away before we had a chance to let you know how much we thought of you,” one of the Senators told him.
The address, handsomely bound in blue leather, is one of his most prized possessions and is kept where he can look at it and show it to his friends. The half hour speech he made in reply is being similarly bound. Few of Sir William’s utterances have been treated with such ceremony. He is not given to publishing. Claims to keep no scrapbook. And refuses to write an autobiography because “nobody would want to read about me.”
LOOKING back on his life, his only * regret is that he did not work harder.
“I spent too much time on the frivolities,” he says.
He is rather at a loss to name those frivolities but includes cricket and football among them. He also includes dancing but as he recalls the polka, the quadrille and the lancers he gets a gleam in his eye that doesn’t look like regret.
In spite of time wasted, Sir William has crowded a great deal into his ninety-nine years. In his chosen profession of law he was called to the Bar in 1868, made K.C. in 1890. Appointed to the Bench in 1905 and remained there until 1936 when he retired from the Chief Justiceship of Ontario at the age of ninety-two. So long did he continue in his career that three portraits of him were hung in Osgoode Hall to keep the Mulock features up to date.
At the age of sixty-one Sir William thought of retiring. He believed he was tired. This turned out to be merely an illusion, resulting from twenty-three years in politics—as Liberal member for North York. From 1882 to 1901 he contested five elections and won them all but not without a fight.
His big achievement was when as Postmaster General in 1898 he established Penny Postage between Canada and the rest of the Empire and in so doing wiped out the annual deficit of his department in favor of a surplus.
Today his grandson, the Honorable' William Pate Mulock, occupies the same post in the King Government. Sir William is proud of that and thinks that, because of changing times and problems, the job of Postmaster General is as busy a one as it was in his day. He worries about his grandson a good deal because he’s been ill. He also worries about his sister whom he believes to be two years his junior though she doesn’t tell him her age. Because she was ill last summer, Sir William stayed in town to look after her, instead of going to his farm as usual.
Sir William is still a Liberal. He recalls Sir Wilfred Laurier as “a great man, a wonderful speaker, a beautiful character— and very patriotic.”
He regards Mr. King as “a magnificent man, very able and conscientious—and badly treated by his critics.”
His feelings about politics, however, make him suspect he’s getting old. During the last election Sir William spoke at Massey Hall, Toronto, on behalf of the Liberal
Party in general. He also drove to North York on a blizzardy March night to speak for his grandson. But the old political fervor had gone.
“I found that close partisanship had given way,” he tells of it with resigned melancholy. “I was speaking more as a judge—treating politics like a case in court—thinking of what was best for the country.”
The only thing Sir William deplores about Canada’s present Government is the lack of a strong opposition.
“A country with a strong opposition is in a fortunate position,” he believes.
He is not alarmed by Socialism,
“These things come and go, no policy will last unless there’s some common sense in it.”
He is of the opinion that the two old line parties which he calls Whigs and Tories are all that Canada needs.
Of the state of the world, Sir William at ninety-nine takes a sad but philosophic view: “The world is mixed up, but it will be straightened out, I have no doubt.”
Of Hitler he says, “There never was such a fiend—a most inhuman man. I think he’s Satan.”
Of Canada’s future he takes a bright view. “After the war enterprising men will flock to Canada where there will be boundless supplies and the cheapest power in the world.”
Sir William keeps up to date by having the paper brought to him at seven each morning. By listening to Red Foster, his favorite newscaster. By reading books on world affairs.
“Sir William doesn’t enjoy light reading,” his housekeeper explains.
He doesn’t go out in public so much as he used to, but hardly a day passes without him receiving visitors. His friends have an unfortunate habit of dying. Prof. Baker, his “nearest and dearest friend from middle age,” died not long ago. More recently died Justice Masten, of whom he says, “We used to have Sunday supper and talk over our cigars. I miss poor Masten.”
The grief of lost relationships and friendships is not an unfamiliar one to Sir William at ninety-nine. Lady Mulock died in 1912 so that he has been a widower for more than thirty years. His only remaining contem-
porary relative and friend is his sister, Mrs. G. W. Monk, who is a few years his junior and as lively as her brother, in spite of being crippled.
“I have lost many friends,” Sir William says, “but I have kept my friendships renewed.”
Still An Energetic Host
HE KEEPS them renewed by hospitality. In the old days there were garden parties with clock golf and croquet at Mulock’s Corners. Today, in the fifty-six-year-old Mulock house on Jarvis Street, there are still week-end guests, small dinner parties, family gatherings at Christmas and New Year. This Christmas Sir William was host to twenty-two at dinner, including his sister and several of his thirteen great-grandchildren. Sir William ate dinner with all the trimmings and played with the children of whom he is very fond.
New Year’s Day he was up at nine and off to call on the LieutenantGovernor. Afterward he received twenty-four members of the Black Watch who played the bagpipes and sang and he joined with them in singing the National Anthem. In the afternoon relatives called to see Sir William and later he had two guests at dinner.
His health is not of great concern to him. The doctor calls once a month whether he likes it or not. The masseur twice a week.
As though by premonition, Sir William has always surrounded himself with the long-lived and durable. The Jarvis Street house is of solid brick guarded by iron dogs. The furniture is English oak and mahogany. The rugs, tough Scotch Wiltons. Even the bridge table cover is leather. The spittoons, unbreakable brass. The pets, parrots. The plants, aspidistras. The housekeeper, a capable and tireless woman who’s been with Sir William for thirty years.
To the present generation of Torontonians who have moved away from Jarvis Street to newer districts and modern houses, the Mulock mansion, built in 1887, looks incredibly old. To Sir William, who hoisted a blazing tar barrel and sang “Pop Goes the Weasel” to celebrate the fall of Sebastapol, it must seem rather recent.