D. D. Mann, Railroad Builder.

AUGUSTUS BRIDLE December 1 1905

D. D. Mann, Railroad Builder.

AUGUSTUS BRIDLE December 1 1905

A remarkable man is D. D. Mann, of the great firm of MacKenzie & Mann, owners of twenty-five hundred miles of railroad. Few, who knew him as a boy, could have prophesied the splendid career which is his to-day. He was a hearty young giant but no scholar, and parent and teacher alike despaired of him. But he had the makings of a great man in him and it is coming out to-day.

ON the twenty-second of November, 1905, the last spike in the main line of the Canadian Northern to Edmonton was driven, in the presence of the most interested crowd ever assembled in that remarkable country. Present at that spike driving was a big, black-haired man with streaks of gray and a square-set jaw; a man of striking build, after the pattern of the great labor leader, John Burns. He had come over the new line in a special train, accompanied by a few officials. Looking out over the young city on the gorge of the Saskatchewan, he spoke a few plain words of congratulation, scarcely lifting his voice above a rather heavy monotone. He said the least of any of the orators. He was cheered the loudest.

Jargoning in half a dozen languages the crowd dispersed, and the projector of the C.N.R. went back to his car. He was photographed and quoted in the newspapers, and that night was banqueted at the Queen’s Hotel. At the banquet he made a speech—one that for its construction denotes a great business mind, and for its matter takes rank as a prairie classic. It was a great occasion, and it was Donald D. Mann’s third public speech. Here is one of its paragraphs which was cheered like a political oration:

“We will give you a tri-weekly service till June, when you will have a daily service consisting of sleeping-cars, dining-coaches and day-coaches lighted with acetylene gas, and equal to the best and most modern equipment arriving at or leaving any city on the continent of America.”

This to Edmonton, which but four years and one month previous got its first, train across the river from Strathcona, thanks to Mackenzie & Mann, in the days when the young city was fed by drays and the old cable ferry. All down the Saskatchewan, in 1901, bunches of shacks and stores on the forks of the prairie trails were yearning to become railroad towns. Edmonton had been talking of a capitalship and a railroad centre. The monopoly of the C.P.R. should be abolished. The freight trains of Mackenzie & Mann should crawl in from the east along the 800-mile wheat belt. No longer should it be necessary for Edmontonians going east to pass through Calgary. By the first of December, 1905 — four years they had been counting the year without knowing the month—the C.N.R. main line from the east should be spiked to the spur put across the bridge from Strathcona in 1901. The builders had kept their word. The road was in ahead of time. There was jubilation such as only a commercial outpost knows how to express; such as had never been equalled in all the historic home-comings of the Red River carts from Winnipeg, or the old steamboats Northwest and Northcote from the Grand Rapids, or even the building of the iron bridge from Strathcona in 1899. The lead and front of the celebration was Donald D. Mann, whose speech, punctuated by cheers at almost every paragraph, contained also this statement, significant as showing the magnitude of the C.N.R. and the temper of its builders :

“We intend to connect the western system with our eastern system. We have eight hundred miles of railway in the older provinces, three hundred of which is main line, and I hope that the next great celebration on the Canadian Northern Railway will be when we inaugurate a train service from Edmonton to the Atlantic Ocean.”

The next day D. D. Mann went back in his train over the new road, 1,265 miles, to Port Arthur, its other temporary terminus on Lake Superior. The furthest north town in Canada, except Dawson, was now a railroad centre, and the great Saskatchewan Valley, with its 800 miles of wheat stations, was oh the main line of the C.N.R.

Donald D. Mann and William Mackenzie are the two first Canadians to build a man-owned national railway in Canada. Together they own and operate more miles of railway than any other two men in the world. Donald D. Mann was born near the town of Acton, in the county of Halton, near the birthplace of James J. Hill, whose metropolis was Rockwood, the next station six miles up the line. This was in March, 1853, two years after the first locomotive was run in Canada. Donald Mann’s father’s name was Hugh, and his mother in her maiden days was Helen Macdonald, both natives of Glengary, Scotland. In 1843 Hugh Mann came with his father, Donald, to Canada, and settled on a 300-acre farm in the township of Esquesing, not far from what was then the wooden little burg called Acton. Two of Hugh’s brothers got each 100 acres at Donald’s death. Of the remaining hundred Hugh got half.

D. D. Mann, the fifth in a family of ten, was born in a log house on a fifty-acre farm one mile east from Acton. When he was three years of age the Grand Trunk main line was put through and Acton became a railway station. A year or so later Hugh Mann sold his fifty acres, already five times too small, and moved nearer Acton, about half a mile from the post office, onto a 200-acre farm. Here Hugh Mann reared his family of ten, six of whom are still living, the youngest, Hugh, having been killed while operating on the Dauphin branch of the C.N.R. the track-laying machine of his own invention. Here Donald D., the biggest in stature, learned enough of farming to hate it.

Even though that two hundred acres was cleared, fenced and ditched by the time he became old enough to drive horses, it never inspired in the lad’s breast that pensive love of the old homestead which so largely figures in rural drama and bucolic poetry. Donald had already gone to school at Bannockburn — a little wooden school whose teacher was a Mr. Campbell, who afterwards became school inspector in Kincardine. At Acton, after the sale of the old farm, he went to the two-roomed village school presided over by the stern Robert Little, afterwards inspector of Halton county, now dead.

By this time, however, Donald was big enough to help his father crop the farm, so that his school days each year began when the roots were housed, the peas threshed, and the pigs killed. From that until thè frogs began to pipe down on the river flats was the lad’s chance to get what was called in those days an education. There were no frills on the Acton curriculum; nothing but the three historic R’s, and another one—the Rod. Robert Little believed in the four R’s. He knew how to trim the bluebeech gad and right well how to trim with it the lad that most needed it. He never waited for somebody to hoist him out of the window. And he could well see that young Donald Mann, with his big shoulders and his roustabouting leg boots was not hankering after a university career. Donald worked vulgar fractions and did spelling because he had to. When the class got its turn to be called up Donald was at the foot as often as any boy in it—for anything but history and geography, both of which he ardently loved, little dreaming, perhaps, that he would yet be a factor in making both for Canada.

“Donald, you’re the biggest boy in the class,” Robert Little would say with a tired look, “and you’ll be the biggest failure in Esquesing unless you mend your ways—I’m thinking.”

But neither exhortation nor gall could make of Donald Mann a scholar. In conversation with the elder Mann the master said that he doubted if the lad would ever be anything but a good-for-nothing, and Hugh Mann was sore vexed thereat. Donald was as healthy as the north wind, had a chest like a barrel and an appetite like a horse. He could throw any two of the village boys at once catch-as-catch-can. At the swimming-hole he was fine. Shinney on the old mill pond was his special delight. At the Dominion Day celebrations, when he got a little older, he was a champion in shot putting, running, jumping, and wrestling. Even to the present day Mr. Mann has bever been thrown in a wrestle. But he would not study. Of books he was fond enough, devouring novels when he got the chance, which in the Mann household was seldom. He read Pilgrim’s Progress till he almost knew it by heart. Twice a Sunday he went to the kirk at Acton with his father, his mother having died when he was thirteen. Fifty-two times a year, rain or shine, he went to Sunday school—when he didn’t play “hookey” in the cemetery—and recited all he knew of the catechism to Rev. Lachlan Cameron. Three hundred and sixty-five times a year he knelt in family prayer before breakfast. It was a Scotch household of the most rigorous type. Hugh Mann was bringing his lads up in the fear of the Lord. Most of them he could see would succeed in farming, or in some practical pursuit. For Donald he could see nothing likely but to be a Presbyterian preacher, for the lad had a good voice and a fair knowledge of Scripture.

This desire of Hugh Mann to see his son in the pulpit was not shared by either the schoolmaster or by Donald himself, who by the time he was eighteen had decided to quit farming forever. In the Spring of 1871 he told his father so. He would leave home. Two trunks he packed with all he had of this world’s goods. His father said he might go and welcome if he would but go to college and be a preacher; otherwise he wished him to stay.

“All I want you to do, father, is to hitch up the team and take my trunks to the station,” was the reply.

Still Hugh was obdurate. Donald went upstairs and got his grip. “Father,” he said, “I’ll walk to the station. You can send the trunks after me.”

Silently the old man invoked on his persistent son the blessing of the Almighty. Donald nicked up his valise and cut across the fields to the station. His father followed him.

“If you won’t go to college I can’t give you any money,” said the old man just before the train came in. “But I want you to take this Bible.”

Donald obediently tucked the Bible into his grip and boarded the train going west. That night he got to Port Huron. From there he took a lake boat up to Alpena, which in those days was a fine place for Canadian boys who desired to learn the joys of the lumber camp in the pine woods. His first job was river driving, at which picturesque and hazardous pastime he was a huge success. It was wild enough to make him forget the monotony of the farm and arduous enough to take all the muscle and nerve he had. After a few months at shoving pine logs down the rivers he took to running a drag-saw in a shingle mill, cutting off blocks shingle length. This was less exciting, and did not suit him so well. After about a year in the Michigan camps he went up to Peterborough county, in the vicinity of Gull River. Here also he did river driving, sawing logs in the woods, chopping, and anything else he was set at by the camp boss. From there he drifted to Parry Sound, where he had charge of camps and drives.

But in all this Mann didn’t seem to have found anything that satisfied him. In fact he considered himself just about an absolute failure. He went back to Esquesing after a few years in the lumber woods. He had saved a small wad of money out of his hard-gotten wages. Whether he intended to remain in Esquesing is not clear, but his elder brother, Allan, persuaded him to try farming again. There was a farm at Crewson’s Corners, three miles from Acton, for rent at a low figure. Mann yielded, feeling in his bones that he was making a mistake. The two brothers took a three-year lease of the farm and went into contracts for getting out cordwood to burn in the locomotives of the Grand Trunk Railway.

With all D. D. Mann’s knowledge of roughing it, and of farming, that rented farm never paid. Every year the two brothers went further behind. The third year they gave it up and celebrated the anniversary by an auction sale of chattels to pay debts on implements. The things went low, and the proceeds of the sale paid only a small margin on the debts.

That gave Mann his final settlement on agriculture. His repentance, however, did not drive him into the ministry. He left Acton and drifted west. The C.P.R. was building. Going by way of Duluth he got for the first time into the great Northwest, which was yet to remember him somewhat, as it recalled his great namesake, Donald A. Smith, whose career antedated Mann’s by one chapter. He got a contract getting out ties for the section east of Winnipeg. The scrubby woods of Eastern Manitoba were easy after the pine woods of Michigan and Muskoka. On Christmas Eve of 1879 his contract was completed, and the first train shot into Winnipeg over the Red River. Mann laid the sixteen-foot ties across the ice for that first locomotive, the John G. Haggart, which all that Winter went down one bank “lickety-split” across the ice and up the other bank with the momentum got on the down grade. In 1880 Mann got pneumonia and came near quitting everything. In the Winter of 80-81 he again took a contract getting out ties on the western section of the C.P.R., and during the next five years, till the completion of the road, he took contract after contract for building entire sections of road between Winnipeg and the coast.

Mr. Mann had already made the acquaintance of Mr. Mackenzie, who, a native of Victoria county, was also a contractor on the C.P.R. In ’86 he built 80 miles of the Manitoba and North Western Railway, and 40 miles of the Hudson’s Bay road from Winnipeg to Oak Point on Lake Manitoba. The next year, in company with Mr. Mackenzie, he went east to Maine and built the short line for the C.P.R. through that state. The Fall of ’88 saw D. D. Mann down in Chili. Here, for the best part of a year, he put in a hazardous and eventful time among Indians and Spaniards, building a Government road for Mr. H. S. Holt, of Montreal. Next year he came back to Canada and again struck west. Associated with Mr. James Ross, Messrs. Mann, Mackenzie and Holt built what is now the Regina and Long Lake Road, 250 miles, from Regina to Prince Albert. In the three following years the same aggregation built the Calgary and Edmonton line, and the line from Calgary to Macleod, on the boundary. These lines put out of business forever the old Saskatchewan steamers Northwest and Northcote.

The activity of Messrs. Mann & Mackenzie, following so soon after that of the C.P.R. syndicate, had now given the northwest just about all the railroading it was able to stand for some time. For the next three years, until 1895, Mr. Mann went mining in British Columbia. Here he laid the basis of the firm’s present enterprises in mining properties, and pioneered several mines, notably the North Star and the Dominion Copper Co. group, including the Idaho, Rawhide and Stem Winder. This was a sort of work for which Mann was specially suited, with his intuitive capacity for sizing up a proposition at a surface glance. The properties pioneered by him in those years have all turned out well.

But as yet there was no Canadian Northern, and so far as is known, even so late as ten years ago, Messrs. Mann and Mackenzie were not planning a transcontinental line. It is certain, however, that together they traversed the Saskatchewan valley. What speculations either of them indulged on the trip is not known. They were shrewd enough to observe that the wheat belt was there. But neither Mann nor Mackenzie was yet a capitalist. Not a mile of the new roads in the northwest, except the C.P.R., was paying a cent of dividend, or even earning fixed charges. Even the C.P.R. had missed one dividend. Of the Saskatchewan Valley Canada was profoundly ignorant. The whole northwest in the popular imagination was yet a frozen hunting ground, and the men who had built railways there probably desired to go on record as axle grease philanthropists. Settlers were not going in. Only Manitoba was considered capable of bumper wheat crops, and that was doubtful. It was the worst time possible to build new roads. Credit was next to impossible to obtain. Ordinarily, having made a respectable pile out of contracts, a railway builder might have been satisfied to go home and leave the country to work out its own salvation.

Such a retrogressive policy was not the style of Mr. Mann. He had more faith in the Northwest than he was in the habit of advertising. It was in 1895 that he was offered an option on the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Co., with a projected line from Portage la Prairie to Dauphin and Lake Winnipegosis.

The Dauphin section he knew to be a fine country. Already there were many settlers waiting for a railroad, many of whom were hauling grain 100 miles to Gladstone, on the C. P. R., the nearest station. But the west had gone back on building railways. It was impossible to interest capital in the project. Mr. Mann himself was not in a position to build the road and operate it. His first intention was to build it and turn it over, simply making his profits on the contracts. But to whom would he turn it over ? Nobody wanted it. As yet he himself, after having built thousands of miles of railway, did not own a mile of track. Neither did Mr. Mackenzie, who was the first man to supply the missing link for the Dauphin road. He offered to go in with Mr. Mann, build the road, and operate it themselves.

The offer was accepted. But the name Mackenzie & Mann was not in those days the power it is to-day. They had no Midas touch. Their combined accumulations of capital would not build and run the new road. It was this fact that really gave birth to the C.N.R., which is based primarily on the personality of its promoters, second on a system, third on a principle. The personalities of the men were already well established in the public mind. They were recognized as men who did things while other men were talking about them. The system had as yet never been tried. To the Manitoba Government Messrs. Mann & Mackenzie applied. They offered to build the road and to give the Government bonds to the extent of $8,000 a mile. The offer was accepted. For the first time in the history of railroading in Canada a Government stood behind a man-built and man-owned railway. The project went ahead. Instead, however, of building from Portage la Prairie, the firm acquired running powers and built from Gladstone into the Dauphin country. By the completion of the road in 1906 every mile of it was earning its fixed charges of 4 per cent, on $8,000 hauling out grain and taking in settlers’ effects.

This line, owned and operated by Mackenzie & Mann, was the progenitor of the great C.N.R. main line, with all its subsidiary lines reaching into a total of 2,500 miles. This system of a man-owned, Government-guaranteed road has been maintained throughout. And the principle of making the road pay its fixed charges from the outset has been worked everywhere on the Canadian Northern. In the case of the main line from Port Arthur to Edmonton this has been possible because the builders were shrewd enough to make the road follow the country instead of trying to make the country follow the road. The 800 miles of wheat stations on the main line are the big reason why that road expects to be a payer from the start. The extension eastward in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces is but a part of a great transcontinental system. The building of the James Bay road, to begin haulage next year, is the north and south extension of the system. The multitudinous interests in mining properties, timber and lands of all sorts at various points along the road are but the basis for vast industrial centres designed to build up traffic and attract population along the line.

Canada is accustomed now to expecting big things from Mackenzie & Mann. They rank as the two most notable Canadians since Donald A. Smith, whose pioneer work in the Great West they have followed up with the genius of civilization. In ten years these men have sprung from the position of railroad contractors and builders to the altogether unique position of railway owners with a great transcontinental line to exploit. In this they have made both history and geography. In this Donald Mann has verified his boyish love of those two subjects when a hulky young lad at the Acton school. He has never regretted that he did not become a Presbyterian preacher. He has quite forgiven his old schoolmaster for predicting that he never would be any good. As for the old farm, he has no desire to go back to it.

One incident in his career must not be overlooked. Some time during his career in the northwest he drifted back to Acton. His first trip was to the old homestead. Just as soon as he got the folks at home posted on his doings and the developments in the west, Mann took a trip out to Crewson's Corners. There he called his creditors together and paid every man of them a hundred cents on the dollar with interest in full up to date. The creditors showed their appreciation by giving Donald a banquet at the Dominion Hotel in Acton. This banquet was one of the “won’t-go-home-till-morning” kind, as might have been expected. To Donald Mann it was more than a jollification. It was his first opportunity of getting four-square with the world.

To meet D. D. Mann personally in his office on King street, Toronto, is to get a glimpse of a remarkable man. When the writer met him he had no desire to be interviewed, and didn’t mind saying so. He was gruff enough for a Siberian, but good humored enough to smile just to show that he was not inclined to use the broad-axe.

“Well, what do you want me to talk about?’ he asked.

“The Canadian Northern, Mr. Mann, and the Northwest.”

He talked in blunt monosyllables, biting his cigar between phrases. He pointed on the map to the ramifications of the C.N.R. He spoke of the big wheat belt with its 800 miles of wheat stations. Laughingly, as he sat on the table, he reverted to his early experiences at Acton. He admitted that the rigid discipline of his Scotch home may have had a good deal to do with his subsequent success. Which may be true; but in looking at D. D. Mann, in talking to him in the off-hand way which comes perfectly natural to him, the stranger sees vastly more in the man’s personality. You can’t precisely say it’s a case of sheer brain development, though there is a whole study in Mr. Mann’s head. The size and the compactness of the man count for much; his blue eyes and his square jaw, but particularly his eye, for if there is one thing about D. D. Mann more conspicuous than his courage and his determination, it is his ability to see into a proposition and to size up a man almost at a glance. Mere education D. D. Mann never had. He has educated himself by observation and experience. He has seen the world. He has in a manner sized up the world—from an industrial standpoint. Self-taught, he has come up through the grades of the big school of experience. When he went bush-whacking in Michigan and Muskoka he was unconsciously learning the basis of building railroads. When he took his first contract on the C.P.R. he knew all the possibilities of timber, and was already used to handling men with ease. He was never a bully or a slave driver. But he had a hawk eye and a practical experience, and a sort of practical intuition that enabled him to drive over a job of construction and, without asking a question, see what was being done, what undone, what wasted, and what saved. He had the knack of understanding men as well as knowing ties and steel rails, and the cost of moving a cubic yard of earth compared to the cost of the same quantity of rock. His gift of native humor helped him even where his natural courage might have failed. Mann early learned that success is not achieved by spasms. He never acts on impulse. He has the Scot’s caution and the decision of the steel trap. In a time of war D. D. Mann would have been a General Grant. He has power to lead and to manage men, to select subordinates, to inspire fear as well as admiration. He knows how to organize a system. He is a master of transportation, which is one of the arts of war. Personal courage he has in a high degree. He believes in the gospel of hard work and of self-denial to.gain an important end. He inspires love of work in other men. A sluggard or a kid-glove man has no place in Mann’s system. Concentration of force is with him a science. And D. D. Mann always has his hand pretty close to the air brake. There was a big personal work for some Canadian to do after Strathcona left the northwest. D. D. Mann has taken his share of it. In his own way he is a nation builder.

“In building a railroad,” he said to the writer, “the end must be seen from the beginning.”

Then, after a pause, he added reflectively, “It seems to me when I think it all over that I have done next to nothing. The Canadian Northern seems to me merely a beginning. The past ten years you say? Well, we have got in that time three thousand three hundred miles of railway. What of that? We must go on building. If the whole system were wiped out to-morrow—we must still go on building. It is a big fascination. I tell you, Mackenzie & Mann absolutely must go on building railroads.”

Some day fresh chapters must be written about Mackenzie & Mann. Meanwhile, D. D. Mann has a place in his busy life to think once in a while about his old Acton home. Years ago he bought for his father the Collins farm at the corner of the Grand Trunk yards. There, whenever he goes to see his father, he runs his private car in on a switch at the corner of the farm. During one of his visits to Acton Mr. Mann contributed to a fund organized by the Acton Free Fress, to purchase a granite monument for the old school master, Robert Little, buried in the Fairview cemetery there. Every Christmas regularly Hugh Mann, now in his 89th year, spends a few days in the home of his now famous son on St. George street, Toronto. And the old man has no regrets now that Donald did not become a Presbyterian minister.