Canada’s Most Successful Business Man

C. D. CLIFFE April 1 1907

Canada’s Most Successful Business Man

C. D. CLIFFE April 1 1907

Canada’s Most Successful Business Man


George Washington Stephens, M.P.P., President of the Montreal Harbor Commission enjoys the distinction of being the richest and most enterprising young man in Canada. Although under forty years of age he is a leading figure in the commercial, financial and political world. The story of his career merits a close study by every young person as well as every parent.

LIFE is a sequence—the logical, Mafar-seeing mind is a cumulative consequence. Men who are wise at forty were not idle at twenty.”

This statement applies to Mr. George Washington Stephens, M.P.P.; new president of the Montreal Harbor Commission; a capable, prominent and influential owner of property, running into millions; director and head of several strong manufacturing and financial corporations, and yet on the sunny side of forty, clear-headed, simple-living, hard working and possessed, as he ever has from childhood, that intoxicating thing — thinking on his feet.

His distinguished father and grandfather have their names inextricably interwoven with the history of Montreal and the Province of Quebec, and hence of Canada, during the past three-quarters of a century. The subject of this sketch was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, which means that his father was wealthy; but the way in which the clever father watched that spoon made young Geoige often think, without any disrespect, that it was made of steel. It was that very training which put iron into the young man, for he has got it in him all over to-day.

The lad was educated privately and also at the high school and McGill Col-

lege. He early learned the care of distinguishing the essential from the accidental—and that is his salient characteristic to-day—m applying the simple laws of human action with which he became familiar.

Travel, to young Stephens, was his supreme educator. He traversed Europe; knew his London at an early age. His keen mind was open and, in addition to the reflection of scenes upon the retina of the eye, the reading and thought prompted therefrom accumulated the benefits. Mastering modern languages was not his chief task, but more or less of an accessory or an incident ; his real work was studying men ; endeavoiing to assimilate from the world, by his Father’s example, a due estimate of the imperishable principles of humari liberty.

He soon found, after studying law and philosophy—after pouring over the brain-sinews of a magnificent library at home—that all the professors, and all the paraphernalia of universities, could never educate a man, but only help him to educate himself.

Blessed with a hardy constitution and a fondness for outdoor life he became identified with many outdoor clubs; was always an ardent snow-shoer, and at the dinners and smokers of these or-

ga ni zat ions, George Stephens was a wellheard participant. He can to this day sing a good song, tell a good story, and make a rattling good speech in almost any modern language.

There has never been any sign of the cleric about him. He is frank and plain. He might have become a pettifogging lawyer or a class B preacher or doctor, and taken in thousands in the name of his honored father, but he concluded it was better to be himself. And the greatest that any man can be is to be himself; and any man who is himself commands respect.

Now that he is head of the Harbor Board at Montreal ánd lie is in the fulness of his maturity drawing a salary of $7,000 per year, the expression may be allowed that his mind never “listed to either port or starboard.”

To glance at the career, briefly, of his father, the late Hon. George Washington Stephens, will give a clearer idea of the environment which patterned and influenced his early life.

His father was the second son of the late Mr. Harrison Stephens, a leading merchant of Montreal, and formerly of Vermont. He was born in 1832, and lived a strenuous and influential life up to four years ago. Think of him for a character; born wealthy; he did not have to work at all any more than his son had, but he never stopped working. The hardware business in which he was engaged most successfully was far too tame for his active mind. He decided to study law, and at the age of 31 graduated at McGill and was called to the , Bar. He mastered whatever he undertook. He was always pitiless with wrongdoers. The celebrated Mr. John A. Perkins, an eminent Montreal lawyer, joined him as a partner, and they did honor to their profession always.

When George junior was wrestling with the kindergarten, and his only worry was an evening lesson, he used to hear of his father’s fame in celebrated cases. The air used to resound

with remarks about that eccentric lawyer, who fished out queer cases, such as one testing the validity of an Indian marriage, accoiding to the custom of their countiy. He personally conducted this case and won it. It is on the records: Connolly vs. Woolrych.

He championed another rare case, of a man named Filiatraut against the hierarchy of Quebec for some alleged libel published by this man. This case, too, he conducted personally, and fought it for years, finally winning, after losing time and money which would have ruined a less able man.

He was called to serve the city as alderman in 18(i8, and remained in active civic life for 17 years, being several times mayor. Unflinching and openbanded in honesty he was a rare benefactor to Montreal duiing these dangerous times. They evidently need such a man to-day. His public code of morals was not a whit stronger than his rigidly kept private life. Thus, his eldest son George had no chance to become a boy-spoiled. Instead, he was taught early to examine well the basis of opinion which he might have formed upon political or other subjects. He was taught to do what the Stephens family had always done; namely, to buy the things they ought to have bought and to never have left unsold the things they ought to have worked off.

His magnificent home on Dorchester street, just west of the St. James Club, is one of the beauties of Montreal, and has always been replete with every comfort, crannied with unique and original designs and especially-made conveniences for ideal home life. In fact, he saw the home as it should be, where the family were taught to be more fond of each other than they were of beauty and of power and to be as good, if possible, as they vrnre clever. His mind (the father’s) mediated between the moral and material interest and rested in neither. His law was partly that, of Henry George, the law of liberty

1 • the law of each for all and all for each."

Prudent, economical private and public life summed up his belief. His was a tine mind, and clever men and others were fond of hearing his advice; short and sometimes curt, but always true ; and when they saw his strong, lithe form; saw the gleam of his honest eyes from under the stern-looking beetle eyebrows, they felt the presence of a man —a man who wanted nothing, but who was always willing to give.

His political life led him to sit in the Quebec Assembly, for Montreal Centre, from 1881 to 1886. His careful scrutiny of public measures will go dow n to history as an example of the fact that honesty, as a business asset, can never be questioned. He taught a doe trine that might be translated to mean the gospel of hope; in teaching men how to live, not how to die. He contested, unsuccessfully, at the general election in 1892 for District 4 Huntingdon, and was elected at the general elections in 1897. With the success of the Marchand government, in May, 1897, he was called to the Quebec Cabinet, without poHfolio.

A monument to his clear-cut life is the good government association which he founded in Montreal, in January, 1897. He received the thanks of that body for his vigorous efforts and judicious action at the Quebec Assembly in reference to local measures.

Another characteristic move was in carrying a measure, in 1896, prohibiting the exposure of posters or bills of indecent character. That he was in his lifetime a member of the Board of Trade Council, a life governor of the Montreal General Hospital, a munificent supporter of the Unitarian church,¡ as well as a director of many enterprises of a commercial, scientific and bénéficient nature need not be told, but the multiplicity of simple, kindly, homely charities would make a volume. He

was a close landlord, a bitter enemy, and a staunch, sound friend.

So, then, Geoige Washington Stephens, Jr., was the victim. He was his father's eldest son. Well, the father knew the shadings of ancestry in his boy, and he disciplined him most rigidly. Of Highland Scotch, Yankee and English origin, young Stephens’s direct and true nature inherited the traits of the middle class, even to sturdiness of religion and simplicity ,uf habits on all sides. His worthy father was known as the “watchdog" of politics in Montreal and the province. The father must have seen, with some prophetic instinct, rare possibilities for his eldest son, and Gained him accordingly as far as lay in his power.

That is now to be seen. No doubt, “What shall I make of the boy?" often came to the father's mind. He early took away the hinges from the boy's knees by making him think for himself ; erased any chance of cringing from his soul, and started him to work—a free man.

Little was heard of George Stephens, Jr., until the death of his father. George was a hidden volcano. His qualities had been simmering for years ; growing and strengthening always, however, in subsidence. When his 1 1 turn ' ' came to play, the denouement took place, and he stepped forth heir to an immense fortune, head of a splendidly organized business, confessed in his own proper person; not a cheap, imprudent imitation—but just himself.

All that he had done before began to glow into a Pentecostal brightness. While his father's will was surrounded with codicils and conditions that the young millionaire could never spend the money he had in his name, nor despoil the fortune in store, the world waited.

Prior to this time George Stephens was known as a right royal good fellow in social and commercial circles of the best set and was just manager of his father's immense landed interests

in the city and elsewhere. Now he was facing the bright light that blazes on conspicuous people. There vTas a low murmur, in social circles, of wonder as to how the young man would take the prominence; so low that it was no more than like some heart beat made audible for a few seconds and then to die away as this did. The equipoise of training for years was there; training in most of the leading shipping ports of Europe and Britain where he had earned his living while learning the languages, and had mastered the intricacies of international harbors and shipping, so soon to come into practical use for this country. It will be remembered that he contributed able articles to the press of Montreal and other cities on the harbors of Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Havre, London, Bristol, Cardiff. Glasgow, and Liverpool, and others, all copious with information and alive with his own belief that one never knows a thing well until he tells it to somebody.

He seemed to have been always on the highway which leads to superiority. His presence at political and other meetings had been familiar for years, but he would never permit anything to be said about himself. In fact, the writer of this article well remembers on many occasions when at banquets George Stephens did things, like singing and speaking, in a way far above the average, and he personally would take the sincere pains to ask the reporters? privately to say as little as possible about him. Now, however, he was heard of differently. His name began to appear, inevitably, as chairman and lecturer, and his speeches were accepted, showing no lack of arguments nor words wherewith to clothe them.

Yet his public life may be said to have only begun. He was chosen candidate for the responsible constituency of St. Lawrence division, and was elected M.P.P. by acclamation, being favor-

ably acclaimed by members of all parties and creeds.

Meanwhile his commercial ventures were maturing, and a group of clever young Montreal business men, all friends of his own, made a big coup in securing controlling stock of the Canadian Rubber Co., of Montreal; they completely rejuvenated the whole business by whipping into the concern new blood, new life, and new capital. Mr. Stephens was chosen president of this board. Afterwards bigger things still loomed up, and his friends captured a big merger of all (but one) of the rubber companies of the Dominion, under the caption The Consolidated Rubber Co., of which Mr. Stephens is the vicepresident.

His mind was active most, however, in Parliament, as thoroughness is his fort. He was busy at once doing things for his people. His mind turned to the half-baked educational facilities of the province. He made speeches, wrote to the papers, brought the matter up in Parliament.

Potent with right on his side, he broad-sided the Government; he organized a campaign in favor of an extended increase of grant for educational purposes; and the Government passed unanimously a measure to not only increase the salaries of teachers in the province, but to elevate the standard of examinations and to improve the school buildings, etc.

At this time it was common talk that Mr. Stephens was to become the new Minister of Education for the province, but other plans matured, and such a portfolio was not created ; although a strength and impetus was given to the department of Public Instruction which it had never before shown.

He never sidestepped any issue. When he heard the people of Montreal calling for a new jail what did he do? He went to jail himself to see how conditions were. Down he went to Montreal jail, full of the subject in hand almost

to intoxication—in fact it was eighty pounds of steam with a monkey wrench on the blow-off. When the iron door of that prison cell clanged behind George Stephens, he was utilizing the exhaust in his love for justice and his people. There he sat the greater portion of one night in the black darkness of a sevenfoot, grimy cell, huddled with criminals, suffering what they suffered, and peaked through the cracks of the old building at the free silent stars. He wrote a graphic account of his experience and created a great sensation. The whole city was ablaze with his action. The press took it up; preachers gave sermons, politicians backed him up, and with the combined efforts the Government was induced to vote a handsome appropriation for a new jail. George Washington Stephens really did the whole business, and he null rank easily in the plane of his father as one of Quebec’s greatest reformers.

Notwithstanding the many calls upon his time he is able to address the Sunshine Society, the Art Association, attend numerous annual and society meetings, and yet always be pleasant, time-saving and interesting. What fine equipoise of mind ! What sanity of security in good training at twenty.

While George Stephens had been a volunteer in his early life, it was only a few years ago that his services were called to serve as commanding officer in His Majesty’s forces. At the time the Montreal Third Field Battery needed a commander whose means and character would be in consonance with its splendid traditions and memories. Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia, was instrumental in inducing his warm personal friend, George Stephens, to take the command. With the same courage with which he tackled anything, he wTent to work and took a special course and held the command for some years with honor and success, retiring, owing to pressure of business, with the rank of major. Major

Stephens made an ideal soldier. His open-handed generosity to the Battery will not be forgotten easily. His smoking concerts were never surpassed. His camps on the island were always looked forward to with delight. On one occasion, after completing a very successful inspection, lie took the whole Battery and a pasty of especial friends to Quebec, visiting the garrison at the Citadel. For this lie chartered a special steamer, entirely at his own expense. Many of the rank and file were permitted to bring along their waves and mothers.

He was a keen marksman and took an active inteiest in the welfare of the range-hunters, being highly appreciated as a soldier in all quarters.

He was especially honored in being chosen by the Minister of Militia to accompany him to the Old Country at the coronation time, and also visited London at Jubilee time as a member of the Montreal and Canadian contingent. His relative importance vTas not minimized in the piesence of the greatest men of the world.

How he managed to attend the Lord Mayor’s banquet on one occasion in London would make an interesting chapter, but, as Kipling' says, “That is another story.”

Members of the Battery who visited London on the coronation occasion tell privately of the major’s generosity in slipping them sums of money, telling them to say nothing, as they would need that in London and they must keep up Canada’s reputation.

It is said that when certain people have gone to him for advice he has done as his father often did—handed them some money and remarked “Never mind the advice.”

He has never sat on the treasury box of favors and asked whether Jew or Gentile; never asked longitude or latitude; but simply seems to be listening to Edward Everett Hale, who says: “Look out, not in; look up, not down; and lend a hand.”

There is little doubt that some of the things done by Mr. Stephens have surprised one man anyway, and that is himself-—no man does much well unless he owns this experience.

A glance at the man himself would see an erect, square-shouldered, inclined to be short of stature, closely knit frame ; rather of the wiry type, which at once suggests energy, alertness, activity.

Ffis massive, broad, bare forehead is the striking feature; the remainder of the face supplementing the forceful appearance by keen brown eyes shining through heavy glasses, and a close pursed mouth, of sympathetic mould, wearing a well-groomed moustache. His voice is magnetic and commanding, but it always has had little to say about its owner. The wonder now to his best friends is that he has never met his Fate in his long and popular bachelorhood. That part of his history is yet to come.

Owing to his appointment as chairman of the new Harbor Commission in

Jan., 1907, Major Stephens has been recently compelled, through . the pressure of work, to abandon his membership of the local legislature, and shortly before prorogation, in March, this was announced with much regret to the House. Mr. Stephens has associated with him two of the ablest business men in Canada, namely, C. C. Ballantyne and L. E. Geoffrion.

The new commissioners intend to work it on up-to-date, independent business methods. No party politics will interfere, and great things are expected. Mr. Stephens has stated that he is laying deep plans for the establishment of a port at Montreal, on a broad and commensurate basis, for a rising country. His energy and forcefulness assure progression and aggression all along the line.

There was no dissenting voice at his appointment, and if he does his work there as well as he has done it elsewhere Canada will be prouder still of one of her most creditable and able sons.

Let men know that what you say you will do; that your decision made is final-*-no wavering; that, once resolved, you are not to be allured and intimidated.