Quebec—A Land Without Trusts

Herbert N. Casson in Munsey’s August 1 1907

Quebec—A Land Without Trusts

Herbert N. Casson in Munsey’s August 1 1907

Quebec—A Land Without Trusts


Herbert N. Casson in Munsey’s

IN that picturesque Canadian country called Quebec there are practically no trusts. It is a land without a Carnegie, a Rockefeller, a Morgan, or a Harriman. It is the idyllic home of the small farm and the small factory. The railway octopus has practically no grip on this northern Eden. In natural wealth it surpasses New England. Its hills are packed with buried treasure ; and its boundless forests reach to Labrador and Hudson Bay.

Yet—such is the riddle which I am about to write—this land of freedom and equality is one of the least developed regions in the world. The mass of its people are poor. In their little independent factories they are earning, on an average, ninety cents a day; and the value of their farms —buildings, live stock, and all—was found to be only thirty dollars an acre when the last census was taken in 1901. One-half of the people of this immense land of Quebec, seven times larger than the State of New York, have been driven to seek employment in the mills and factories of trustridden New England.

Now that the drums of an antitrust campaign are being beaten in almost every section of the United States, and that railroads and corporations are being pilloried as the enemies ofprogress and prosperity, it is a striking fact that up in this strange land of Quebec the whole swing of public opinion is in the opposite direction.

“What we want,” say the men of Quebec, “is more capital, more railroads, more corporations, more captains of industry. Millionaires have no terrors for us. In fact, our country has lagged behind for lack of them. If you Americans wish to do us a good turn, send us a Frick or a Gates to organize us and to develop our limitless resources, and we will show you a spectacle of prosperity that will sur-

pass. the wonderful progress of Manitoba and the Northwest.”

Such is the general opinion of Quebec people, rich and poor, as I have found by interviewing several scores of them—bankers, mechanics, writers, socialists, members of Parliament, and farmers. From the driver of a Montreal sleigh-cab up to the matchless Sir Wilfrid Laurier himself, premier of the Dominion, all unite in saying that the urgent need of Quebec is for capital and industrial leadership.

The inhabitants of this trustless province are, in the one matter of business, an army without generals. They are a brilliant rank and file. While they have produced artists, orators, poets, journalists, and statesmen of the highest ability, they have failed, for some inscrutable reason, to create industrial organizers and financiers. With scarcely any exceptions, the few large enterprises now in existence among them have been established either by Americans or by a handful of Scots who settled in Montreal. The average French-Canadian clings to the old way of hand labor and small production. He is an ideal employe—quick, tractable, moral, and fond of hard work ; but only in the rarest instances will he ever become an employer or promoter on his own account. There is not a lazy bone in his lithe body, but some one else must lay the plans, take the risk, and invest the capital.

If labor created all wealth, Quebec would be a country in which every family had a cornucopia of its own. Instead of the little half-furnished wooden cabins, there would be modern houses of brick and stone. But the French-Canadian works alone. He seldom dreams of co-ordinating a hundred of his fellows into a corporation, so that their united product shall be increased. In fact, as the thin strips of farms along the St. Lawrence show, he is far more inclined

to divide up his property than to enlarge it.

Naturally, the French-Canadian is proud of his country as it is, without the smoke of factories or the clamor of mills. Where else, he asks, is there a river as majestic as the St. Lawrence, or as impressive as the Saguenay, that stupendous chasm of water and cliff? Where is there a city like Quebec, that storehouse of American history ? It' was here—in this walled city of the north—that the final duel was fought between England and France. Here fell, at the same moment, Wolfe and Montcalm—the one victorious and the other vanquished. It was here that the British bugles silenced the beat of the French drums in the New World; and yet there is no other place that has remained so wholly and unalterably French.

The French-Canadian is proud of his Montreal—the stately island city which belongs more to the British Empire than to Quebec. In Montreal, too, there are memories of the days of Cartier and Champlain, of Marquette and La Salle, or Benjamin Franklin, Washington Irving, and Thomas Moore.

Most of all, perhaps, at the present time, he is proud of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was born the son of a poor French-Canadian notary, and who is now the Premier of Canada. Sir Wilfrid is a statesman whom Great Britain has on many occasions delighted to honor. He is now a veteran of sixty-five, highly esteemed by Canadians of all nationalities.

' When I met him in his Ottawa home—a comfortable brick residence given to him by the members of his party—he was recuperating from his official labors by reading an American magazine. He manifested the keenest interest in American affairs, both in relation to finance and politics. Incidentally, he called attention to the many American books in his library —a “Life of Grant,” for instance, Blaine’s “Twenty Years of Congress,” and eight biographies of Abraham Lincoln.

But though the French-Canadians are justly proud of Laurier as a states-

man, they have as yet produced no such genius in the sphere of business. They have shown little aptitude for handling large enterprises ; and so, for lack of industrial leaders, the whole northern area of Quebec is still a trackless wilderness. Indeed, half of her land is still half forest—only one-twentyfifth of it settled, and two-thirds of it unexplored. From 1871 to 1901, her increase in population averaged a little more than one per cent, a year. All told, she has only one family for every square mile of her field and forest.

The fault, if there be any fault, is not in the country itself. It is no farther north than the prosperous States of Montana and Minnesota. Apples, plums, cherries, pears, and even tobacco can be grown easily enough. The soil is fairly good; yet the number of farmers is decreasing, and the total product of the average farm is worth very little more than two dollars a day.

Within the past five years, the influx of American capital has greatly improved the general condition of the people. Farmers are now using harvesters and modern plows. But all through the nineteenth century there were thousands of them who knew no better way to escape the Harvester Trust than by using the sickle and the scythe, or to dodge the Beef Trust than by living on bread, salt pork, and pea soup. Even yet, in the back countries, a tree with jagged branches is often used as a harrow, and grain is separated from its chaff by the flapping of a palm-leaf fan.

In her Laurentian Range, Quebec has a veritable department-store of minerals ; yet beyond a little picking and scratching, nothing has been done to tear the metals from their rocky beds. The output of all her mines would scarcely give each of her people two dollars a year. Just across the boundary, in Ontario, the rich silver mines of Cobalt have recently been developed ; but Quebec’s buried treasures are still unexploited.

There is iron in Quebec. A recent report, made by a government surveyor, declares that the country in a

certain region is “a mass of magnetic ore,” and that the rocks are red with iron rust. Yet this region is still a roadless, mineless wilderness. There is a small furnace at Three Rivers, which makes twenty-five tons of iron a day—a mere spoonful, from a Pittsburg point of view. Although the Canadian Government gives a bounty of three dollars a ton for iron made from Canadian ore, no one has opened up the iron lands of central Quebec; and it is actually true that the rolling mills of Montreal are now importing steel billets from Belgium.

There is gold in Quebec. Eighty years ago the glint of the yellow dust was first seen ; and nuggets that meant the price of a house have been picked up from time to time. But no energetic search for gold has ever been set on foot, and the undoubted wealth of the Laurentian Range still remains practically unclaimed, waiting for some future John W. Mackay or Adolph Sutro to bring it to light.

There is copper in Quebec, too ; waiting for a Clark, a Daly, or a Guggenheim. There are ochers and lead and mica and petroleum and many valuable clays. There are mineral springs that might be as famous as those of Carlsbad.

“We have granite of exceptional quality,” said M. Rivet, the member of Parliament for Hochelaga. “I have seen a whole mountain of it, untouched by pick or drill.” In the new Bank of Montreal, designed by the late Stanford White, the most imposing feature is an array of thirtysix granite pillars, fit for an olypmic temple ; but they were imported from Vermont and Tennessee; not one was quarried in Quebec.

There is one rare and valuable mineral, found in Quebec, and nowhere else in America—asbestos. This

strange salamander of minerals is now indispensable. The fierce blaze of a furnace has no more effect upon it than a ray of sunshine ; and we are therefore using it for threatre curtains, firemen’s uniforms, furnace coverings, stove linings, and innumerable other purposes. Quebec is now producing eighty per cent, of the world’s

supply of asbestos. Most of the thirteen small plants now operated in Quebec belong to Americans ; and the whole industry is less than thirty years old. For two centuries the asbestos region was surrounded by farms and crisscrossed by roads; yet not one pound of it was dug up and sent to market.

The fisheries of Quebec, in spite of a government bounty of thirty-five thousand dollars a year, are dwindling. Ship-building is a memory of long ago. The most extensive spruce forests in the world—vast enough to make Quebec the future home of the paper trust—have stood practically untouched until the last five or six years. To-day there are a dozen small paper mills in Quebec ; but the greater part of the spruce is still made into pulp and shipped as raw material to the busy mills of Maine.

When I asked a Montreal member of Parliament about the northern part of Quebec, he threw up his hands with a French gesture, and replied:

“The north ! I know nothing about the north. No one knows about it. It is the great unknown !”

After consulting with a number of public officials at Ottawa, however, I discovered some extraordinary facts about this “unknown” region. On the northern slope of the Laurentian Range—a vast tract without a town or a railway—the land is as fertile, the climate is as mild, and the snowfall is as light, as on the southern side. For more than two centuries the FrenchCanadians have huddled together on their narrow farms along the banks of the St. Lawrence, while north of them lay the treasure-hills, of the Laurentians, and hundreds of thousands of acres that can be had for the asking. For lack of pioneers and empirebuilders to lead them, one-half of the population of Quebec have emigrated southward into the New England States, instead of northward into a wide rich country of their own.

The most urgent need of Quebec is a railroad from the St. Lawrence northward to St. James Bay. This would open up seventy million acres of land, and connect Quebec with

Hudson Bay—that inland sea which is greater than ten Lake Superiors. The summer travel alone would probably enable such a railway to pay dividends, as the whole region is a paradise for sportsmen. Here are wild geese, snipe, plover, otter, beaver, mink, deer, marten, and bears in large numbers. At one camp an Indian hunter recently shot eighteen bears. And as for fishing, there are a thousand lakes and countless rivers in this northern wilderness, all populous with trout and salmon.

“We caught ninety-seven trout in one haul,” reports a government surveyor. “In the far north,” he says, “we found the pike so tame that we killed them with our paddles.”

For those who wish to hunt big game, there are the white whales of St. James Bay. In the good old days of the New Bedford whalers, these monsters were worth a hundred dollars apiece to the ships that caught them. It is said that in forty voyages to St. James Bay the whalers harpooned a million dollars’ worth of the Fond leviathans.

Instead of being a frozen waste, as most Americans believe, this northern region has a lighter snowfall than the prosperous cities of Ottawa and Montreal. It is in the latitude of England and Denmark, and farther south than any part of Norway.

“I have bathed in the waters of St. James Bay as late as the 3rd of October,” said one of the few enterprising woodsmen who had made the journey by canoe.

There is a lonely bishop on the shores of this bay, who has devoted his life to the service of the Indians. For many years he has made gardening his summer hobby; and a surveyor who paid him a recerit visit reports that the worthy prelate has succeeded in growing tomatoes, celery, carrots, cauliflower, cabbages, rhubarb, lettuce, radishes, parsnips, beets, peas, beans, and red currants. Yet up to the present time the bishop and his garden are more than three hundred miles from the nearest railway.

This unmapped land will yet be the playground of the continent. Here is the Nottaway, a river two miles wide and four hundred miles long, but not nearly as well known as the Congo. Here is Lake Mistassini, with an area of a thousand square miles, where the splash of the white man’s paddle has seldom been heard. And here are the falls of the Hamilton River, which have broken the silence of this wilderness for ages with a wild plunge more terrible than that of Niagara.

To do full justice to Quebec, it should be said that a railway has been begun, from Quebec to the north, and constructed for a distance of two hundred miles to Lake St. John. The magical effect of this railroad is at present the talk of Quebec. Sixty thousand people have trekked northward and settled upon the fertile land around Lake St. .John. They are raising wheat and all manner of vegetables. Hotels are being built for American tourists ; and a tract of land as large as Vermont has been added to the map of civilization in a surprisingly brief space of time.

There is no hostility to capital in this undercapitalized country. In fact, the most puzzling aspect of the whole situation is this—that while the greater part of Quebec is an undeveloped wilderness, its chief city, Montreal, is the financial centre of Canada, and one of the richest cities of its size in the world.

Montreal is the headquarters of the largest Canadian corporations. The oldest is the Hudson Bay Company, foremost of fur trading aggregations. The first railway into Montreal was the Grand Trunk, which located there and built a line to Portland, Maine, more than half a century ago. Later came the Canadian Pacific—that world-girdling system of railways and steamships by means of which a Londoner can now cross the Atlantic Ocean, the American continent, and the Pacific Ocean on a single ticket. Here, töö, is the famous Bank of Montreal, whose total assets reach to a hundred and sixty millions of dollars.

Montreal has capital—hundreds of millions. She has millionaires—fortytwo of them, all told, it is said. She has mills and factories—nearly four hundred of all sizes. But the vast bulk of her wealth is invested in enterprises that lie outside of the Province of Quebec. Her capitalists are at present building a railway in Cuba. They hold two million dollars’ worth of United States Steel stock; and they have placed large amounts at the service of the Wall Street banks. They are the principal pioneers in the development of electric power in Mexico. They control the street car companies in Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Havana, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Rio de Janeiro.

Two notable Montrealers—Lord Strathcona and Lord Mount Stephen —hold a thirty-million-dollar interest in James J. Hill’s railways. It was their help, in fact, which gave Hill his first start as a railway builder, by putting the Bank of Montreal behind his ventures. And it is understood that the late John W. Mackay was strongly supported in his cable enterprise by these fur-clad financiers of St. James Street, Montreal.

All this brings money to Canada. It builds turreted graystone palaces on the banks of the St. Lawrence. But it does not develop the resources of Quebec. The total manufacturing capital of Montreal is still less than seventy-five millions ; and the average Quebec factory can be bought for thirty thousand dollars. The almost unlimited possibilities of water-power at Montreal might make*her a manufacturing center with a world-wide commerce; yet not more than onetwentieth of this power is now being utilized. Instead of making their great river run their factories and

keep them warm, the people of Montreal import soft coal from Nova Scotia and Anthracite from the hills of Pennsylvania. There are, of course, several local establishments of the highest rank, such as the new Singer Sewing Machine Works and the Ogilvie Flour Mills; but, generally speaking, there are few industries in Montreal that are worthy of so rich a city.

In the city of Quebec, which is to be the eastern end of the new Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, there are twenty-seven small factories with four thousand workmen—less than will be found in any one of several of the mammoth cotton mills of New England. On the river front not one ship has been built for eleven years ; and the rugged old fortress'city seems content to stand guard and 'meditate upon the tragic scenes of her earlier days.

In this attractive land of romance and mystery, nothing is lacking except the man with the business brain, who dares to carry out large enterprises and to organize his fellow men into productive regiments and armies. And so, while the story of Quebec is a poem—an epic—a tale of heroism and adventure, it is also an economic sledge hammer against those who believe that the captain of industry is unnecessary to the growth and prosperity of a nation.

Sooner or later the great leaders will arise in this land of boundless possibilities. Several are now on the spot who show promise of coming greatness ; and it is quite possible that this generation may live to see the vast Quebec wilderness tamed by railways, the northern farmlands settled, and the rocky lid lifted from the treasure chest of the Laurentian Range,