The Power Behind a Vast Enterprise

John V. Borne in System Magazine June 1 1908

The Power Behind a Vast Enterprise

John V. Borne in System Magazine June 1 1908

The Power Behind a Vast Enterprise

John V. Borne in System Magazine

IN 1890, nothing. In 1907, four thousand one hundred miles of railway in operation; six hundred under construction; and two thousand more surveyed; the whole absolutely controlled by two men. Herein is a record that would be remarkable in the United States. In Canada we accept it as a matter of course, and look for more.

Some Characteristics and Methods of the Resourceful Men who Created, Control and Operate the Canadian Northern Railway A Great Transportation Line With Over 4000 Miles in Operation and 3000 More Now Building.

Here is a paragraph of details. The derelict charter of the Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal Company was bought, and in 1896 was translated into a hundred miles of railway by William Mackenzie and D. I). Mann, two railway contractors who had been partners for ten years. Some extensions were built, and a line from Winnipeg to Lake Superior was begun, the charter for which had been granted to other parties in 1889. In 1901. the Manitoba lines of the Northern Pacific were leased. In 1902, the road to Port Arthur, on Lake Superior, was completed. In 1905, Edmonton was reached ; and the main line was 1,265 nfiLs long. In 1906, double entrance was gained to Prince Albert— by building a line from the east, and by acquiring a railway from the south that had been operated for fifteen years by the Canadian Pacific. This winter, Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, has been given its first competitive route to the east.

While three thousand miles of track have been built and handled in the

\\ est, the elements of a transcontinental have been secured in the East by the same two men. The Canadian Northern ( fntario is built for three hundred miles, from Toronto to tile Moose Mountain iron mines, which, via Key Harbor, a new port 0.1 Georgian Bay, will give Cleveland and Pittsburg an additional unlimited supply of first-class ore, five hundred miles nearer than that which comes through Duluth. The Canadian Northern Quebec gives Ottawa a new connection with Montreal and Quebec. With the governance of the Quebec & Lake St. John have come first-rate terminal facilities, and access to the greatest pulpwood forests in America. In Nova Scotia, 431 miles of line have opened up the south shore between Halifax and Yarmouth, and have tapped great coal deposits in Cape Breton Island.



The first train on this system ran on December 19, 1899. In the first year the gross earnings were $6o,(X)o. The staff totalled about twenty. W est of Port Arthur alone the earnings are now on a basis of $io.(X)0,ooo per annum, and 10.700 are on the regular pay-roll.

The explanation? Men. chiefly.

Mr. Mackenzie is president of the Canadian Northern Railway Company ; Mr. Mann is vice-president.

1'hev are complementare one of an-

other—which is another way of saying that they differ markedly in their characteristics.


And, first. Mr. Mackenzie. Who is he? What is he like? What is his knack of doing things? What is he likely to find round the next bend in the road.

His parents came from Caithness, and cleared a farm about seventy injjes back from Toronto. From the first he was ambitious—reticently. He began by teaching school. There was little prospect in that profession, except the possible glory of showing some unsuspected genius how to spell. He found other constructive business. As you pass through Gamebridge. on the Canadian Northern )ntario line, a frame building is shown you as a piece of his handiwork. He kept store ; and, when railways were first being built thereabouts. he set up as a sawmiller.

In the early eighties he was building trestle bridges for the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. He constructed the snowsheds in the Selkirks. The railways from Calgary

to Edmonton and from Regina to Prince Albert were built by his firm. In 1891 he secured control of the Toronto Street Railway. The street railway franchise of Winnipeg also came his way. He became heavily interested in Montreal street traction, and, with another, once held similar privileges in Birmingham, England.


The beginnings of the Canadian Northern, in 1896, were not as accidental as they seemed. Reticence was the price of success. The wise public said that Western Canada was the inheritance of the mighty Canadian Pacifie, the first great railway of the West, and that it was impossible for a great trunk and branches to be built from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains, in the same way as little shops have grown into leviathan department stores. But Mr. Mackenzie laughs at impossibilities and converts them into roadbeds, rails and running rights. He is chief of forty-three per cent of the working Canadian railroads between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains.

Perhaps the explanation of his power is a combination of a rare instinct for the profitable thing; a capacity rapidly to transmute an idea into a proposition, and a matchless certainty that events will justify the proposition. “Mackenzie never lets go,” said one who has known him intimately for many years. The testimony is corroborated by the records of big enterprises that are too numerous to mention.

Where is the place of detail in this makeup? It is everywhere; and nowhere. “I am seldom out in a figure,” was how he once described his extraordinary knowledge of the entrails of a business he has once dealt with. But he dismisses as detail many things which the average man regards as essential. He looks right into the centre of a problem ; knows instantly what its vital spark is ; and discovers a way to kindle it into a blaze, while the other fellow is wondering from

which quarter a breeze may come to destroy the flame.

The man who is seldom out in a figure naturally dispenses with some of the common paraphernalia of business. In the board-room of the Canadian Northern Building in Toronto, Mr. Mackenzie has a chair, a telephone, two rows of electric buttons, a blotter and accessories—and that’s his outfit. He has Cecil Rhodes’ disregard for letter writing. As a rule he makes two trips a year to Europe on financial business. He cannot be induced to take a secretary with him. He always gets what he asks for.



He is not unaware of his genius for financing, but nobody ever hears him speak of it. A few weeks ago he returned from a trip to England, during which he achieved surprising results ; and gave interviews to the Toronto papers. The most accurate of the reporters wrote that Mr. Mackenzie received them in his “genially bashful way.” Recently a most experienced Toronto editorial writer, who had written much about Mr. Mackenzie for a dozen years—often critically, for Mr. Mackenzie knows how to fight as well as how to be genial— met him for the first time. “I expected,” said he, “to meet a big, muscular, dominating man—a sort of express in trousers. But I saw an averaged-sized, thin-handed, and. at first, almost timid man, with wonderful, winning eyes, who has got somewhere about him, an element of romance, if I am not mistaken.”

It was a shrewd observation. Mr. Mackenzie's summer home is on the paternal homestead. His devotion to his family is proverbial among all who know Mr. Mackenzie, of Benvenuto, as well as President Mackenzie, of the Canadian Northern. He cares intensely for Canada. To him you might as well criticize the multiplication table, as suggest a doubt of the magnificence of his country. When the Dominion Government fathered the Grand Trunk Pacific scheme, it was suggested to him that the Cana-

dian Northern might be sold at a great price. His answer was immediate, decisive, illuminating: “No; 1

like building railroads.” The must persistent and possibly the must bitter assailant of railways in Canada said this to me, nut su long ago: “I be-

lieve that when he has built a railway across the continent, Mackenzie will be quite capable of making it a national possession.” The remark is useful only as showing that the element of romance suspected by another man is not as deeply overlaid by balance sheets as is generally supposed. Mr. Mackenzie is not primarily a philanthropist. If he were, he could not build railways. But his genius for acquisition is not for selfaggrandizement.

The next bend of the road? The Canadian Northern will be a transcontinental railway, as certainly as anything can be, in a mutable world. Mr. Mackenzie is fifty-seven, “the most tireless man, physically and mentally, I ever saw,” said his friend Byron E. Walker, president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, lately. The longevity of his father is remarkable. There is no visible reason why he himself should not be hale at eighty-five. He will go on building railroads to the end of the chapter.

It agrees with him.

It agrees with Canada.


“I am a believer in the made-inCanada idea,” said Mr. Mann, to the Toronto Board of Trade. He should be: a tree is known by its fruits. Mr. Mann is altogether a product of Canada. The Canadian Northern has been mainly financed in England ; but it is the first great Canadian undertaking that is not a debtor to imported driving powers. It is not a breach of confidence to say that Mr. J. (. Hill regards Sir Win. Van Horne and Mr. Mann as the two greatest living railroad builders. Mr. Hill knows what he is talking about, and if his modesty conquers him occasionally, it is the only thing that ever did.

If the Canadian Northern is singu-

lar in Canada, because it owes nothing to extraneous force, it must have developed its own driving powers. Air. Alackenzie has done the financing; and has been in the public eye more than his partner, who has stayed at home “minding the sheep,” as an inconsequential wag said. As a rule, he who minds the sheep is the more difficult entity to size up than he who goes into the market place.

Writing of Air. Alann, after Air. Alackenzie, might make it comparatively easy to exhibit him as the complement of Air. Alackenzie ; were it not equally desirable to show Mr. Alackenzie as the complement of Mr. Alann. Finance must be followed by Construction. Construction depends on Finance. Finance cannot repeat itself until Construction has justified its promises. In the case of the Canadian Northern, Construction and Finance are truly married. And, as with all fruitful, abiding unions, the parties have qualities alike, besides qualities complementary. Any idea that Air. Alann is not a first-class financier could not survive a tenminutes’ talk with him about a financial proposition.


Half the art of railroad construction is in getting things done. The antecedent is the choice of right country in which to lay your first rails. The prosperity of your road may finally depend on the success with which you contrive to feed it with tributary lines, and contributory industries. Air. Alann went to Western Canada somewhere about 1880, because he saw that the ground floor of the future was beyond Lake Superior. Two days ago, I met the head of the firm of lumbermen for whom Mr. Mann was a foreman in 1879. “What was his outstanding quality?” I asked. “Drive!” was the answer. “Organizing the work, and getting it done. He was the best foreman we ever had.”

See how these qualities worked under new conditions. Mr. Mann is not given to excess of speech. He observes prodigiously. He was one of the builders of the railways from Regina, the centre of the prairie country, to Prince Albert, near the Forks of the Saskatchewan; and from Calgary, at the foot-hills of the Rockies, two hundred miles northward to Edmonton, which is about four hundred miles west of Prince Albert. He saw the Saskatchewan Valley; and it was very good. His notions about it can only be judged by what happened afterwards. The Lake Manitoba Railway and Canal charter, which he and his partner acquired, belonged to the scheme for reaching Hudson Bay. Thev built their first lines in that direction, through country which one of the earlier Government explorers described as “the finest, in a state of na ture, I have ever seen.”

But while this was being done, the magnificent territory between Dauphin, the terminus of 1896, and Edmonton was being pre-empted for a main line to the Pacific. And before the interests that then dominated the railway situation in Western Canada quite appreciated what was going cO happen, the Saskatchewan, by the end of 1905, had been bridged in four

places, and there was a main line from Port Arthur on Lake Superior to Edmonton, twelve hundred and sixtyfive miles away. The next year, the line from Regina to Prince Albert, through remarkably productive wheat-growing land, fell into the hands of its actual builders ; and this year Regina, by a new line to Brandon, has her first alternative commercial line to navigation. Eighteen hundred and forty miles of branches feed the trunk ; and the grain elevator at Port Arthur into which the crop is poured, is the largest in the world.

Every acre that has been handled by the Railway’s Land Department, was granted with some charter whose promoters failed to finance it. Compared with the cash grants in aid of preceding railways, the monetary help received by the Canadian Northern has been trifling. New charters, and re-adjustments of old ones, have involved much legislation which has been under Mr. Mann’s guidance, rather than Mr. Mackenzie’s. He is a skilled diplomatist; with the advantage of always working on a case he controls ; and, generally, on a case he has created.


When creative genius has done its work there is generally need for some expert hand to run the mechanism that has been made. Take a rigid training in auld licht faith and practice; long-houred service on economical Scotch railways ; comprehensive experience in New York, Eastern Canada, and the spacious plains of the Last West; broaden and deepen the result, by a decade of management of a fast-growing system of transportation, and you produce the third vice-president of the Canadian Northern—D. Blythe Hanna—and you also produce the keys of his success.

Mr. Hanna is forty-nine. Until he was thirty-eight he was in no distinguished position. His career, though, which was well-founded and grounded in the years preceding that time, has been made, as far as wide-

spread notice is concerned, in that time. Through the auditing staff, the chief accountancy, the treasureship of successive roads in Scotland, the United States and Canada, he reached, the last month of 1896, the avenue to his proper vocation, by becoming the superintendent of the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Company, an almost unnoticed line that began in a village and ended 100 miles out in the wilderness. To-day he is in active charge of the running of 4,100 miles.

Mr. Hanna’s splendid part in the Canadian Northern is due to his independence of precedent and his devotion to the immutability of ‘ two and two are* four.” He is six feet two ; as strong as a horse. He jokes without difficulty, and enjoys the jokes almost as much as those who hear them. Last spring an Irish banker traveled with him from Winnipeg to Edmonton and confessed he had not laughed so much in any two previous days. From which it is pretty clear he gets on with people—and so, also, with himself.