Sir William Mackenzie —Individualist

P. C. Cherry June 1 1911

Sir William Mackenzie —Individualist

P. C. Cherry June 1 1911

(See page 33) “The Individualist.“

Sir William Mackenzie —Individualist

P. C. Cherry

THERE is bound to come, some day, a great struggle between things socialistic and things individualistic, in Canada. I am using the word socialistic in a very wide sense.

Sir James Whitney, the Premier of Ontario, and the farmers of the western plains, are the “Socialistics” of Canada. Neither may admit it, and neither would agree with any one of the scores of creeds called Socialism. But they believe in Public Ownership—which is a step in the direction of Socialism insofar as it is a step against Individualism.

Sir William Mackenzie is the greatest Individualist in Canada. And this is no small statement, for although the western farmers insist that the grain elevators must be operated by the Government, although they demand public ownership and operation of the Hudson’s Bay Railway, and although Sir James Whitney playfully presses Honorable Adam Beck's finger against the various buttons which turn Hydro-Electric Power Commission power into the circuits of different Ontario cities—nevertheless the Dominion of Canada is the nation wherein “Individualism” flourishes and is more abundantly blessed than anywhere else. And of all the men who have taken advantage of the opportunities, Sir William is the chief and head.

Six or seven years ago a man of thirtyfive was declared a failure by the people in the town where he lived—Chatham, Ontario. He had been a school teacher and had tried a small business enterprise “on the side.” He went to “the wall.”

lie borrowed fifty dollars to make up enough money to take himself and his family west. To-day, in the west, in a certain well-known Saskatchewan city, which is only seven years old, he ranks as almost a millionaire, does a million dollars' worth of business in his store every year, and drives a seven-seated car with a Gabriel’s horn that cost all sorts of money. When first he arrived in that town, he nearly starved to death—there was not much market for the cakes which his wife baked and he peddled. But he came out safely, because Individualism comes to its finest maturity in this country.

Another man five years ago was a clerk in a warehouse in Montreal. He grew tired of his salary, threw up his position and went down to Halifax to see whether, out of the few hundred dollars he had saved up, he could not ‘get. away’ with a scheme he had in mind. He saw that the Canadian public needed a certain service. He saw how to give it. And his enterprise was rewarded by the country which fosters—Individualism.

Men in the clubs could talk all night of such instances. Some might sav that Canada was no better—or worse, as the Socialists might say—than the United States or England in this regard. But the majority would point out the greater degree of freedom which a man has in this country to work out his ideas. There are no serious Trusts to reach out and destroy budding competition; there are, as yet, few social restrictions, such as in England operate against ambitious Jasons. The laws of the land do not operate

against private rights, and, on the other hand, they afford a maxium of protection for such rights. In short, no door is locked to anyone in Canada, who, by enterprise, good judgment, self-control and intelligent execution, wishes to impress his Individualism upon the country of which he is an inhabitant. His aims may be selfish or otherwise; provided that he is governed by the rules of the game, he has his chance, and a good one.

Once upon a time two meandering country roads, traversing at right angles a piece of high, rocky country between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, met and crossed, and marked the event by the birth of a village. On two corners are hotels; on a third corner is a house; on the fourth is a general store with soap pictures in the window and bales of straw hats swung from the ceiling inside, steeped in the odor of matches, candies and summer savory. The rest of the village trails off in the four directions. The place is called Kirkfield, and its only claim to glory is the fact that it loaned William Mackenzie the space to get born on, that the corner store, to which we have already referred, was the first stage for the embryo Individualist, and that now, having grown a bit seedy and a trifle out at the elbow, and having—as it were—lost its teeth and its youth, it is content to sit dozing and mumbling all day and all night around the house which this, its greatest son, has built in its midst, while the wife of that son, Lady Mackenzie, decorates its old age with brand new school houses, brick houses for the Gospel, and avenues of trees. It is like an old man, having in poverty been the father of a prodigy, being heaped with honors wrested from the world by his matured offspring.

Fifty and sixty years ago there was a premium on Individualism in Canada. The country needed, not so much “population” as “men.” It needed the Individuals to construct things before it could have the masses to use them. Today, certain Toronto newspapers prophesy a fight between the Ontario Government and the Mackenzie electrical interests. The Government power system and the system of which Sir William is the head, are to come to blows, they say. It may be so.

We cannot argue it, although there is reason to believe that Sir William could not very well afford at this moment to offend the Ontario Government. But the fact that the Ontario Government, whether right or wrong—and many people differ with popular opinion on this score—has entered into competition with a private company, or, in other words, has begun competing with private interests, shows that conditions have changed since the old days; that the cry is not so much for Individuals to exercise their enterprise and intelligence in developing, at any cost, the resources and the traffics of the Dominion, but that the interests of the many are being brought in sharp contrast with the interests of the few who have hitherto profited by supplying the many with their necessities; and that Individualism, as opposed to Public Ownership, is coming to a struggle, in the brunt of which shall stand Mackenzie.

Mackenzie did not become interested in public service companies until the later years of his activity. First he taught school—a dolorous little building up near Gamebridge sheltered him when first he took to earning his living. Colonel Sam Hughes, who is said to get choice morsels of lucrative work cast his way once in a while by the M. & M. interests, made the acquaintance of Mackenzie when he attended school in Lindsay. Perhaps that was the seed for the harvest which now he reaps, or is alleged to reap.

Even when school-teaching became too small for so strenuous a spirit, Mackenzie did not at once launch into the career which was waiting for him. But he took up general store keeping, in the store already mentioned. It is said that at one time a lumber jack, being somewhat excited by the application of precious liquors to his digestive system, tried to pick a fight with Mackenzie, the storekeeper, and that he came all the way down the road from the adjacent lumber camp to do it.

The story goes that he stood out in front of Sir William’s shop and shouted epithets and epigrams into the shadowy recesses wherein the budding Sir William was cutting cheese with a wire and two clothes-pegs, until at last, Sir William came out of his store with a quick, decided little trot, to see whence the insults came.

“Ya!”—or at least this is what the historic lumber jack is reputed to have said, “Ya! Wipe the cheese off'n y’r hands and come out an’ lick me, will y’? Come on, store-keeper, till I maul y’.”

And then, the story goes, Mackenzie, sardonically, turned, disappeared and came out again with a clothes line, with which he proceeded to tie up the inebriate —said inebriate being overcome with the sheer audacity of the storekeeper. Of course, this story may have become exaggerated in the course of its rustication in the village of Kirkfield. The old men who sit under the trees in front of the two hotels and who swap gossip across the street with the Saturday night shoppers coming out of what used to be Mackenzie's store, have turned it on their tongues and blown it out with the smoke several thousand times. Nevertheless, there must be a little truth in the story. There is something familiar in the way in which Mackenzie is alleged to have walked up to the lumber jack—who was spoiling for a fight, aching for it, crying out for it— and to have quietly roped him up. The City of Toronto is forever and a day bawling defiances at Mackenzie, and every once in a while he steps out to see what the trouble is, and ties it up in a new place.

Of course, there were marked evidences of “Individuality” in the young “Bill Mackenzie.” There is no question but that he had plenty of it, even when he was school-teaching. It persisted in his make-up down to the days when he and his brothers owned the saw mill in the village, and when, later, they accepted contracts for cutting cordwood for the engines of the old Victoria & Haliburton Railway. At all events, from cutting cordwood for the road he took up carpentering on the railroad stations which were being built at that time. From this he drifted into all sorts of “odd jobs” on Ontario railroads, until he came to meet James Ross and other people who now live in palaces in Montreal and read the financial pages of the newspapers.

The story goes that young Mackenzie, who by this time wasn’t so young after all, and who had paid back the money he borrowed from the tavern-keepers and others, for his education, went west, to take part in the building of the C. P. R.,

and that his going was the result of an invitation from James Ross, who was at that time laying the foundation for all the anecdotes which have since been told about him and his work in the west.

At all events, Mackenzie went west.

What he did there is an old story. Ties an 1 more ties; contracts and then more contracts; losses on some and profits on others; these were Mackenzie’s experiences. But, by and by, his experience with losses made him very cunning. He 1 egan to observe the things that caused him to lose, and the conditions under which he profitted. He became a skilled appraiser of railroad construction costs.

When he was working on a contract for snow-sheds in the mountains, it is said that he met Mann. At least, Sir Donald, when asked by the writer, where he had first met Mackenzie, reverted to the days when he was working on snowshed contracts, and Mackenzie was doing something in the same line, nearby. There must be a good story in the meeting of these two men. because Sir Donald chuckled and went off into a reverie, from which he emerged five minutes later, only to say, “I’d like like hell to tell you—” and then he went off into another reverie and forgot about the interviewer’s original question.

To follow Mackenzie from his railroading days in the west down to to-day is to get a great deal of Canadian Railroad History mixed into the story, and to be forever juggling with the names of Ross and Holt and other men of familiar fame. From one contract to another Mackenzie & Mann progressed. They undertook contracts for all sorts of lines. They became masters of the art of laying steel rails—anywhere. M. & M. worked on the C.P.R. short lines through Maine. They lost money at first, but won out in the end. and tackled something else. Then, after dabbling in a street railway or two, Mackenzie—with Mann—started buying “second-hand” railways.

In the west, it is one of the first things any child is taught:—Which was the first road purchased by the Great Mackenzie & Mann? That is the question.

Answer—The road to Dauphin.

Question—Was that road on a paying basis?


Question—Did they make it pay?

Answer—You bet.

Half the children in the west think Mackenzie & Mann invented wheat.— which is the greatest thing on earth to them. The other half think that the C. P. R, did. The next generation will learn that it was the G. T. P. But this is anticipating.

M. & M. had bought their first secondhand road. The staff was thirteen men arid a boy. After that they attended the auction sales of other railways which had been built by overly sanguine gentlemen. They bought, for instance, the Pt. Arthur, Duluth & Winnipeg Railway, which had fallen upon such evil days that its initials were interpreted, “Poverty, Agony, Distress and Wretchedness.” But the poverty soon vanished. Mackenzie & Mann inoculated it with the germs of Life and Earning Power.

It might be said that Mackenzie, as president of the Canadian Northern, was a Prince of Second-hand Dealers—secondhand on a large scale, of course. Even yet, his transcontinental road is in tatters and patches, and it will be a long time, according to some people’s experience, before a train can travel at more than three miles an hour on some of the back stretches of Saskatchewan and Alberta without wrecking all the glassware in the dining car and painting the interior of the coaches with the thinking organs of the passengers, minced. The track in certain parte, such as referred to, is ballast-hungry. It heaves and sags, it is so distressed." But there is some sort of an explanation for it. The C. N. R. officials from Head Office will explain it all away to the satisfaction of the most diligently inquiring bondholder. But they cannot keep their trainmen from crying and cursing—nor the glasses on the table.

Sir William Mackenzie has become identified with public interests everywhere. A transcontinental ; a street railway in Winnipeg and another in Toronto; these are the works by wbich he is most readily known. His timber interests in British Columbia, his whaling interests in the Pacific and his mining companies might, by Socialistic persons, be said to be “Public, Interests” insofar as they are part of the

country which is the heritage of the Canadian people. In Mexico and South America, Sir William dominates organizations which sell very Existence itself to the natives, namely, water and light, and, less important, but none the less valuable, tramways and power. Sir William would tell you, if he cared enough, that he was giving these people better service at less cost; that, he was developing things which would not otherwise have been developed. Socialists would say that this sort of service and development should be carried on by government. They would remove the element of individual enterprise which Sir William injects into all situations.

In recent years the president of the Canadian Northern Railway has become the head of the Electric Ring in Ontario. At least, it. is called “Ring.” It is really nothing more than—William Mackenzie. Some years ago there was a great rush to develop power from Niagara Falls. Several companies erected great engineering works on the Canadian side. One of them, the Electrical Development Company, came “a cropper.” Its works were offered for sale. The Whitney Government, contemplating Hydro-Electric Power Commission, decided not to buy—until after-' ward, when William Mackenzie had bought the concern : another case of a second-hand deal. Then, the Whitney Government did what all Ontario people know it. did—built a second line of transmission towers and came into competition with the Mackenzie line. Very recently the City of Toronto had an opportunity to buy the Toronto Electric Light Company, instead of building a duplicate system to compete with it. But the city failed and Sir William bought it.

Thus are his interests being brought to bear directly against the Ontario Public Ownership Movement. It will be the same wrhen he secures the operation of the Government-owned Hudson’s Bay Railway, which the west demands must be operated by the Government. He may not make the competition in Ontario electrical matters seriously active. He may have reasons of his own for being “kind and patient” with that Government. But whether he declares war or not, there is war in Sir William’s heart. For he is a

champion of private enterprise, especially his own.

Some years ago the Toronto Globe conceived the novel idea of asking various public men within reach of Toronto, what each would do if he were Czar of Canada. What would be the first thing he would do? Some said they would wipe out the bars; their answer was obvious from the first. Some wanted single tax, some votes for women, some technical education, or more public lavatories, or a higher tax on dogs. Sir Edmund Walker had a benevolent, but practical, scheme in mind, and he understood the humor of the newspapers needs so far that he wrote out his answer and so saved himself from being misquoted. William Mackenzie gave the reporter who happened to see him-—an hour and a half of solid talk against Pub-

lic Ownership. Had he been Czar, in effect, he said, he would wipe it out.

It may be depended upon that Sir William will do all in his power to preserve the hunting grounds of individual initiative in Canada. He will do everything possible to overcome the various movements—such as Public Ownership— which are liable to upset the confidence of the English investor in the ability of such gentlemen as himself to carry out plans for profit-making. Whether to condemn him for, even in his heart, opposing the Public Ownership movement, or whether to approve him for championing the rights of Individualism and guarding the open doors for the young Canadian to find his task, wrestle with it. and become a Man. may be hard to decide. But Sir V illiam is not affected one way or another by what anybody thinks.