CANADA’S FISHMONGER GENERAL
The Story of a Campaign to Sell Canadian Fish
THOMAS M. FRASER
SINCE those early days when Radisson and Groseillers,
Canadian voyageurs and coureurs du bois, sat about the ante-rooms of the great in London, in the Seventeenth Century, and poured their tales of wonder into the ears of London merchants, endeavoring to enlist sympathy for their trading and empire-building schemes in the new world—the beginnings of the Hudson Bay Company—the greater part of what romance there has been in Canadian commerce has centred about the North-West. It was there that the Hudson Bay, and its later-founded competitor, the North-West Company, schemed and fought and stalked each other for a supremacy which was never settled in the open, but by the more modern method of “merger.” It was there that the great Canadian Pacific Railway drama was conceived and staged. And it w*as from there that Hughie Green started out with a brown paper parcel under his arm, containing a fine specimen of the lake whitefish, to make the world eat “fish.”
And if you think this is dropping from the sublime to the ridiculous, let me tell you that you are wrong; because that was probably the most fruitful fish in the history of the world. As a matter of strict iethyological fact, I believe the cod is the most fecund of fish, it having been calculated that one cod will deposit nine millions of eggs; but it is also a fact, nevertheless, that from that solitary whitefish carried from Saskatoon to Ottawa in the autumn of 1915 has grown an export trade which at this date amounts to over fifty million pounds, and whose future possibilities are limitless.
It may seem not such a hard thing to do to make a hungry world eat fish, particularly when it is on warrations, not dead sure where its next meal is coming from, but certain that it will be a slim one. But fish, somehow, as an article of diet has been the world’s buffoon. No one would speak slightingly of a beefsteak, or approach a rasher of bacon—particularly in these times—with anything but an attitude of reverence. Singers have shouted themselves red in the face over the praise of brown October ale; bands all around the British Empire have brought tears to the eyes and saliva to the mouth of the wandering Briton, as they brayed out the “Roast Beef of Old England”; but what poet ever composed an ode to a cod, or penned a tribute to a trout? It simply isn’t done. We thi’ow lines to fish, but we do not indite them.
Why, when Hughie Green started to make the Canadian soldiers eat fish, everybody laughed at him. And will you believe it, I started to read the articles thè British press later on published on the introduction of Canadian frozen fish into Europe, and after I had read
thiee-quarters of a mile of them from Hughie’s scrapbook—articles from staid British institutions like the Westminster Gazette, the Scotsman, the Financier and Bullionist, the Leeds Mercury, the Morning Post, the Financial Post, and the London Times, (fact, I assure you; they say that thunder kills fish, but “the Thunderer” stroked ours gently on the back as though it were “guddling” them, which is the Scotch method of catching them with the bare hands) well, do you wonder that I was lost in admiration, and in the middle of this sentence? And wouldn’t you agree that the man who did all this off his own bat, and in the face of the laughter and scepticism of nearly everyone in officialdom at Ottawa, deserves a place in the hall of fame of MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE?
No Canadian ever worked the staid and conservative British press for one-half the free publicity that Hughie Green got, not even that other picturesque Canadian figure, Lord Beaverbrook; and every line of Hughie’s publicity redounded to the benefit of a great Canadian industry. They know more about Canadian fish over there now than they do about their own. Hughie hadn’t been ashore on British soil two hours before the reporters realized that a new star had swum into their ken; and after that it was simply a matter of sitting down and thinking out a new story for them. And Hughie—to use the vernacular—is some hand at the new thought. He is not only the leading singlehanded fish salesman of the world, but the world’s best compiler or inventor of fish stories. Anybody could sell fish in Spain on Friday; but Hughie can go into a Presbyterian settlement in Scotland and sell them fish seven days in the week; and he could make people in British Columbia beiieve that they really wanted to eat canned salmon.
A Scotchman—Of Course
BUT that all came later on; and it was a far cry from the time he arrived at Ottawa with that frozen whitefish in the brown paper parcel. It was not, primarily, a commercial undertaking, you will understand. No man born in Glasgow, as Hughie was, is averse to looking after the bawbees; but he went to Ottawa as the Apostle of Fish to the World. He was born and brought up in the fish trade in Scotland. His father had been in it in a large way, and had retired to far-off Saskatchewan with a competence, taking his husky sons with him. The boys had learned the trade from the bottom of the sea up ; and Hughie himself, with his witty tongue and persuasive smile, had
been a noted fish salesman in Glasgow, where they get up on a barrel in the open market and auction the fish off ; and to do that, the auctioneer must be able to give the bare-bosomed and freetongued fish-wives as good as they send.
Mark Twain once wrote a story about a Southerner who went to Washington to collect payment for a little matter of twenty barrels of pork supplied to the troops during the war. He went, in style, and in a hurry, expecting to collect his money and start for home next day. His equipage was magnificent, and included a coach and four, a footman, and a spotted dog. He quickly found himself involved in the coils of the circumlocution offices at Washington. Day by day went past, with his claim still uncollected. By degrees he parted with all his costly equipage in order to live. Finally, Mark came upon him when he was
about to leave for home, with his claim still uncollected ; he was disposing of his sole remaining asset with the remark: “Durn a dog, anyhow.”
His experience was fairly representative of those who go to interview Governments in any country. Sometimes they come away from the official presence imagining they have secured what they went after. In turning the thing over in their minds on the train on the way home, chilly doubts begin to creep in. Before they are home long, all doubts are dissipated : they know they have got nothing but honeyed words. For years past the farmers of the West have been storming Ottawa; and about all they got for it was the privilege of spending ten nights in an upper berth.
He Arrives in Ottawa
DEFORE Hughie Green arrived at Ottawa with his brown paper parcel and his proposition of putting Canadian fish on the Canadian soldiers’ menu, the endurance record of Government interviewers had been twelve days; and the man who stayed that long did so, not because he was making any headway, but because his expenses were paid, and he liked the board at the Chateau Laurier. In addition to the whitefish, Hughie took down with him a strong Doric accent, and a pair (or a sett, or a brace) of kilts for social functions. As an entertainer, Harry Lauder beats Hughie in the shape of his legs, and in that only. Lauder's voice isn’t any better, and his smile isn’t in the same class; but he has funnier legs.
Hughie was going to run down to Ottawa, sell several million pounds of fish, or direct the Government where they could buy them, receive the thanks of his grateful country and maybe a cheque, and go home on the next train. It was a simple and easy little matter: merely to have fish put on the menu of the soldiers, thereby supplying them with cheap, nutritious, and palatable fare, and at the same time do a good turn for the fishermen in the northern lakes. If there was anything left, Hughie didn’t mind taking a share of it himself. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Hungry Soldiers—Cheap Fish—Paternal and Economical Government—Pooi' Fishermen—also, alas, poor Hughie Green!
You know those revolving doors, which have become* so popular in late years? Well, it was just like that; only those at Ottawa all empty out on the side walk again, instead of letting you get in anywhorr Hughie started out. with a good Chateau breakfast, under his belt, even if it did cost enough to keep a northern fisherman for a year, because he calculat« he could stand it for once. He had the fish with him in brown paper parcel. He took the first office he came* to in the east block. It did not seem to be a lucky shot.
The official there, who was an impressive looking pe son, listened to him through a monocle for the space of half a cigarette; and then, sniffing at the brown paper parcel, and with his face lighting up with intelligence exclaimed:
“Fish! Ha! Yes. See them at the Marine and Fisheries Department. Quite so! Quite so! Right—o.” And Hughie went out through the revolving doors.
IT took him two days to reach the nethermost eaves of the Marine and Fisheries Department; but he considered it time well spent, because he saw the Minister himself—the Minister that was, that is.
“Noo,” said Hughie to himself, “this is whaur I sud hae came fur—r—st.”
He pictured this department filled with hardy mariners, smelling of salt herring, and with oil-skins and sou’-westers hanging up behind the doors. He rolled in a “Yo-heave-h©, my hearties” salutation; but was met by a frigid air of inquiry. Barring the fact that the typewriter had her hair in Marcel waves, there was not a sign of the briny deep about the place ; but as he was being shunted off with á letter of introduction to the Archives Department, the Minister himself entered, and Hughie followed him, with the faithful fish under his arm.
Telling It To the Marines
THE Minister did not deny that it was the Marine and Fisheries Department; but it was the naval end that was occupying his exclusive attention then. If Hughie had only had a model of a new torpedo boat, or a folding periscope, he might give him some time; but he did not see that anything could be done with fish just at present. The Department, however, had recently issued a splendidly illustrated booklet, instructing the public on the value of fish as a food, a copy of which could be had by anyone on application. He would advise seeing the Department of Justice; he understood they had some queer fish to deal with there at times.
Being still new at the game of passing the buck, Hughie took the advice and his fish, and once more made the perilous passage through the revolving doors.
At the Justice Department, he got justice, but tempered with very little mercy. Some one next advised Colonel Black, of the Militia Department. He saw him.
It must be admitted that the fish by this time had been feeling the effect of its absence from cold storage for a week, and the constant pressure of an arm growing hot with indignation. Every night he had placed it on the outside window ledge to renew the firmness of youth; but time was telling on it. Angus Gordon of the Chateau was threatening to take measures for the protection of his other guests, whose only interest in fish was that they didn’t like the smell of it. Hughie’s funds were running short. Things, both fiscal ánd fishcal, were approaching a crisis.
When he called on Colonel Black, he thought it advisable to have the sample loosened up ready to be whipped out at the psychological moment. It was peeping coyly out of the end of the parcel. Colonel Black was a soldier of the old-school: stout, red-faced, monocled, and fussy.
“Ah!” he said; “Good morning. Phew—w—!”
Guid mor—r—ning,” said Hughie. “I’ve juist cam doon frae Saskatoon to see aboot ar—r—angin’ for a diet of —”
“Ah! yes. Quite so. Phew-w-w!"
“Of fush for the laddies in the camps, ye ken, an’ this is a bit of a whitefish frae the northern lakes. Ye understan’ that the Indians — ”
“Ah! the Indians. Phcvj—w—w! Quite so; but, my dear sir, I really—Phew—w—wl Oh, Lord!
“— an’ this (proceeding to remove the paper) is a whitefush which I brocht al—”
“But really, you know, I do not wish to, ah, to see it. Not in my department, you know. Boots—shovels— shields—cross-belts—Ross rifles—anything but—Phew—íe—íe ! Good morning! Larkins, bring me file No. 4411 B., and put up all the windows-”
He Meets Sam Hughes
That was enough for Hughie. He had shaken hands with everybody now, and delivered all his letters. He decided he would take the train back to Saskatoon, and let the troops eat meat twenty-one times a week if the Government insisted, although they might all die of hardening of the arteries. But meantime, the newspapermen around Ottawa had begun to take an interest in him and his scheme; and some one suggested that he go direct to Sam Hughes.
“Ay,” said Hughie later, “yon’s a mon. I didna even show him the fush. I juist let him know what the idea was, ye understan’, and the trouble I’d been
experiencin’. He swore once and whacked a bell twice, and the thing was done. “ ‘Fish!’ he said; ‘that’s good brain food, isn’t it? God knows it’s needed around here! Did you ever get any brains out of it? We’ll try it; it looks good to me.’ ”
Fish, therefore, had arrived. Hughie was sent to Camp Hughes and began feeding the troops there. They thrived on it. In the autumn of 1915 he returned to Ottawa, and saw Sir Sam again. He pointed out that it would be a good and economical move to feed the troops in Great Britain with fish; and there might also be a chance of introducing Canadian fish to the civil population there. Again Sir Sam saw the poinc. He had imagination. He thought the men would appreciate it, and sent a cable of inquiry to General Carson. The answer was satisfactory; and Hughie was ordered to get ready to go over and superintend operations.
“I’ll make you a Captain,” said Sir Sam. “You’ll be Captain of the Fish Marines. First in history.”
“Weel, Sir Sam, ye ken a Captain’s no’ a verra big job for a mon wi’ all this wor-r-k to dae.”
“All right; I’ll make you a major. Get your uniform.”
Five weeks later, Major “Green, as fine a looking officer as ever donned a uniform, and as well qualified for the work he had to do as anyone who could be found in the British Empire, was in Liverpool with his first consignment of 150,000 pounds of Canadian fish. He had hardly landed before the newspapermen scented good copy. It is said that Lord Beaverbrook, who owns the Daily Express, set the ball rolling. He put a reporter and a photographer on Hughie’s trail.
The Trained Gold Fish
IN New York, Hughie had acquired a suitable mascot for the new department of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. It was a gold-fish, which he christened Maggie, and he carried it over with him in a glass bowl. Maggie caught the eye of the photographer.
“What have you there. Major?” he inquired. “What! hae ye no’ heard o’ Maggie? She’s a trained fush. She loops the loop, waggles her back fin, and turns flip-flaps in the water at wur—r—d o’ command.” “Hold her up and I’ll get her picture.”
That started the trouble. The next day there appeared a picture in the Daily Express of a major in the British army committing the unspeakable indignity of being photographed in uniform holding up a fish ; a gold-fish, a trained gold-fish! The War Office very nearly had apoplexy. Major Green was at Shorncliffe, superintending the distribution of the first issue of fish rations, which was the most important thing in the world to him then. He received a wire from Canadian Headquarters which read :
“Report at once. Explanation demande»!."
from the War Office saying it is making a joke of the Army, and —” ;
“The War Office has no sense of humor. Now, see here. Leave this man Green alone. If you all put your jobs as well as he puts over his fish, you will do damned well. Leave him alone.”
With the “censorship” lifted, Hughie began his publicity campaign for Canadian fish. There was hardly a paper in the British Isles which failed to carry a story. He was an unfailing source of copy, and every week or two he pulled off a new “stunt.” Some of the stories he gave out were grave, and some were gay; but all were so interesting that they could not be ignored; and all worked around to the point that Canada could feed the world with fish. He gave a luncheon for some hundreds of newspapermen, at which the entire menu consisted of Canadian fish, including one specimen which had been in cold storage for two years. Flavored with Green’s stories, they pronounced it good; and went forth to herald the praises of Canadian fish, and of Canada’s “Fishmonger General.” “hat was a name that stuck. Major Green still gets letters delivered to him addressed, “Fishmonger General, Canadian Army.” It is on that that he bases his regret in not having asked for a General’s uniform when he started out.
A Joke On The Public
TTE was responsible for one of the greatest practical jokes perpetrated in Great Britain in years. Finding publicity lagging, he got a week’s leave, picked out the two biggest salmon in his stock—monsters of forty pounds—and went off up to Scotland to what had once been a noted salmon stream, but which had yielded nothing in recent years. A press photographer went with him. They put up at the local inn, where the proprietor had as his proudest possession a fish of about nineteen pounds, the record for the district, caught many years before, and now enclosed in a glass case on the wall.
“That’s a fine fish,” he remarked to Hughie, who was examining it critically.
“Oh, it’s no sae bad. I’m gaein’ tae catch two bigger ones to-morrow.”
“You’ll not catch* any fish around here. No one has got a fish out of the Nith for twenty years.”
The fish were duly “caught,” and a thrilling photograph taken of the operation, which appeared in illustrated papers all over the land. Ardent fishermen began to head for the Nith. Hughie has a framed letter from the inn proprietor asking him to stop the circulation of the story; as he could not any longer stand the doubts and recriminations of fishermen who had thronged his place to such an extent that they were sleeping on billiard tables and in outhouses—but catching no fish.
It locked as though they really wanted him down at Headquarters but, remember, Hughie was a busy man. He wired back:
“Too busy l»x>kinK after cooking of fish. Will report on Monday."
IirHEN he finally reported, he realized that
* ’ the matter was serious after all. He rather expected to be led out at dawn and shot; but the War Officer was “no’ so ba—a—d.”
“You know, Major Green, you are making a sort of joke of this business,” said the Staff Officer. “Have you any explanation?”
“If you only knew the whole story, it’s the biggest joke in the wor—r—id,” said the Major. “Noo, if ye can see your way clear juist tae leave 'me alone for a little while, an’ gang alang i’ ma own way, I’ll be making the British War Office use this Canadian fush, too. I gave up my' contract tae feed the camps, where I could have made two thousand dollars a week, tae pit on this uniform; but I have anither suit o’ clothes wi’ me. an’ if ye don’t like ma ways, I can take this aff.” The interview ended w'ith an order for no further publicity until the Minister came over, which would be in a day or two.
Sir Sam Backs Him Up
\UHEN Sir Sam arrived, he wanted to know what
* ’ was doing.
“This Major Green you sent over—”
“Well, what’s the matter with him?”
“Oh, he’s all right; but he—he’s got a fish he calls Maggie which he says comes to the top of the water at the bugle call, and—”
“Well, why can’t he have a mascot as well as anyone else? A lot of these battalions took over bears, and wolves, and whatever took their fancy. Why can’t Green have his fish?”
“Well, you see, sir, we have had a communication
War Office Was Receptive
THE time was now ripe to approach the British War Office, to urge them to put fish on the menu of the British Tommy. The War Office was in a more or less receptive mood. The publicity had begun to have its effect. The officer in charge brightened up at the name of “Green.”
“Ah!” he said. “You’ll be the chap they call the Fishmonger General. And how is your little performing fish, Maggie?”
This was sufficient introduction. “Maggie” had done the trick. The War Office had a sense of humor. Officials from different quarters were summoned, and Hughie had an audience, which was all he needed. They heard enough about Canadian fish to induce them to give the matter consideration. They cabled to the War Purchasing Commission in Canada to buy one and a half million pounds as a sample.
The “sample” was satisfactory, and further orders were placed with Canadian fishermen for 32 million pounds.
With the help of Sir T. B. Robinson, Agent General for Queensland, acting for the Imperial Board of Trade, he got the Australian and New Zealand forces eating our fish. If peace had not come, there is no saying to what dimensions this trade might not have grown.
At the time Sir Sam Hughes went out of office, preparations were under way to supply tinned fish to all the Allied armies, Major Green having consulted with their headquarter officials at Paris. But Sir Sam’s successor was not interested in the matter of fish. A page of Hansard, for April 11th, 1919, embalms imperishably the famous name of “Maggie.” Mr. Devlin called the attention of the Acting Minister of Militia to her appearance in the British press and wanted an explanation. Mr. Kemp frigidly denied any acquaintance; and apparently lost all further interest in fish from that moment.
Reconstruction in Turkey
Continued from page 21
“But what,” I urged, “do you do with them? What steps do you take?”
“We send them all,” replied the little man, puffing at his pipe and growing obviously drowsy as he spoke, “to Woodrow Wilson. He can deal with them. He is the great conciliator of the world. Let him have—how do you say it in English, it is a Turkish phrase?— let him have his stomach full of conciliation.”
Abdul dozed on his cushions for a moment. Then he reopened his eyes.
“Is there anything else you want to know,” he asked, “ before I retire to the inner harem?”
“Just one thing,” I said, “if you don’t mind. How do you stand internationally? Are you coming into the new League of Nations?”
The Sultan shook his head.
“No,” he said, “we’re not coming in. We are starting a new league of our own.”
“And who are in it?”
“Ourselves, and the Armenians—and let me see—the Irish, are they not, Toomuch?—and the Bulgarians—are there any others, Toomuch?”
“There is talk,” said the secretary, “of the Yuko-Hebrovians and the Scaroovians—”
“Who are they?” I asked.
“We don’t know,” said Abdul, testily. “They wrote to us. They seem all right. Haven’t you got a lot of people in your league that you never heard of?”
“I see,” I said. “And what is the scheme that your league is formed on?” “Very simple,” said the Sultan. “Each member of the league gives word to all the other members. Then they all take an oath together. Then they all sign it. That is absolutely binding.”
He rolled back on his cushions in an evident state of boredom and weariness.
“But surely,” I protested, “you don’t think that a league of that sort can keep the peace?”
“Peace!” exclaimed Abdul waking into sudden astonishment. “Peace! I should think not! Our league is for war. Every member gives its word that at
the first convenient opportunity it will knock the stuffing out of any of the others that it can.”
The little Sultan again subsided. Then he rose, with some difficulty, from his cushions.
“Toomuch,” he said, “take our inquisitive friend out into the town; take him to the Bosphorus; take him to the island where the dogs are; take him anywhere.” He paused to whisper a few instructions into the ear of the Secretary. “You understand,” he said, “well, take him. As for me,”—he gave a great, yawn as he shuffled away, “I am about to withdraw into my inner harem. Good-bye. I regret that I cannot invite you in.”
“So do I,” I said. “Good-bye.”