Mackenzie’s Rise and Decline

Another brilliant biographical sketch from “Ottawa in Masquerade,” a book to be published shortly. Other pithy, pungent chapters will follow in succeeding issues of MacLean’s

“THE MAKE-UP MAN” September 1 1921

Mackenzie’s Rise and Decline

Another brilliant biographical sketch from “Ottawa in Masquerade,” a book to be published shortly. Other pithy, pungent chapters will follow in succeeding issues of MacLean’s

“THE MAKE-UP MAN” September 1 1921

Mackenzie’s Rise and Decline


Another brilliant biographical sketch from “Ottawa in Masquerade,” a book to be published shortly. Other pithy, pungent chapters will follow in succeeding issues of MacLean’s

' I 'ORONTO Board of Trade gave a dinner to these men to celebrate the fact that by the building of the new line to Sudbury at a cost of several millions Toronto was at last actually located on a Mackenzie road and had

A FEW years ago the first Eskimo movie ever taken was shown in Toronto to a small audience who waited an hour for the film which did not begin until a thick grizzly man with shrewd, penetrating eyes came in with his party.

“Sir William Mackenzie, late as usual”, whispered one. “He never arrives on time at a public function, often sleeps at a play, and sometimes when his family invite musicians to his home he plays bridge in a distant room so as not to hear the music.”

"Oh yes,” nudged the other. “But Sir William, you see, owns this film. It was taken by his own exploration party.”

“Oh! Then the last scene will probably be Eskimos laying railway ties.”

“Oh no; digging up mineral deposits. Iron—Sh!” It was a wonderful film full of epical energy and primitive beauty; one of the few kinds of people in Canada that Mackenzie had never been able to link up to civilization. The room was hung with costumes, curios and weapons of these folk, all of which were afterwards presented to the Royal Ontario Museum by Sir William, who was never enormously interested in ethnology.

There is one man in Germany, something like William Mackenzie, who makes money almost by magic out of utilities and buys up concerns in other countries with money which he made in his own. His name is Hugo Stinnes. Mackenzie is a bigger man than Stinnes and a higher type, but each man regards this country as a commercial asset to be developed. Each is a wizard of a species of applied finance. For years Mackenzie was of speculative interest in Canada to people who had never even seen his photograph. He was the man who had a second head-quarters in Ottawa and a branch office in every provincial legislature except Prince Edward Island. We almost had provincial premiers lullabying to their Cabinets:

“Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,

The Black Mackenzie shall not get ye.”

Mackenzie seemed to arise about twenty-five years ago from some magic mountain and to stride down upon the plains with the momentum of a Goth army. He was a contractor who became for ten years a demigod. People scarcely thought he was human.

Going After Millions—and Getting Them

SOMETIMES before the war when people saw him on the street they paused to watch him walking as though a black bear had suddenly wandered down from Muskoka. “By Jove! Mackenzie’s back again.”

“And is that William Mackenzie?”

“Did you never see him before?”

“No Sir, I never saw him before.”

“Well take a good look. He’s just going to lunch. That man brought back sixty million dollars this time from Threadneedle Street. A gang of reporters met him at Montreal to get the good news—more money for Canada. Great Game! He got forty millions a year ago or

“Who’s that benign man with him?”

“That’s, a provincial premier. His province wants more railways and the Government has to guarantee more bonds—”

“Oh, then he sells bonds with provinces for security?” “That’s the big idea. Why, what’s wrong with it?” “Oh, I guess it’s all right.”

“Of course it is. Railways can’t be built out of earnings of lines built last year. Traffic’s too thin; has to be developed. Mackenzie’s building lines for a real population. Canada, my boy, is a terrific country to railroad. The C.P.R. got land and cash grants. Mackenzie takes government guaranteed bonds. The whole country is on the same road. We import people to homestead land and we have to borrow money to set the people up so that they’ll become real Canadians—”

“Yes, especially at election time. But tell me—who finally owns these railroads?”

“Well, you’ve got me. Nobody has figured that out yet. Everything is too new. All I know is that governments are behind Mackenzie, and the people elect the governments, and the people want the roads, and if they don’t get ’em the government probably goes out. Anyhow I take off my hat to Sir William Mackenzie as a great man.” Nine-tenths of Canada used to think that Mackenzie was a great man. The more he borrowed in England on government-guaranteed bonds and the more he invested in Mexico and South America, and the greater number of street railways, power plants, transmission lines, ore mountains, new towns, smelters, docks, ships, whale fisheries, coal mines and land companies he and his able partner Mann were able to octopize, the greater the country thought these men were—especially Mackenzie.

some right to be made the headquarters of the system. A wildcat in some places could almost have jumped from that line to the new line of the C.P.R. built at the same time. It was about the same year that Mackenzie inaugurated the Canadian Northern line of steamships, the two Royals, and for lack of tidewater wras compelled to dock them at Montreal under the shadow of the C.P.R. who of course did not join in the Civic welcome. And in the same year people were talking—as they are now again —about Toronto and Port Arthur becoming ocean ports. The wonder was that Mackenzie did not see to it. But he was fairly busy, tying Halifax to Vancouver by the Yellowhead Pass, and giving provincial cabinets new ideas about government.

Without a doubt William Mackenzie had a mandate from this country to do a great work; and he did it. Ninetynine Boards of Trade and town councils said that he had. Bankers and other financiers agreed that he had found new ways of investing creative money. Scarcely a teacher of geography but admitted that Mackenzie was changing the map of this-country so fast that a new one became necessary every three years. New towns sprang at the rate of a mile a day of new railway built by Mackenzie. And every new town became a monument to this man’s faith in the future of Canada. Even the old city of Montreal, preserve of the C.P.R., lent its mountain to Mackenzie for a tunnel and a “Model City” on the hinder side.

In the Days when London Loaned us Money

THERE was always money to be had. A map of Canada in Mackenzie’s satchel when he went to England to see money lenders seemed, under his talk as big as the whole British Empire. Jt was not common Empire patriotism to refuse either the money or the guarantees for the bonds. The whole of Canada backed Mackenzie’s notes. It was he, not Sir Thomas White, who invented the principle of Victory Loans whereby the nation becomes your banker. Between building a new line and operating a line built last year there was no system of accounting that could audit his books. The centipede became so vast and complex that no banker could begin to understand it. Mackenzie never made

the effort. He was too busy developing Canada.

The Saskatchewan valley was the one great trunk Eldorado, the greatest discovery of natural resources ever made in Canada. The settlers in that valley wanted more people, the people wanted the railways, the government needed the voters, and Mackenzie wanted settlers, people, voters, government and all. If a government was obstreperous Mackenzie might lend a heavy hand to help turn it out at the next election. It was not proper for a government to obstruct him. He was the over-man.

Seldom in any other nation has there ever been a man who could play such a prodigious and prodigal game with the resources of the whole country. Mackenzie mobilized the nation before the war. Millions of people in Canada used to regard him as a sort of magnified Daniel Drew—the father of Wall St. and watered stock and corrupt contract railways. But Mackenzie was a broader man than Drew, with a much higher sense of honor. Drew admitted that he was a wonderful Methodist, that he had been a profiteer of the Civil War, and that he had starved a railway of rails so that it killed a large number of people in an accident. Mackenzie was no Methodist; and he never was a profiteer from any emergency of the people. He wanted Canada to prosper. All his profits must come from greater wealth in Canada which he did much to create.

Economic—but not Economical—King.

MACKENZIE had more faith in Canada than most of the politicians had. He wanted a big Canada, with himself as its economic king. The best way to conserve, a nation’s wealth, he said once, is to develop its resources. We never had such a developer. He never was a real railwayman, any more than he was a pure financier. He was a colossal exploiter of national resources by means of borrowed money. In the era before Mackenzie we had Clergue at the Soo. Clergue was a pigmy forerunner of Mackenzie. What Clergue did in Algoma the other man aimed to do for the whole country. And he almost did it.

Asked once why he gave so much leeway to men like Mackenzie and Mann, Sir Wilfred Laurier is quoted as having said:

“Well, what other kind of men could you have to do such wonderful work?”

Beaverbrook said at a dinner in Canada not long ago: "I never was a William Mackenzie. I created nothing as he did.”

The debacle of Mackenzie railways was never contemplated by Mackenzie. He did not even imagine that it was possible—except that he was prophetically troubled by the ambition of Laurier to create a third transcontinental. He had the right of way in this. He and Mann had developed the Canadian Northern out of a little stub line in Dauphin, Manitoba. The thing grew because it served the people, and the people lived in a fertile country that needed a road to market. The whole basic idea of the Mackenzie roads was to give more and more people a road to market. The original idea of the Grand Trunk Pacific and the National Transcontinental was to rival the Canadian Pacific monument to John A. Macdonald by erecting a railway monument to Wilfred Laurier.

The race of the railways just about broke the nation’s neck. It was not all the fault of Mackenzie that the race ever began, or that it was carried on to insanity. He was a practical philosopher to perceive that a government is an elective corporation capable of being manipulated in the interets of an all-Canada enterprise needed and wanted by the people. He was a master cynic to surmise that when the future came to balance the accounts, Father Time would be a very bewildered assignee.

The war was very ill advised. Mackenzie had no use for war. He never could see in the predicament of a nation any chance to profit for himself. He wanted perpetual prosperity. It never occurred to him perhaps that some day critics would arise to say that the country called Canada had done more for William Mackenzie than he had ever done for the country; and that when the parent utility of the cycle which he had helped to create was declared bankrupt he had no rights in the case whatever and never should have been paid a dollar of indemnity for the common stock.

Never Another Like Him.

BUT as the country had submitted to Mackenzie’s system of building railways, so it was compelled to be content with the Royal Commission method of adjudicating what the builders should get out of the wreck. Financiers and politicians and common citizens may Continued on page 37

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wrangle till doomsday about the ethics of this debacle. They will never get anybody to understand it. The thing is an economic outlaw.

The reason of it is the incredible and staggering personality of the man who staged the greatest economic pageant ever known in Canada, and when the show went off the road because it was no longer able to pay its bills, took what he could salvage of the junk and left other men to wrestle with the reconstruction.

We shall never have another Mackenzie. Bigger men may arise. More unusual characters may stalk out of obscurity into places of eminence and power. But there never again can be an era like the Mackenzie epoch, because that kind of experience is suffered and enjoyed but once in a nation’s lifetime. He still has big interests, some of them gradually being taken over by governments and municipal corporations. But he has shot his bolt, and it was a Jovian big one. No doubt he is enormously rich. That does not matter. Canada no longer cares whether he is rich or poor. He was once a demi-god in our economics. He is now a grizzled relique of his former energy. He used to be a despot feared by those who had to work under him, admired for his superhuman audacity and power to get what he wanted just because he knew why and when he wanted it, and capable of inspiring an almost insane loyalty to a man-made system that never was anything but an enlargement of the man himself and therefore no system at all but an economic mirage. He is now just William Mackenzie, more or less a citizen, now and then interviewed laconically by a reporter who never can extract anything but arid commonplaces from what he says to the public.

Because to William Mackenzie there never was any real public. What he cared about was the prosperous nation upon which he could build and build without limit till he died. When the nation came to a crisis in the war he did nothing to help it, except to let the Railway War Board pool his lines for traffic and the Government commandeer his ships. The man who years before had been regarded as the greatest doer in Canada, when the country and all Mackenzie’s works along with it came to the great test, never so much as lifted a personal finger to help in the work that had to be done. Mackenzie had done his work. In the country’s predicament he had no function. The nation paid him his ducats and let him go.

This, if we are concerned about the man value of Canada, is a tragedy. For there was in William Mackenzie somehow with all his ruthlessness and audacity and semi-piratical creed the element of a kind of great man. There is in his uncommon face the look of a man who with less excess of one quality might have become a great citizen. Nature made him vastly selfish on a scale big enough to create wealth in the country for the purpose of doing his work. She denied him the commoner human qualities that make a man a constructive citizen whether his country is in weal or woe.

He had his fling. All he has left is the money he made, the memory of the hero-worship he evoked, and the recollection of a prodigious day in the development of Canada in which he was the demigod of getting things done.