A Massey Goes to Washington
A personality sketch of the man who this month officially assumes his duties in the United States as Canada's first ambassador
OWEN E. McGILLICUDDY
VINCENT MASSEY goes to Washington this month to become Canada’s first envoy and minister plenipotentiary. To his hands—the hands of a man still young as years are measured for those holding high executive power—has been entrusted the delicate task of interpreting one neighbor to another.
How will Vincent Massey measure up to his new r esponsibility?
That is the question which has been asked many times throughout the Dominion since his name was first coupled with that of the capital by the Potomac. Time alone will give the complete answer, but some indication of the future may be found in a study of Massey himself; in the qualities of the man, in his antecedents and in his achievements.
Most Canadians know him as the onetime head of the îîrm of Massey-Harris, who recently forsook business for the political arena. Groups of Canadians in his native city of Toronto and elsewhere know him as the driving power behind many activities associated with arts, letters, the humanities or business.
But the great public is only beginning to know Massey. Most newspapermen will admit readily that they find him ‘a hard subject.’ The reason for this is because he talks little of himself, keeps strictly to the question under discussion and refuses to indulge in those petty controversies which result in continuing enmities.
He íe a new type of rich man’s son, for he has never sought either rest or butterfly pleasures. Years ago, he came to the conclusion that material gifts of themselves yield little fruit—that the giver must give himself if he would find the highest happiness.
As a youth he was wise beyond his years and found constant joy and profit in studying the thoughts and actions of the past. First at Toronto, and later at Balliol College, Oxford, he read history avidly. On his return to Toronto, he taught history at Victoria, but the placid life of a university don was not for him. Suddenly the war drums began to sound and he answered the call. At Camp Borden, and later at Ottawa, his powers of organization called forth favorable comment.
Thrilled by the varied interests of a man of action, he broadened his activities and in doing so found increased responsibilities. He was. called to the directorate of the great network of farm implement workshops on King Street West, Toronto, and it was not long before he was voted to the president’s chair—the seat of his fathers. The line of progress did not break up his old ideals, and with each step to greater service we find him still a patron cf the arts, a devotee of architecture and the drama—an intelligent philanthropist.
From the University to Politics
TF ONE of the prime functions of Canada is -*• to interpret Great Britain to the United States, the new minister is well fitted by ancestry and education to play the role of interpreter. His mother, Anna Vincent Massey was American bora, the daughter of Bishop Vincent, a well-known religious leader in the eastern states and the founder of the Chautauqua movement. His great-grandfather, Daniel Massey, one of the founders of the MasseyHarris Company, was born in Vermont, but left the United States soon after the American War of Independence and settled in Newcastle, Ontario.
Canada’s first accredited diplomat was born in Toronto in February, 1887, where he received his early education at the Provincial Model School, St. Andrew’s College, and Toronto University. In 1910, he went to Oxford to take a post-graduate course in ancient and modern history, and on his return in 1913, he became a lecturer in modern history at Toronto and the Dean of Residence in Victoria College. For years his home in Oueen’s Park has been a eentre for distinguished visitors from Great Britain and the United States. His wife is the daughter of the late Sir George Parkin, a noted educationist, for many years head of the Cecil Rhodes Foundation.
At the outbreak of war he gave up academic
life and rendered valuable service as the commanding Officer in the School of Musketry at Camp Borden. His executive efficiency became known in the political world for the first time when • he was appointed associate secretary of the war committee of the Canadian Cabinet in 1918. The government’s war organization had become cumbersome and Massey conceived the idea of bringing about a better correlation. After some thought and consultation he prepared a chart outlining the whole machinery of wartime government at Ottawa and the relation which each part had to the whole. Massey’s idea in doing this was to aid himself as a newcomerto the capital in visualizing the problem of government and the machinery available to cope with it. The chart was so helpful to himself and to others who saw it, that a number of copies were prepared for the use of several cabinet members. The thoroughness and directness of mind which this incident exemplifies is characteristic of Massey in all that he does, in politics, on the amateur dramatic stage or in business.
Following the close of the war, the young administrator became director of the Government Repatriation Committee. From this office he went directly into business, and from 1921 to 1925 he was president of the $25,000,000 Massey-Harris Company. He resigned this office to enter the cabinet of Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King in 1925, and, during the general election of that year contested the constituency of Durham, a traditionally Conservative riding. He was defeated by 946 votes after a campaign which awakened national interest.
Amateur Actor and Architect
MASSEY has declared to friends that his chief hobby is architecture, an avocation of international scope. He has far more than an amateur knowledge of the subject, and many of his ideas have been worked out
at Toronto University in Hart House, Burwash Hall, and Simcoe Hall. In the construction of these, and the newer university buildings, such as the Forestry Building, he played an important part as chairman of the property committee of the Board of Governors.
Hart House, considered the finest collegiate club on the continent, is the gift of his family, as well as himself. The planof the building, with its great towers and archways, gives permanent expression to many phases of his personal culture. Hart House theatre, in particular was his idea. He has for years taken a great interest in the drama, and has been an actor, as well as director, in the plays given at Hart House for the last seven years. Competent critics adjudge him to possess histrionic ability of no slight order, and this talent evidently runs in the family, for his younger brother, Raymond, is one of the best known actors and producers in London.
The secret of his success as an actor is the secret of his other attainments. Any role Massey took at Hart House Theatre was studied so carefully that his own personality was submerged in that of the character he was portraying. This was never exemplified more completely than in an interpretation of “Pantaloon,” Sir James Barrie’s charming play, which was produced in 1922 under his personal direction.
The new minister offers no apologies for his taste for the dramatic art. He sees no reason why a man should not be as interested in the stage as in golf or horses. He is convinced that the drama is a form of art of direct social utility, and that an interesting Canadian drama is practical Canadianism. Some months ago he wrote a paper on ‘The Prospects for a Canadian Drama’ for the Queen’s University Quarterly, and he is at present engaged in editing a series of Canadian plays. It may be expected that among the Canadian products he will introduce into the United States are those of Canadian playwrights,
Massey possesses exceptional powers of concentration, and when interested in a business project, the preparation of an address, or the presentation of a new play, has the ability to insulate himself against any disturbance and ‘let the world go by.’ He has been known to work on a problem with deep intensity for days at a time, and when he has found a solution to be as pleased as a boy with a new mechanical toy.
This power of concentration was a characteristic that caught the attention of mem bers of the war cabinet. I remember hearing the late Sir James Lougheed, former Minister of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment, say: “Massey is a remarkable young man. He not only has a trained mind, but he has tact and the ability to unite the efforts of those around him to an unusual degree. I believe he will go far.”
Another factor in his success has been his realization of the value of time. For years he has maintained a schedule which has been the envy of his business associates. He has a record punctuality that would make an alarm clock ashamed of its shortcomings, and his promptness in acknowledging his personal correspondence has gained the admiration of all who know him.
The Diplomat at Home
'T'HE young diplomat is not an aggressive controversialist. He is at all times a polite, considerate, gentleman, devoid of offense. In executive session this is illustrated by his comment, which has been known to end something like this: “Of course, gentlemen, that is only my off-hand opinion on the matter, and I am quite willing to be corrected if I am in error.”
In keeping with that attitude is his keen desire to be fair to friend and foe in any discussion, political or otherwise. He abhors a partisan dog-fight as he abhors bad art.
By some he has been defined as ‘a distant man’—as a lean Cassius who does not sleep well and who takes himself too seriously. He is a serious man, but the assertion that he takes himself seriously is an altogether different thing. He has never had a great deal of time in recent years for purely social affairs Yet hefis one of the most agreeable men one could possibly meet. He has a natural flair for fineness—which is a prerequisite to culture. And if a varied taste, a vital interest, and a complete independence implies true culture, he is one of the most cultured men of his years in Canada.
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In the days before his Washington appointment the hall fire-place at 71 Queen’s Park, Toronto, was a rendezvous for eager souls who came together and talked of many things. Those who met the young dean of Victoria College under those conditions will not soon forget h i s kindly and helpful influence.
Anyone calling at the dean’s house could never forget the warm welcome. As one entered the hallway a slim, darkeyed man walked forward with a brisk, snappy motion. The right hand was extended, and then, as the hands were clasped, the eyes lit up in a frank, open, boyish smile.
“I hope I have not kept you too long,” said a voice with a precise enunciation. “But nowadays there is so much to do and so precious little time in which to do it.” It is this solicitude for the other fellow and his point of view which is one of Massey’s most appealing qualities.
Leisure will, one imagines, be a rarer pleasure at Washington. For those who know the quick, understanding, Massey smile, and the curved, black-bowled, friendly briar pipe, it is somewhat difficult to place him in the big Washington parade.
Some newspapers have recorded the new minister as having no recreations— that he does not indulge in sports, and is not an open-air man. This is not in accordance with the facts, for Massey takes a keen zest in country life and is at his happiest when enjoying a vacation at his country home, “Batterwood,” in Durham County.
Here, with his two young sons, he roams over the well-kept farm and feels at peace with the world and all mankind. His favorite exercise is to ride a saddlehorse, and he is open-hearted in his tribute to equinary companionship. “Some people like dogs; others fancy cats, but I love a horse,” he told me in a recent conversation.
Asked about the attraction of golf, his dark eyes showed real humor. “I don’t amount to much as a golfer,” was the quick reply, “but I like the game when I have the time to play it. But,” he added after a moment, “I seldom have the time.”
A Believer in Canadianism
WHEREVER Massey may happen tobe, those present will know that he is proud of the land in which he was born. Shortly after he returned to Toronto from Oxford a friend asked him if he took as much interest in Canada as before he had gone to England. “More,” was the quick and rather emphatic reply. “I think any Canadian should find himself more Canadian by going to Oxford, because from there he can see his own country in better perspective. Why shouldn’t the study of what is peculiarly English help a man to appreciate better what is intensely Canadian?”
That this is the case with Toronto’s young diplomat is evidenced by his keen appreciation of Canadian art. For years he has espoused the cause of Canadian artists with a marked preference for the native qualities created by the Group of
Seven, of which Lawren Harris, a grand_ son of the other founder of the Massey Harris Company, is one of the chie* exponents. He has a genuine liking for the Canadian art of the late Tom Thomson, and several of this artist’s canvases adorn Hart House, as well as his own home. The lonely pine and the windswept skies of these native canvases bring to his home the breadth and vastness of the young Dominion and the dreams of its pioneers.
The new minister can scarcely be called a politician, for, until the general elections of 1925 and 1926, he had taken no active interest in politics. His participation in these campaigns were the result of a genuine desire to serve his country and a belief that the progress of the young Dominion might be seriously impeded if its population were divided by appeals to sectional feeling and the dreams of the forefathers forgotten. It is not in his nature to be a keen partisan. Reading and associations have broadened his outlook and removed his prejudices until he has become a public servant who is anxious to serve, with malice toward none.
His faith in Canada is unshakable. In a particularly happy address given before the Ottawa Canadian Club two years ago he expressed pride in the Dominion and friendship for its neighbor in the following words:—
“We live on the borders of a great, powerful, exuberant people engaged in building up their own civilization, and its contribution to the world will be both noble and necessary. And we are bound to them, I am glad to think, by many ties, both personal and national, and externally we resemble them, and must resemble them, for we live under the same physical conditions.
“But, I submit that fundamentally we are a different people, and that if there is any justification for the existence on this continent of two experiments, and the maintenance of one capital here and of another at Washington, we must remain different. I do not think that the line which separates us is imaginary. It is a real boundary between two civilizations, quite different, that meet there and meet in amity.
“The old animosity between Canada and the United States is dead, and it will never be revived. It seems a long time ago now since there was—what we find so often in our nineteenth century literature •—a conscious hatred of the United States. We are now on the most friendly terms with the American nation, and it was very impressive to hear the late president of the United States say, with all the authority of his great office, on Canadian soil, that the political union of the two peoples had never been either expected or desired by the American people.”
It is such utterances as these that reveal the vision and understanding of the new minister. Fublic men often have cause sometimes to regret the hastily spoken words of former years. And generally the reason for the regret is because the words were spoken without due consideration. The new minister never speaks without some consideration of the subject he is asked to discuss.
A colleague of his at the University of Toronto declared not so long ago that he was “one of the surest-footed men” he had yet met. “Massey has the singular ability to take one subject at a time and to refuse to dispose of it until he has made up his mind how it should be handled,” he said. “What I mean to say is, that whether the subject be one of major or minor importance it is dealt with strictly on its merits, and in so dispassionate a manner that no one feels there is any animus or feeling to his findings. He thinks at times like a surgeon. He might have to do a certain amount of cutting to eradicate an evil, but he would do it with such a sense of clear-sighted duty that no one would question seriously the motive behind his executive decisions.”
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This is No Sinecure
AND so it will be with his new respon2^sibilities at Washington. Duty |will come first at all times. He will face more and varied problems than he has yet been called upon to settle. In fact he has one of the hardest jobs which the Canadian government could ask a man to take. Many Canadians have looked mistakenly on his appointment as a social or honorary position. They have forgotten that, for some time, there have been a number of very difficult problems piling up for settlement which have been the cause of considerable worry to the British Embassy.
One of the first questions with which he will have to deal will be the dispute concerning the diversion of waters from the Great Lakes. Owing to the many legal and engineering features connected with the drainage diversion by the City of Chicago the dispute may become a matter which may necessitate some sort of an arrangement between Canada and the United States for a joint construction of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Waterway.
Among other diplomatic issues to be taken up will be a revision of the fisheries agreement of 1885, a revision of the fourpower convention relating to fur seals in the Behring Sea, which Japan has asked to have changed, and the settlement of the Fraser River salmon dispute between British Columbia and the state of Washington. Then there are a host of other issues, such as the erosion of Niagara, the water levels in Rainy River, the behavior of the army of immigration guards and prohibition inspectors along the long international boundary line, the export of pulp and paper, and details affecting extradition matters.
Vincent Massey faces the greatest responsibility of his career. He is not blind to the fact that he has a position of tremendous possibilities for the future good or ill of his native land. And he sometimes smiles a weary smile when his well-intentioned friends grasp his hand to congratulate him on the honor conferred upon him. For weeks in England, and at his home in Toronto, he has been grappling with the details of organization and dealing with some of the more pressing problems of his new office.
“One can but do his best,” he said to a friend not long ago. “Few people seem to have grasped the idea that there is an extraordinary amount of downright hard work to be done during the coming year and for a number of years to come.” Massey likes hard work, but, being human, he would prefer to have the general public understand that the job is not one in which the new Canadian representative will at all times sit in the grand-stand while the big parades go by.
The United States will find in Vincent Massey a skilled executive who, by his wealth and wide education, has become a cosmopolite in the best sense of the word. Native ability, strengthened by a diligent search after truth, have given him wisdom, and an understanding and kindly nature has made him respected by his fellow-citizens. He goes to Washington to bring about a better understanding between Uncle Sam and Jack Canuck. It will not be his fault if the two neighbors do not become friendlier than they have ever been in the past.