"Czar” of the Saar
The story of a Canadian democrat from Montreal who became the ruler of a European state
C. GOODRIDGE MACDONALD
IN BEARING and feature the gentleman who faced the famous horseshoe table at Geneva was every inch a king. Spring sunlight flooding through the windows of the council chamber touched on close-cropped white hair flanking a forehead, and revealed lines about cheeks and deeply graven by the ordeal of the previous four years.
He was an old man, as age is reckoned in this era of Youth. Sixty years of vivid life lay behind him; into the previous twelve months alone he had crammed a lifetime of work.
Tall, firmly built, this man of peace stood with the erectness of a soldier—a legacy, perhaps, from that faraway period of service as an artillery officer in the Canadian rClitia.
Faint shadows of exhaustion vanished from his eyes as he started to speak. M. Briand and Sir Austen Chamberlain sat up and took notice.
“The authoritative manner with which Mr. Stephens drove home his remarks gave the impression that he governed one half of Europe and kept a fatherly eye on the other.”
This was the impression made upon a British diplomat by George Washington Stephens, citizen of Canada, czar of the Saar, at the meeting of the Council of the League of Nations which resulted in the withdrawal of the French troops from the Saar Territory.
The remarkable series of events leading up to this dramatic moment was inaugurated in 1923. when the Dominion Government appointed Mr. Stephens,
former M.P.P. and one-time _
chairman of the Montreal S'
Harbor Commission, to serve on the International Commission governing the Saar. He succeeded another Canadian, P.D. Waugh, of Winnipeg. Three years later he was named president of the commission.
There may be occasions when a presidency is somewhat of a sinecure, but not so in this instance. Mr.
Stephens, in fact, found himself in the remarkable position of holding five portfolios in the government which he headed—a position surely unparalleled in the career of any present day statesman, with the exception, of course, of the intrepid Benito Mussolini.
The vital departments over which Mr. Stephens presided were those of Finance, Food, Forestry, Interior and Foreign Affairs.
He had as his colleagues a Dane, a Belgian, a Frenchman and a German, and he
voices today the highest praise for the ability of these officials and the broad-minded manner in which they co-operated with him.
A Ruler in The Making
THE youthful training and experiences of princes of the Blood Royal are of neverfailing interest to the world. Surely the background of this Canadian “king” is no less worthy of study.
Today, wreckers are busy wiping the last traces of a solid stone mansion from a street in the heart of Montreal. The Stephens’ home, long unoccupied, has surrendered at last before the advancing steel tide of a railway yard.
When little George Washington played in that garden of wide lawns and drooping elms half a century ago, his father, politician and “man of property,” undoubtedly hoped for him a successful career in Canadian affairs; but he can scarcely have visioned him as ruler of a nation three thousand miles away.
A few years of study at the public schools and at McGill University, and young Stephens is embarked for his first sight of the fields of his
---future triumph. His
\ Scots-New England ancestry had endowed him with a thirst for knowledge and at its bidding, encouraged by his longsighted father, he sought, while still in his ’teens, the universities of France and Germany.
Languages, law, economics—what better subjects could he have chosen, had he known the task for which he was destined?
Then Geneva. It is a striking coincidence that it was in the little city overlooking the blue waters of a placid Alpine lake that young Stephens received the finishing touches to his academic education.
Leaving college behind him, he stepped on to the more exacting school of commerce. Bending over a desk in the Hamburg office of a large importing firm, the Canadian boy struggled with the intricacies of international trade, storing his mind with facts which later helped him play a vital part in the development of Montreal Harbor into the world’s leading grain port.
In 1888 he returned tö Montreal.
Next after the wandering student and the business man comes Major George Washington Stephens, the soldier. As an evangelist of world peace, Mr. Stephens attaches scant importance to this period, but it yields a colorful picture and at least one significant fact.
London in 1902, gay with the purple and gold of a King’s coronation; one smart colonial officer, decked out in all the braid and brilliance of dress uniform, shows up to advantage among the soldiers drawn from all over the Empire to greet the new king.
Major Stephens commanded the Royal Canadian Field Artillery at that spectacular show.
Public records of those early days of the century show Major Stephens listed as Chairman of the Canadian National Bureau of Breeding.
Breeding of what? the interviewer wonders, his imagination turning to rabbits, guineapigs, prize heifers . . .
“No, no . . . artillery horses,” Mr. Stephens reassures him hastily.
And right here one has stumbled upon an incident demonstrating the initiative and administrative ability which later enabled this Canadian to hold up his end among the rulers of Europe.
Just at that time, newly imposed racing restrictions in the United States discouraged American horse breeders. Many of them were going out of business. The Canadian militia major saw the opportunity to improve the stock of artillery nags, and pounced upon it with characteristic vigor. The bureau which he established and headed bought some three score of the finest stallions on the continent at bargain prices.
In addition to this, King Edward VII donated an aristocrat of the royal stables; so, if the horses that draw Canadian guns today show finer spirit and glossier coats than their predecessors, it is largely due to Major Stephens’ perspicacity.
After three years as a member of the Quebec Legislature, in which capacity his father had served before him, the vision of a world port on the St. Lawrence held him absorbed from 1905 until 1912. Combining in his temperament imagination and action, he was the man for the hour. A broad and fearless policy of development was imperative if Montreal Harbor were to snatch its share of international commerce—if it were to handle satisfactorily the swelling flood of grain from the prairie provinces.
In order to strengthen his ideas with facts, the commission chairman visited every important port in Europe and finally brought back with him a noted European engineer. Plans prepared by this technician along the lines suggested by Mr. Stephens were compared with those drawn up by two Dominion Government engineers. A programme was adopted, and the St. Lawrence port caught its stride in the march of progress.
Perhaps an even greater contribution toward the future was his introduction of new types of grain-handling machinery. Never daunted by big ideas, he saw beyond the next year or the next five years, and the programme of expansion which he fathered is still being carried out.
The outbreak of war found George Washington Stephens, man of property and millionaire, in Paris. The tragedy had not been in progress for many months before he was deeply involved in a largescale enterprise of inter-Empire importance. As one of the founders and directors of the British Army and Navy Leave Club, he helped bring that institution to a point where it was lodging more than a thousand fighting men on leave in Paris and serving 96,000 meals a month. In 1917 it became impossible for the club, under private direction, to secure sufficient food to satisfy the appetities of the men from the trenches, and it was taken over by the British Army as a thoroughly going concern.
This, then, was the background of culture and experience which fitted George Washington Stephens for the spectacular rôle which Fate had in store for him.
What of the state which he was called upon to govern in 1926?
The Ward of the Nations
'THE Saar has a stormy history and an uncertain future. As a region of rich coalfields it has always been coveted by its neighbors.
“It has been the industrial cockpit of Europe for a thousand years,” to quote the Canadian commissioner himself.
“Practically every power on the continent possessed it in turn. There was even a period in the Middle Ages
when it came under the direct control of the Catholic Church as a fief of the Papal States.
“The first battle of the war of 1870 was fought upon its borders.
“The first survey of its coal areas was made by the Emperor Napoleon. Maps of the mines prepared on his order fell into the hands of the Prussians and were not recovered until during the recent war.
“Napoleon left his mark on the Saar in another way. The main road running through the territory was built by him. It was along this road that his confident troops marched to the disaster of Moscow, and, ironically enough, it was along this same highway that Blucher led his horsemen to turn the tide against him at Waterloo.”
By the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Saar became a ward of the League of Nations for fifteen years, during which period the coal mines are owned and operated by France to recompense her for her loss of coal due to German occupation of her mining fields throughout the war. An international commission of five was appointed to administer the Saar Territory, and its occupation by French troops was permitted until a native gendarmerie capable of maintaining order and protecting the vital railway lines could be organized.
In 1935 the future of the Saar will be put to the vote of its populace, which must declare whether it shall return to German rule, become part of France, or remain forever a ward of the league.
'T'HE population of this ward of the L nations is almost entirely German, a hard-working, law-abiding people, but inevitably antagonistic toward the foreign government imposed upon them.
“It was 780,000 against five,” replied Mr. Stephens with a smile when questioned as to the attitude of the citizenry toward the commission.
And throughout that year of virtual kingship this straightforward hard-headed son of Montreal had not only to administer the affairs of 780,000 subjects all opposed to alien rule, but to fight the Saar’s battles at the council table of the League.
Their greatest grievance was, of course, the continued presence of ten thousand French troops among them, and when the cream of European diplomacy gathered at Geneva on that spring day of Mr. Stephen’s triumph, hope of a settlement of the Saar issue was far from their minds. The best that was looked for was a further postponement without too much stirring up of bitter feeling.
Mr. Stephens arose and spoke for ten minutes. His logical reasoning, his sincerity, cleared away the vapors of misunderstanding—and the problem of the Saar was no more.
Mr. Stephens’ success that day merits permanent record in Canadian history as being the first such victory by a citizen of the Dominion in public discussion with foreign statesmen long trained in the school of European diplomacy. But it is not this aspect of the event which he stresses in talking of the meeting today. Imbued with the international outlook to an extent matched by too few of his fellow countrymen, he judges the issue by world standards.
“That meeting was unique in that it marked the first time that an international problem was settled in public discussion,” he points out. “No closed doors, no secret diplomacy. It proved once and for all that the problems of the world could be faced and disposed of in the public forum.
“In all my dealings with the statesmen of the European powers I found that the same qualities which carry a man to success in business or public life in Canada —sincerity, straightforwardness, truth— were to be relied upon. They proved as effective as Geneva as at Montreal or Toronto.”
HOW was it that this Canadian, born and bred in the new world, succeeded in administering this coveted state, winning the respect of an alien people, and gaining for them the redress of their most irksome grievance?
“I was the only real democrat on the commission,” explains Mr. Stephens. “My policy was ‘a sqpare deal for the people and for France,’ and my door was open to the humblest in the land.
“All the citizens of the Saar—officials, merchants, miners—knew that they could come to me with their troubles. What is more, they did so! I don’t know how many thousand petty problems, domestic, financial and legal, I was called upon to solve. But it proved well worth my while. It won the confidence of the people.”
So it was that a Canadian democrat triumphed where Europeans might well have failed. During his four years on the commission Mr. Stephens acquired the intimate knowledge of the qualities and needs of the Saar populace which fitted him for his outstanding achievement at Geneva.
A necessary step toward this achievement was the recruiting and training of the native gendarmerie demanded by the Treaty of Versailles. The selection of the personnel of such a force called for the utmost tact, besides a keen insight into human nature; but once chosen, the men proved amenable to discipline, their years under Teutonic rule having been a fine preparation for such service. As a consequence, the Saar Constabulary, raised under Mr. Stephens’ direction to supplant the obnoxious foreign soldiery, is today proving highly effective in the fulfilment of its appointed task.
“It is as fine a police force as you will find in the world,” declares their sponsor with paternal pride.
“The Crown of the Saar”
'“THERE is one amusing incident which testifies more strongly than could a volume of statistics to the success scored by George Washington Stephens as head of a European state. Its story is the story of a hat—a well-worn bowler which is still in Mr. Stephens’ possession, but which, those who know its significance maintain, should be preserved in a glass case in the National Museum at Ottawa.
That bowler was never as other bowlers are. For one thing it is grey; Mr. Stephens purchased it back home in Montreal in a moment of reckless rebellion against sartorial convention. His wife condemned it; his friends abused it; but with each fresh jibe, his devotion to it grew.
During his four years in the Saar it sheltered his locks with fidelity. There was no one over there to call it names. Where he went, it went; from hamlet to hamlet, from mine to mine, from house to house it accompanied him. It was known in every street of Saarbrücken, the state capital. Throughout some forty thousand miles of motor travel it topped his head.
The hat quickly gained fame as the headpiece of the president. Children, glimpsing it through the windows of a passing car, would run home to tell their mothers that the foreign ruler was nearby.
So when Mr. Stephens resigned from the commission, the hat had attained the dignity of a symbol. On the day that his withdrawal was made public, models of the grey bowler were displayed in shop
windows throughout the province, bearing the legend in German characters;—
“THE CROWN OF THE SAAR”
An Invaluable Partner
TN EUROPE even more than on this
side of the water social obligations constitute an important share of the duties of one who heads a state. Banquet and ball may play as big a part in the making or breaking of a statesman as soundness of vision and skill in debate.
So during the years of George Washington Stephens’ tenancy the grey old palace in Saarbrücken frequently blazed with festal lights, while gay music pulsed from its windows into the narrow streets of the town.
“Fifty per cent of a stateman’s success rests in the hands of his wife,” Mr. Stephens remarked in discussing this phase of his task.
“And in so far as that fifty per cent was concerned I was peculiarly fortunate. My difficulties in the Saar would have been greatly increased had I not had her tact and experience on my side.”
If twenty years ago Major Stephens had read his future he could not have picked as his life partner one better suited for the strange days ahead.
Rosalind Wilhelmina, daughter of a distinguished Neapolitan house; raised in a European society where lineage and manners outweighed money and culture was still more of a necessity than cash, she was ideally fitted to play the princess.
Fresh from the courts of Europe Mr. Stephens’ confrères in government were perhaps a little surprised to find in the Canadian’s wife the ideal hostess. Needless to say they did not show such surprise, but henceforth their attendance at the palace soirées was motivated less by the sense of duty than by anticipation of pleasure.
The girl from Naples had won a name for herself in the world of music when Major Stephens met her. Destined for grand opera, she was at the time connected with the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, in London.
Noting which fact, one finds truth as well as jest in Mr. Stephens’ comment:
“My wife sang me out of many tight corners and into the good graces of many of my associates!”
Recreation of a Minister of Forests
WHY did the ruler of the Saar exchange his position of power in European affairs for private life in Canada?
The question is best answered in the words of an old retainer:
“He gave all his strength over there. If he hadn’t resigned when he did, the king of the Saar would have come back home in a coffin.”
“Which of your varied administrative duties did you find the most congenial?” I asked the ex-czar when home again and restored to his normal health.
A twinkle lighted the keen grey eyes. “Well, you know that trout fishing has always been my great enthusiasm,” he replied, “so my job as Minister of Forestry had a great element of pleasure in it. Ask any devotee of the sport how he would like to be in charge of the stocking and protection of the trout streams of a fisherman’s paradise.
“The veriest roadside brooklet in the Saar is kept admirably stocked and is guarded with Teutonic thoroughness. What few hours of leisure I could snatch were given over to rod and line.
“Of course those Saar trout are not as large as the Canadian varieties, but they’re just as wily . . And some of
them aren’t so small either . .
“Why, will you believe me . . .”
I hastened to assure him in advance that I would.