D.C.C. of the C.P.R.
He looks like a scholar, and he is ∎ ∎ ∎ yet D.C. Coleman runs the largest privately owned railway system on earth
ANY TIME he gets tired being chairman and president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, D'Alton C. Coleman would have no trouble passing himself off as a clergyman or professor. He has the right figure lightly boned, sparely fleshed, and with a scholarly stoop to his narrow shoulders that makes him look even shorter than his five-feetseven. lie has the right head -high and narrow with greying hair part~ed in the centre. The right, face-with thin-lipped mouth, narrow-bridged nose tnd deep-set grey eyes misted over with rectangular pince-nez, which give him a far-from-this-world look that one does not. usually associate with big business.
That’s the picture he presents to an outsider. To those who know him as a railway man D’Alton Coleman showed the makings of a president 25 years ago. About the time he became vice-president of Western Lines, Lord Shaughnessy one day pointed to the gallery of presidential portraits in the CPR board room in Montreal. “Some day,” he prophesied, “yours will be among them.”
ln J942 Isird Shaughnessy’« prediction came true. D. C. Coleman was appointed president of the railway
and letters of congratulation poured in. Recalling Shaughnessy’s prophecy, letter after letter began, “1 well remember the day when 1 stood beside you in the board room and Lord Shaughnessy said —” The
new president’s comment as he reached the 20th of such letters was, “It’s amazing how so small a room could have held so many people.”
Such a remark is typical Coleman humor; a little un the caustic side but robbed of its acidity by the Coleman smile. This smile, which he achieves without showing his teeth and with the corners of his mouth turned down, somehow gives his lean face an applecheeked look and produces an effect of impish geniality. In him it is the final expression of amusement for there is no Coleman laugh, or if there is. members of his own family say they’ve never heard it .
D. C. Coleman’s office on the second floor of the Windsor St id, ion, Montreal, is reached through a labyrinth of thickly carpeted outer offices. The presidential desk is set in a room of polished woodwork and rich red carpet with brown leather chairs, a lighted globe of the world and a fireplace that looks as though it were never lit. On the walls are framed
paintings of the Canadian Rockies and behind him is a portrait of the late Sir Edward Beatty.
D. C. Colemen is sometimes called “the Woodrow' Wilson of railway presidents.” He might also be called “the Great Commoner” for he is the first of the CPR presidents not to be listed in Burke’s Peerage. Following on from Lord Mount Stephen, Sir William van Horne, Lord Shaughnessy and Sir Edward Beatty, he occupies the presidency as plain Mr. Coleman.
In qualifications, too, he differs from his predecessors. Shaughnessy came from the business side of the CPR, Beatty from the legal, Coleman from the operating department. The one point he has in common with his two immediate predecessors is that he is an Irishmansecond generation Canadian Irish.
The impression he gives of having spent his life in scholastic halls is misleading. D’Alton Coleman was a small-town boy, born in Carleton Place, Ont., in 1879. He was the fifth son in a family of six boys and a girl and was brought up in a home where the necessities of life were not lacking but where luxuries were scarce. When he was four years old the family moved to Braeside, Ont., a town that was still without sidewalks and had no high school. After finishing Braeside public school young D’Alton walked five miles each day to the collegiate at Arnprior, where he distinguished himself in history, literature and arithmetic and played baseball and football on the side. When he was 15 he left school and went to work. This step was taken, he says, through both “necessity and inclination." All the Coleman boys had gone to work at 15.
Was Constant Reader
ALTHOUGH the Coleman family was small-town, A*, they never let their interests be bounded by it. The story is told that when father James Coleman was dying from a lingering and painful illness the opiate he wanted was not drugs but books. Son D’Alton inherited that passion. As a boy his taste for reading ran not to Alger books but to history. He read Gibbon, Greene and Macaulay. When he was 13 he began subscribing to the London Times and still has all the early copies, which he had bound. When his own sons reached the same age he started them on a similar course of current reading with the New York Herald-Tribune.
The university degrees he has are honorary: an LL.D. from Manitoba and a D.C.L. from the University of Bishop’s College, Lennoxville, Que. The university flavor to his thought and speech was acquired by self-education. He brought himself up on Blackwood’s and Thornhill magazines and on a library of history and biography, which includes a section of 1,500 books, documents and pamphlets on the history and development of the Canadian West and the Arctic. This is said to be one of the most complete collections in existence and it was for publicservice in this field that the University of Manitoba gave him a degree.
Thorough though it was, education has always been asideline with D. C. Coleman. His chief business was earning a living. While he was still at school he worked during his holidays 11 hours a day for $12 a month in the Braeside lumberyard as a tallyman checking rail loadings. His first full-time job was with the same company as stocktaker at $30 a month. In those days writing shorthand was considered a good start for a young man in the business world and when Coleman had saved up enough money he went to a shorthand school in Belleville. That landed him a job in Toronto with Central Canada Loan and Savings where he wrote shorthand for the late Hon. George A. Cox and E. R. Wood.
Then came his one flutter in what he later decided was too romantic a pursuit. He went back to Belleville and became a reporter on the Belleville Intelligencer. After six months as a reporter he was promoted to city editor. He explains away this youthful success by admitting the staff wasn’t very large. He explains leaving newspaper work, after two years of it, by the
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conclusion that “it did not hold promise of adequate compensation for the toil necessary to success.”
Having decided to leave newspaper work for the business world, young Coleman answered an advertisement for a position in Buffalo. He was accepted, spent his last money on a railway ticket. When he got. there he discovered the proposition was the selling of pills. In spite of his empty pockets he turned down the job, spent a cold and dreary night walking the streets of Buffalo to keep warm. By morning hunger had got the better of his pride. He went into a restaurant and told the motherly proprietress of his predicament. She fed him the largest breakfast on the menu and lent him enough money to get to Sarnia where he had relatives. That experience probably convinced him of the wisdom of settling down and in 1899, when he was 20, he joined the CPR as a clerk in the engineering department.
Worked In the West
That step, besides making him a railway man for life, also made Ontarioborn Coleman a westerner. For 35 years, except for a brief period at North Bay, he lived and worked west of the Great Lakes—and did not return east till 1934 when he came to Montreal as vice-president of the CPR, responsible only to the president. He lived and worked in Vancouver and Fort William as secretary to Sir George Bury, in Nelson, B.C., as superintendent, in Winnipeg as superintendent of Car Service and later as general superintendent, in Calgary in the same position, and back to Winnipeg as vice-president of Western Lines. It has been said that if D. C. Coleman got any special break in life it was in being sent to the West when its golden days were just beginning.
These years made all the Colemans westerners. Knowing the whole of Canada better than most men know any part of it, D. C. Coleman says, “I like the Maritimes in summer and the West at all times.” Elder son, Jim Coleman, sports writer on the Toronto Globe and Mail says, “We always regard Winnipeg as home.” Younger son, Rowan Coleman, at the outbreak of war went back to Winnipeg to enlist with the Princess Pats. Now he is a major, second-in-command of that regiment in Italy, and a recent winner of the Military Cross.
Besides liking the West, D. C. Coleman still believes in it. “I am convinced.” he says, “of the great part it has to play in the future of Canada as the great source of our agricultural and part of our mineral resources, particularly base metals, coal and perhaps oil.”
As for the problem of western wheat, he says, “Overproduction of wheat is a theory that is pretty well exploded; all the wheat we can grow will be needed when the living standards of the world are improved.”
In his years in the West, where they call him “the big little man,” D. C. Coleman made his reputation as a railway man. His most impressive achievement was as superintendent of Car Service in Winnipeg, where he covered every inch of track in the yards and found a way to get things moving. The achievement of which he himself is perhaps most proud is the improvement of labor relations in the West. Union men out there admit that D. C. was reponsible for better feelings between the railways and the union. In his larger job as president he has
managed to keep the company’s relations with labor “generally satisfactory.” He believes one should “treat all employees with fairness, frankness and consideration.” After years of living and working with railway men he is convinced that “the great majority resent being patronized, want to be recognized as self-respecting citizens, and treated accordingly.” He doesn’t claim 100( % success. “We don’t always see eye to eye in matters of monetary reward,” he admits, “but we have always been able to work it out without, disturbance to the service.”
Employees Respect Him
Railway men like D. C., not because he’s one of the boys but because they have a respect and appreciation of his character and standing as a railroad man. His dapper blue suits, frequent bowler hat and restrained indoor manner don’t alter the fact that he’s been a workman all the way through. His mentor was Sir George Bury, whom he still regards as “the best practical railroader of them all.” His knowledge of the railroad is such that, in the West at least, he can look out the car window and say, “We’re 14 miles from such-and-such a place.” It is said that at one time he could watch a freight train go by and afterward list off the number of every car in the train.
Nor is this memory only legend. His son, Jim, tells how when he was a boy playing cricket at school his father knew the batting averages, good points and weaknesses of all the British cricket stars, even though he had never seen a cricket match in his life. Col. R. S. McLaughlin, breeder of thoroughbred racers, was astonished one time on asking the world’s record for the mile to have D. C. Coleman answer promptly with “Equipoise at Arlington Park, 1 min. 34% seconds.”
Horse racing is D. C. Coleman’s only extravagant diversion. In the palmy days, when he had a limousine and a chauffeur, the drive hack from lunch began with the chauffeur handing him the day’s racing sheet, which he read till he reached the office. His betting is trivial—never more than $2 on a race, and he keeps his choice a secret till after the race is over. His j real extravagance is in owning race j horses. When a Coleman horse is ; running, CPR employees regard it as j their horse, and last year when Western Prince won the Canadian Derby a i porter on the train was heard to remark j to a passenger, “See, sir, our horse won j today.”
Aside from his work in the railway, D. C. Coleman enjoys life mainly as a spectator. His most active sport is fishing and his favorite fishing ground is Lake of the Woods, where there are plenty and you can pull them in without too much effort. He used to play golf but gave it up as a waste of time. Still plays bridge, occasionally, but has the same feeling about that. He likes to go to hockey and football games, particularly hockey. In his years in the West, amateur hockey reached a high peak and Jim Coleman recalls how he and his brother had to lake turns sitting next to their father at games. “It was a painful business,” he remembers, “Dad didn’t shout much but he body-checked all through the game.”
The public knows D. C. Coleman through his infrequent speeches. They are scholarly, well-informed speeches written by himself and delivered in a precise, well-modulated voice with a trace of Ontario accent in the long, hard “A’s.” He says he dislikes speechmaking but the belief in the family circle is that what he really dislikes
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is the consonum", creamed chicken and
ice cream which invariably precede
Never Loses His Temper
He also dislikes being interviewed, but having once agreed to it appears neither abrupt nor impatient. He answers all questions put to him provided they are not personal. He sits calmly enough to suit a portrait painter, except for his nervous, freckled hands which doodle alternately with a paper knife and a pencil. Eventually he gets them out of the way by folding his arms.
No one, not even his family, remembers seeing D. C. Coleman lose his temper or hearing him explode with an impolite word. This makes him no less terrifying to his subordinates and the story is told of a certain western official who, after making a grave mistake, braced himself for a blast of presidential fury. What came instead was a brief telegram, which read, “You have embarrassed me very much.” It is said the official almost committed suicide.
One of the first things his friends say about D. C. Coleman is that he’s a man of great loyalty. That loyalty takes in old friends and old employees. It takes in old possessions, too, and at one time he ran a fair danger of being known as the man who couldn’t stop wearing spats even though they’d gone out of fashion. He finally gave up the spats but continues to wear what are probably his first gold cuff links. Still carries a small purse given him by an older brother, with no original piece left but the frame.
The big, seven-eighths slice of this loyalty belongs to the Canadian Pacific Railway which is his past, his present and his future. He says he finds the railway “an enthralling pursuit.” Feels that “war has demonstrated that railways are a vital necessity for reasons of security as well as for economic reasons.” Looks forward to a future for the railway “to enter on the postwar period with organization, plan, equipment and financial resources to be able to play a still more important and distinguished part in the transportation of the new world.” As president of what is probably the largest privately owned railway in the world with express, hotels, steamships and air lines added to its 20,000 odd miles of track and 70,000 employees, he naturally believes in the future of free enterprise. “We must all face the ordinary hazards of business,” he says. “No government policy should be designed to destroy private enterprise.”
President Coleman’s problems, now, are two, the maintenance and conversion of old equipment to carry the weight of wartime traffic—and plans for postwar replacements, particularly in the matter of steamships which have been lost through enemy action. His system of running the railway is to get the right men, by the traditional railway method of bringing them up through the ranks, and then giving them the necessary authority. Other interests he finds time for include being a director of the Metropolitan Life, N.Y., of the Canadian Marconi, and a member of the Canadian Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Outside of business D. C. Coleman’s most serious interest is education. In 1932 he took on the chairmanship of the Board of Governors of the University of Manitoba and saw it through one of the toughest financial storms that any university has been called upon to weather. Since being in Montreal he has been made chairman of the executive committee of Bishop’s College. In his opinion the Canadian educational system is a good one, and follows a natural tendency to give promising students greater opportunity. He doesn’t think the “humanities should be sacrificed to so-called practical courses” but believes at the same time that “our medical men, engineers and others should have the best training obtainable in the world.”
As for the progress of Canadian literature, on which he is an authority, he admits it is slow of development but is not alarmed. “This applied also in the United States,” he points out. “Literature will come with a leisured class. Our average brain power is as high as that of any other country and we’ll acquire taste with leisure and culture.” He himself has no inclination to write. “I have nothing sufficiently startling to say,” is his excuse.
Like other railway men, D. C. Coleman is in favor of immigration. He would prefer immigrants of British blood, with Scandinavians running a close second, as the best permanent citizens for the country. His estimate is that Canada needs a population of 25 millions “to carry the overhead in transportation, education, highways and above all, government.” He believes we have the natural resources to support at least that number and that it would make us equivalent to the United States in population, relative to the amount of arable land in Canada.
Asked where he would place these new settlers, he gives the caustic Coleman smile and says, “I haven’t started distributing them yet.”