General Articles


As busy as his nicknamesake, Max Aitken, retired, roams his "native” New Brunswick like a benevolent whirlwind

IAN SCLANDERS January 15 1948
General Articles


As busy as his nicknamesake, Max Aitken, retired, roams his "native” New Brunswick like a benevolent whirlwind

IAN SCLANDERS January 15 1948


General Articles

As busy as his nicknamesake, Max Aitken, retired, roams his "native” New Brunswick like a benevolent whirlwind


THE fabulous little man with the domelike head, the deep-set restless eyes and the impish smile emerged from a bank in Fredericton one morning about a year ago with a wad of money as thick as a dictionary.

Rt. Hon. William Maxwell Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook of Beaverbrook, N.B., and Cherkley, Surrey, the new chancellor of the old University of New Brunswick, was setting forth on a pilgrimage to the scenes of his youth.

As he climbed into his limousine, he stuffed one of his pockets with $20-bills, another with $10’s, a third wit h $5’s and a fourt h with $l’s.

The 105-mile trip from Fredericton to Newcastle, his boyhood home, was probably the slowest in recent history, because walking and talking are two of Lord Beaverbrook’s favorite hobbies.

Whenever a hilltop was reached—and there are many on the road—he got out and strolled down the other side, his big car following behind him. And whenever he did this, he met somebody he knew and stopped for a chat. Most of them called him “Max.”

He, in turn, called them by t heir first names and asked about their brothers, their sisters, their parents. He wasn’t just, being polite—he was really interested. These were his own peoplehis friends.

The Fairy Godfather

OFTEN he would lead one of them off for a private conversation and stand with his back to a friend who-was t ravelling with him.

The Beaver was trying to keep his gifts secret but the companion remembered the careful distribution of the $20’s, $10’s, $5’s and $l’s. He couldn’t see the hands go into the pockets, but His Lordship was unconsciously signaling with his elbows the amount he was producing.

It was at the little village of Covered Bridge that the life of Jacquelene Webster was suddenly touched by magic. She wasn’t, aware of it then.

She was only aware that she, Jacquelene Webster, a 23-year-old stenographer from Saint John who was holidaying with relatives at Covered Bridge, had encountered Lord Beaverbrook on the highway. They spoke, and she told him that she had been invited to=the ball the U.N.B. Law School was holding at Saint John the next week. The Beaver was on the list of patrons.

“I have my invitation with me,” she said, somewhat overwhelmed at being in the presence of such a celebrity. “If you’d autograph it for me, I’ll always remember the dance.”

Lord Beaverhrook was at the Law School ball. So was Jacquelene. He danced with her and as they were circling about the crowded floor he asked whether she had ever wanted to go to Law School.

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s out of the question. You see, I’m a working girl. I have to earn a living.”

The Beaver’s face wrinkled up in his famous and mischievous grin. “I’d still like to see you arguing

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a case in court,” he «aid. So, in a few days Jacquelene, an attractive tawny-haired girl, was notified hy one of Beaver brook’s agents that a scholarship had been arranged. Everything necessary would he provided to enable her to quit her job, go to university, win her law degree.

Lord Beaverbrook’s magic wand w'aved for others on the same trip on which he met Jacquelene Webster. When he reached Nc werst le, h transferred from his automobile to a private railway car. If. was on a siding from which he could see the dilapidated playing fields of Harkins Academy, the high school from which he had graduated.

He was looking at them when a delegation came aboard—all Harkins graduates like himself. Members of the delegation explained that they were raising a fund lo fix up the grounds. They were all contributing and would he like to join them/

Beaverbrook wrote a cheque for thousands of dollars. The eyes of his visitors popped as he handed it over.

1 “That,” spluttered the spokesman of the group, “is more than our total objective.”

The next caller had a hit of trouble with Beaverbrook’s gentleman’s gent lemán.

“I want to see Max,” he said. ^

“I’m sorry,” said the valet, “but he s engaged.

“Max wouldn’t he too busy to see me.

“I’m sorry, he’s engaged.”

“Who’s that?” the Beaver bellowed. “Let him in!”

The perturbed valet ushered in a tall husky Negro.

“Hello, Stan,” said the Beaver happily. “How are you, old man?”

“Great, Max, great.” So they sat down and had a fine long talk about the old days.

Another caller was William Corbett, Max Aitken’s inseparable pal in boyhood years. Bill stayed in Newcastle and became a partner in a grocery store, while Max went on to Halifax and Montreal and London, and fame and fortune, but they’ve always written each other. After Max had been elevated to the peerage, had built up The Daily Express until it had the biggest daily circulation in the world (3,400,000), and had been a member of the British Cabinet, he wrote Bill a letter that started: “Do you suppose you could get me the recipe for those flapjacks your mother used to make?”

He also wrote Bilt a letter that said it was time for him to give up the grocery business and that he had provided him with a comfortable pension for life.

Bill named a son William Maxwell Aitken. The boy went overseas with the armed forces and became a close friend of Beaverbrook’s own sons, Group Captain Max Aitken and the late Peter Aitken. When young Corbett was killed in action, his “Uncle Max” Beaverbrook was grief-stricken.

Dr. Cox’s Memorable Party

ßEAVERBROOK, actually, isa dual personality. He’s the rugged, daring, ruthless, driving, brilliant individual who was worth more than five million dollars at the age of 30, who was elected to the parliament of Great Britain at 31, and who, before he was 40, was a knight, a baronet and a baron, and the power behind two British prime ministers. He’s the man who was entrusted with finding Britain the tools she needed in the last conflict, working night and day and literally forcing the aircraft industry to miracles of production.

But he is also the kindly, generous, sentimental man who takes a boyish delight in bringing happiness to others—the man who never has forgotten I hose who were decent to him when he was reaching for the bottom rung of the ladder. It is this part of his character, little known to the world, that shines forth in New Brunswick.

New Brunswickers know, for instance, about his affection for his old teacher at Harkins Academy, the late Dr. Philip Cox, who, like Bill Corbett, ret ired on a Beaverbrook pension.

They remember the wonderful paity he held for Dr. Cox in 1926. It lasted for five weeks and trailed through Scotland, England and Ireland. Dr. Cox and 24 other New Brunswick teachers were the Beaver’s guests from the time they left their homes till the time they returned. The host paid everything— even the tips. When the teachers went, to fancy functions, such as an entertainment by the Lord Mayor of London, the formal clothes they needed and most of them lacked appeared out of nowhere. For underpaid schoolmarms from small communities, it was all like a beautiful dream. They’re still talking about it.

New Brunswickers love the Beaver’s insistence that he is a native-born New Brunswicker from Newcastle, when he was really bom in Maple, Ont., near Toronto.

Last fall, he was flying in his private plane over New Brunswick with George McCullagh, publisher of The Toronto Globe and Mail.

“Where could you match this country?” he asked, indicating the sweep of lakes, streams and forests below.

“Why don’t you come and have a look at your rative Ontario?” McCullagh replied.

“Dammit, George,” said Beaverbrook, “how often do I have to tell you I’m a native of New Brunswick?”

To say that Lord Beaverbrook is New Brunswick’s favorite person is to state the case mildly. A new' hotel is being built in Fredericton and the Chamber of Commerce invited citizens to send in letters telling w'hat they would like it named. About nine out of every 10 who w'rcte wanted it to be the “Lord Beaverbrook”—and that’s what it is.

There is a Beaverbrook Street in Fredericton and a Beaverbrook Street in Saint John. There is a Beaverbrook Chapter of the IODE in Newcastle. Headquarters of the Sea Cadets in Fredericton is HMCS Beaverbrook. There are even Beaverbrook lunch carts.

But the Beaverbrook from which Lord Beaverbrook took his title is an unprepossessing whistlestop, a clump of old dwellings a few miles from Newcastle. The only attractive building in the settlement is the school. This was a gift from Beaverbrook.

A stream runs past the place and the legend is that as a barefoot boy Max Aitken used to go there to catch trout.

William Corbett, the retired grocer, tells me this is not so.

“He just picked Beaverbrook because it sounded typically Canadian,” he says. “He never caught fish there. He didn’t have much time for fishing. He was very impatient.”

A Failure at 14

HE COULDN’T have had much time—and he must have been very impatient. He was the third son in a family of 11 children, of whom five sons and four daughters lived to be grown. His father, Rev. William Aitken, was a Presbyterian minister who wore his religion like a buckler and reared the brood on $1,000 a year.

At seven, Max was selling papers in Newcastle to help the family finances. At nine he was helping a druggist after school and on holidays for one dollar a week.

At 14 he embarked on his first publishing venture with a weekly called The Leader. A four-page paper, it shouted from its masthead: “We Lead,

Let Others Follow Who Can.”

He gathered, wrote and edited all the copy; set all the type by hand; turned the crank that ran the press. But, after four issues, he had exhaut ted his tiny capital and Continued on page 44

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the boy who was to become proprietor of the greatest mass circulation paper of all time locked his shop and walked down the street a forlorn and penniless failure.

He was 17 when be left Newcastle, with its quaint crooked streets, its towering elms, its lumber mills. In his search for new horizons he paused, briefly, at nearby Chatham, to be a clerk in the law office of L. J. Tweedie. Reading law in the same office was Richard Bedford Bennett, future prime minister of Canada. He and Aitken formed a lifelong friendship.

Another friend in the Chatham period was a tall handsome youth named Jimmy Dunn, now Sir James Dunn, Bart., British financier and head of Ontario’s big Algoma Steel. Dunn, like Beaverbrook, is a resident of New Brunswick again and the two of them are often together. Dunn has given the University of New Brunswick valuable scholarships.

Sir James, who has an estate at St. Andrews, a swank summer colony on the Bay of Fundy, J. J. F. Winslow, K.C., of Fredericton, and Howard P. Robinson, of Saint John, also an industrialist and financier, are probably the men Beaverbrook sees most of in New Brunswick.

If there is one thing these close friends like more than all else it’s talking about New Brunswick and New Brunswickers. They can claim the late Franklin D. Roosevelt as an honorary member of the clan, for F.D.R. spent his summers for a grea

many years on the New Brunswick island of Gampobello.

Early in the war, Winston Churchill sent Lord Beaverbrook to Washington on a secret mission. Reporters found out he was closeted with Roosevelt and sensed a big story. When Roosevelt and Beaverbrook emerged from a long meeting, the press surrounded them and asked what they had been discussing.

“Oh,” said F.D.R., with a broad grin, “we were just reminiscing about old times in New Brunswick.”

Making a Fortune

Lord Beaverbrook’s association with the University of New Brunswick at Fredericton, of which he is now the chancellor, goes back to 1898 when he enrolled as a student. He was then learning finance from the ground up, selling insurance and bonds.

His college career was brief. It was like his fishing. He had so little time for it and he was very impatient. And even then his head was full of dreams about tremendous deals. He realized that the economic trend was toward bigger, stronger companies — toward consolidations and amalgamations.

This trend, he suddenly realized, would bring him the fortune that would unlock the door to all his ambitions. He discarded his textbooks and rushed into action. Small negotiations led to bigger ones.

At Yarmouth, N.S., he promoted new firm which bought the assets of Minard’s Liniment Co., a small outfit that operated in the back room of a drugstore. The old company sold out for around $25,000, according to the story in Yarmouth, and the new company was capitalized at $300,000 of which Aitken retained from $50,000 to $100,000 of stock as his share. The new company expanded operations, now sells its product from coast to coast.

That was his beginning, his pioneer effort in setting a financial style which has served well some of-the greatest financiers in Canada today. It attracted attention. Several attempts to amalg uñate the Commercial Bank of Windsor, N.S., with the Union Bank of Halifax had failed because the banks involved couldn’t agree on the terms of the amalgamation. The Union Bank hired Aitken, who drafted terms that

suited both banks, and earned a fat fee.

His success attracted the attention cf John F. Stairs, a rich Halifax businessman, and they worked together. Precocious Max Aitken had a hand in the reorganization of the old Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Co., now Dosco— Dominion Steel and Coal. He wasn’t yet 25, but his fortune was growing, mainly on the rising stock value of the companies he reorganized and the new companies he formed by amalgamations. From each of them, he acquired stock. Because of the new strength his plan had given each organization, the stock rose. And with each rise, the Aitken fortune rose.

Then Aitken reorganized the Royal Securities Corporation and branched out on his own. In those days few thought of sending salesmen out to sell securities. Aitken tried it, successfully, and put several salesmen on the road. His star was Izaak Walton Killam, now head of Royal Securities. Beaverbrook moved his base from Halifax to Montreal and pulled his big deals through Royal Securities.

He married beautiful Gladys Drury, member of an old and distinguished Saint John family, and took three months to honeymocn in Cuba, Mexico and Europe. Then came his crowning achievement in Canadian financing— the $38-million amalgamation of all Canada’s cement mills but one into the Canada Cement Co. Montreal and Toronto financiers cried out bitterly against the “young upstart” from the banks of the Miramichi, hardly dry behind the ears, who was piling up so many millions in such a short time.

They were still smarting over the indignity when Max Aitken and his wife departed for England.

Invasion of England

That was 1910. Aitken’s trip to England was part pleasure and part business—he wanted to raise about $2.5 millions to finance a new Canadian venture. He found a British election pending in England and made a snap decision to enter politics. As a Conservative, he contested what was considered a hopeless riding—Ashtonunder-Lyne in Lancashire. He won by 169 votes and this startling victory in itself made his name known in politics of the time. One of his first speeches

in the Commons was a violent one, denouncing Treasury policies. His speech brought a parliamentary enquiry, which upheld his criticisms. He became a major political figure and Bonar Law, Lloyd George, and Lord Northcliffe were his closest friends.

He was knighted in 1911, bought the powerful but nonprofitable Daily Express in 1912 for a reported $500,000 and in subsequent years became known as a political power—mainly behind the scenes—in the downfall of the Asquith government in 1917 and elevation of Lloyd George to the premiership. That year he entered the House of Lords. The major political figures of the time often visited his Leatherhead home. He took up horse racing and dropped it; society and dropped it; and then concentrated his full energy on making the Daily Express the most-read daily in the world.

Authorities at the University of New Brunswick had forgotten he had ever been enrolled when he notified them in 1919 that he had set aside a fund to enable seven high-school graduates to enter the institution each year on four-year scholarships. That was his first gift.

In 1930 he gave U.N.B. a men’s residence, the Lady Beaverbrook Building, which is among the finest in Canada. It was presented in memory of his wife, who died in 1927, and is topped by a tower containing bell chimes. These play a tune Lady Beaverbrook was fond of, an old Maritime lumberjack ditty, “The Jones’ Boys.”

In the present decade, he has given U.N.B. the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium, one of the most modern in the Dominion, and 10 annual overseas scholarships. These are to take promising students to the University of London for postgraduate work. His latest project for the university is a modern hockey arena. It’s estimated that, so far, his contributions to U.N.B. have reached nearly one million dollars.

The Happy Chancellor

It was in 1946 that Premier John B. McNair of New Brunswick discussed with members of the U.N.B. Senate the idea of inviting Beaverbrook to accept the chancellorship.

They thought it would be wonderful. The trouble was, there wasn’t any such post. They altered the constitution of U.N.B. to create it, then hoped that

If your Maclean’s

is late . .

Owing to temporary mechanical production difficulties beyond the publishers’ control, your copy of Maclean’s may be late in reaching you.

If so, we’re sorry. We ask your indulgence with the assurance that everything possible is being done to remedy the situation.

the Beaver wouldn’t decline and leave them with a vacancy they didn’t want anybody else to fill.

“I’ll be delighted to be chancellor,” Lord Beaverbrook said when he was finally approached. So, in the late spring of 1947, he was inducted.

Lord Beaverbrook’s inaugural address was regarded by those who heard it as a masterpiece. The Beaver had slaved over it as he probably never slaved over any speech he had made before. Two thirds of the way through the material he had so carefully pre-

pared he branched off on a new line of thought that had just occurred to him. His impromptu windup was a beautiful and moving piece of eloquence.

Beaverbrook has proved he intends to be no mere figurehead at U.N.B. Flitting back and forth across the Atlantic by air, he visited Fredericton several times in 1947, meeting the faculty and the student body and turning over a program for the future in his quick imaginative brain.

He announced that he would spend a good part of each year in Fredericton. He ran into a housing shortage, but the provincial government came to the rescue and let him use a modest wooden dwelling it owned on Queen Street, the main street of the capital.

He ensconced himself there with his valet and one or two other servants. His secretary and the pilot of his private six-passenger aircraft were quartered elsewhere but on 24-hour call. Meanwhile he bought the Bank of Montreal’s 17-room Fredericton residence and is waiting for the bank manager to vacate.

Bedside Confidences

When he is in Fredericton, Lord Beaverbrook lives up to his reputation for unpredictability. Certainly, he’s the most unusual university chancellor in Canada.

Late at night he will often wander up to the men’s residence to see whether everybody is happy. He has a theory that when the hands of the clock point toward midnight, people are relaxed and are more likely to talk freely about their failures and victories, their worries and their hopes.

He will sit on the side of a student’s bed and chat as though he were a classmate. And he’ll return confidence for confidence. A sophomore who had outlined his own aspirations once said to him, “What do you hope to do yourself, sir?”

“Well,” Lord Beaverbrook replied, “I put in the first 68 years of my life making money. Now 1 want to spend it—here in New Brunswick.”

Considering that his fortune is rated not in millions of dollars, or tens of millions, but in scores of millions, that is a major project.

When the Beaver flew to Canada’s capital to address a dinner of the Ottawa branch of the U.N.B. Alumni Association, everybody expected him to . say something startling about international politics. He didn’t even mention politics. Instead, he talked about the railway tracks you cross on the way to the university. They were dangerous. There should be an overpass, so that the boys and girls of U.N.B. could cross them in safety.

In the same persuasive voice that has turned so many huge business deals and has swayed British cabinets he told his listeners that they were influential citizens who were close to the country’s government. Let them, then, get busy and see that federal authorities provided the necessary overpass without delay !

Beat Mount Allison!

He seems prouder to be chancellor of U.N.B. than to be a peer of the realm, a baron of the press, the master of prodigious wealth, or to have served in Britain’s government in two world wars. He would rather be spoken of as Chancellor Beaverbrook than Lord Beaverbrook.

In Fredericton last fall he announced that he was retiring as boss of The Daily Express. “Ÿoung Max,” he said, “is taking ovei.” He continued, thereafter, to phone Max three or four times a day, and friends figured it

Í would be a while yet before he comj pletely relinquished control of hif newspaper empiie. But they predicted that U.N.B. would gradually absoib moie and more of his energy and publishing lets and less.

The Beaver, who had too liltle time for sports in his youth, has developed a great liking for them lately. When U.N.B. was beaten at rugbv hy the smaller Mount Allison, the United Church univeisity at Sackville, N.B., he was hurt and indignant.

“We will never have a great university,” he complained, “if we let Mount Allison trim us at rugby.”

But in his more mellow moments, he admits that U.N.B. is a great university—if only on a relatively small scale. And that is actually the case. It j goes back to 1800, which makes it 20 years older than Dalhousie, 21 years j oldei than McGill, and 27 >ears older j than the University of Toronto. Its I forestry school was the first in Canada and it is one of few institutions of

higher education that can boast of ! owning lakes, trout streams and Ihouj sands of acres of timberland. it has » cosy, friendly atmosphere.

Before the war it had an enrolment of 500. Its current enrolment, 1,350, is swollen by student veterans, huf ii goes on much as usual, scrupulously maintaining old habits and cusloms. At initiation time, the freshettes still have to parade the streets of Fredericton carrying mops and pails, and freshmen ¡ si ill have to wear green and yellow i skullcaps and step off into the gutter when seniois pass them on the sidewalk. The late Sir George Foster had to do that in his day. So did the late Bliss Carman, the poet. So did another poet, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts. And so did many another notable.

And now U.N.B. has not only its traditions, its fine scholastic record, its picturesque campus, its lakes and trout j streams and timberlands. It also has a chancellor who is one of the most ! amazing men of our time. if