Richard Chadwick dams raging rivers, throws skyscrapers into the heavens, salvages wrecks. But no, madam, his Foundation Co. doesn’t make corsets

GERALD ANGLIN March 15 1950


Richard Chadwick dams raging rivers, throws skyscrapers into the heavens, salvages wrecks. But no, madam, his Foundation Co. doesn’t make corsets

GERALD ANGLIN March 15 1950



Richard Chadwick dams raging rivers, throws skyscrapers into the heavens, salvages wrecks. But no, madam, his Foundation Co. doesn’t make corsets

R. E. CHADWICK, of Montreal, is a grey-haired man of 65 with quizzical eyebrows, a stubborn chin and a slight-to-medium build which scarcely suggests a Paul Bunyan’s capacity for renovating the landscape.

Yet he has plunged stout bridge piers to bedrock through the racing waters of dozens of Canadian rivers from the Bear in Nova Scotia to the Harrison in B. C. He has tom a jagged clearing in the forest at Baie Comeau, Que., and planted there a complete industrial town—paper mill, churches, movies, shops and homes for 1,500 people.

He has driven a mine shaft 920 feet through rock at Asbestos, Que., and is currently boring a 2,100foot power tunnel through the solid granite of the Rockies near Banff.

As if to compensate for such hole digging, he has erected office buildings (such as Montreal’s handsome new Bank of Canada), hotels (the Nova Scotian in Halifax) and factories (Courtauld’s in Cornwall, Ont., the Maclean-Hunter plant near Toronto where this magazine is printed, the sprawling munitions plant at Cherrier, Que.).

To Make an Ice Jam in July

DWARFING any of these feats, at Shipshaw in northern Quebec he blasted out nearly 6 million cubic yards of dirt and rock and poured 874,000 cubic yards of concrete to stop the rushing Saguenay River in its tracks and funnel it through the greatest single power plant in the world. He fashioned this 1,200,000-horsepower mammoth in 18 wartime months while at the same time building the world’s largest single aluminum plant at nearby Arvida to use Shipshaw’s power.

Chadwick has dammed the St. Lawrence from shore to shore at Beauharnois, flung two sets of bridge piers across her at Lachine, and far down in the gulf where she’s broadest and stormiest he has plucked wrecked ships and mariners from her shoals and reefs.

For, in addition to building the country’s largest construction company ($300 millions in contracts in 26 years), he has developed as a lusty sideline a salvage division which in 20 years of prowling the northwestern Atlantic has saved about 180 ships from the sea—860,000 tons of shipping at a salved value of $114 millions.

Richard Chadwick has done all this as boss of the Foundation Company of Canada Limited, which, to the surprise of many people who telephone its offices in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, does not manufacture corsets.

Foundation was a New York firm specializing in foundations for skyscrapers when the Toronto-born mechanical engineer joined it in 19Í1 to run its new Montreal office. U. S. subsidiaries sometimes seem to dominate the Canadian business landscape. Chadwick so expanded this one that it bought itself out of American clutches, abandoned its specialty, outgrew its parent firm and today boasts a subsidiary of its own in the United States.

Altogether Foundation now employs a permanent staff of 600 and may have 6,000 to 7,000 foremen, skilled tradesmen and laborers signed on at any time (the number rose to 16,000 during the war). Most of these junior supermen quickly learn to call Foundation’s president “the Chief” and not to be surprised at the variety or oddity of jobs to which they may be assigned.

Foundation recently deposited a young engineer at Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay, and told him to erect a building on ground that is permanently frozen but which inconveniently melts to soggy muskeg as soon as you dig down and

expose a spot on which to place your footings. Another Foundation man at Iroquois Falls, Ont., was faced with the puzzle of parking a huge loggrinding plant for a pulp and paper outfit on soil so soft it could hardly support a construction shack. A third engineer was assigned to reproduce an exact working miniature of an ice jam which wrecked a town—and do it in July.

The Churchill man smartly evolved a method of freezing his foundation to the frozen subsoil (exact details are a fast-frozen company secret). The chap at Iroquois Falls built and floated his building like a ship (complete with keel, ribs and even ballast) on the not-so-solid earth. The ice-jam fellow built a 60-by-30-foot. scale model of the St. Francis River in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, complete with bridges and dam; then, using sheets of paraffin for ice, he staged jam after jam which for realism would give nightmares to residents of Bromptonville whose homes were smashed in the great St. Francis pile up of March 1948. The model is to be used in a court case to try and determine what caused the disaster.

Each of the three men triumphed in his peculiar task thanks to the old Foundation spirit, and probably thanks also to an old Foundation feeling of being watched.

The superintendent on a paper-mill job deep in the New Brunswick bush, years ago, was delighted that everything on the job was going without a hitch because he knew the Chief was arriving that morning for a personal look-see. When Chadwick

stepped off a logging train he failed to notice the super’s extended hand because he was peering upward at the peak of a three-legged crane.

“You want to replace that sheared-off cotter pin up there,” he advised, “or else the whole business will collapse on your next hoist.”

The stunned superintendent knew the apparatus had been carefully inspected an hour before, but the eagle-eyed Chadwick was right about the sheared

Chadwick likes to say today that he doesn’t bother much with the actual construction side of things any more, but there are few Foundation Company pies into which he never pokes a finger.

From a Bathtub, a Reflector

WHEN THE gigantic Shipshaw project was getting under way the Chief found vicepresident V. G. Younghusband, boss of the job, held up for blueprints and storming that “nobody will take responsibility for telling me where that first cut-off dam’s supposed to go.”

“That looks like a good place for it right across there,” offered Chadwick with a wave of his arm. “Start your shovels digging and I’ll bet nobody will take the responsibility for telling you to stop.” Nobody did.

One of the largest contracts Foundation is currently engaged in is a $7J^ million power dam for the Manitoba Government at Pine Falls on the Winnipeg River. Even when breakup comes this spring divers will be able to continue working deep in the racing stream, sheltered by a movable steel tower which sits on the bottom and breaks the turbulent currents.

Continued on page 59

The Story of Canada's Biggest Builder — Part One

Continued from page 13

If the Chief didn’t personally design every stud and bolt of this deflector, he thoroughly coached and heckled the job from the sidelines. He would stop the responsible engineers on the elevator, en route to lunch, to debate certain of its features. If they didn’t give in to his viewpoint he’d keep calling upon other staff members till he found someone to back his opinion. Foundation men don’t give in easily to the Chief but hunger can wear a man down.

Chadwick designed and patented his first deflector nearly 20 years ago before sinking piers for the Mercier highway bridge across the St. Lawrence at the foot of the Lachine rapids. He conducted his experiments in his bathtub. One quiet Sunday afternoon at home father Chadwick got thinking about a new tugboat for the Foundation fleet just as the four Chadwick children were starting a game of hopscotch. Gently shoving his young aside Chadwick borrowed the chalk and the sidewalk to lay out plans for what was later to be christened the Foundation Martha, after his youngest.

Stickup at the Samovar

Foundation veterans say “the Chief is the company,” but the reverse is probably even closer to the mark. All things that touch Chadwick’s interest —his company, his family, his fishing— become completely absorbed in the man. This man is kindly, shrewd, annoyingly persistent, fascinated by detail and absent-minded about everything except the thing he’s concentrating on. But he is above all things a practical engineer.

He directs the continent-wide operations of the Foundation Company from a five-story head-office building on Montreal’s Sherbrooke St. Here he will peer over a draftsman’s shoulder and quibble about the cross-sectional shape of a steel I-beam, get interested in a small file card designed to trace the location of a blueprint and then spend an hour and a half trying to convince the responsible department head the card should be revised.

Highly suspicious of extravagance he cracks down on people who send fullrate telegrams at 5 o’clock, or indulge in too much red tape.

On the other hand he used to like to tag Foundation’s late and much-loved treasurer, “Chippy” Grierson, with the pinch-penny reputation common to all purse-string holders.

The chief once organized an impromptu after-work expedition of 14 office staffers to Montreal’s Samovar night club. He insisted that everyone eat heartily and have another drink for old time’s sake. When a bill was presented for something more than $100 he announced to the stunned treasurer, “Chippy—this party’s on you.” His delight when Grierson had to beg and borrow all around the table was unbounded.

Actually, getting stuck with the nightclub check was nothing to the treasurer compared to his constant headache of finding the necessary funds to pay for some sudden purchase of new plant or equipment made without notice by Chadwick—often a week after he himself had sternly ordered that there

must be no further capital outlay for six months.

Chadwick has surrounded himself with an A-l staff of whom he is basically considerate, but he disguises this thoroughly by being a perfectionist. He seldom tells a man a job is well done (he’ll tell others) and if he can’t find an error to pounce on in a job he will continue to worry it like a dog sniffing suspiciously about a strange house.

Years in the construction game, where highly competitive bidding makes a contractor watch every angle to ensure a profit, have made Chadwick allergic to wasted effort and materials. On big jobs in the bush, for instance, a costly factor is that a whole work camp must be built and then abandoned when the contract is completed.

“Chadwick wants every temporary building designed to fall down the day after you move out,” advises an engineer who recalls that one job superintendent came thrillingly close to achieving that goal. He threw up a set of bunkhouses and mess halls which stood up fine during the two years it took to complete a power dam miles from nowhere—then collapsed the third winter under the weight of snow on the rooftops.

Chadwick personally, however, is so completely uncash-conscious that he has been caught short time and again. He was once thrown off a train for lack of the fare—and talked the stationmaster into loaning him the price of the ticket.

Chadwick crosses no invisible boundary when he leaves office for home. Here, instead of Chief, he gets called Dickie by his wife and Dad by his now grown children (only Mike, an architect, is married: the twins, Bill and Mary, and Martha are all at home). But often as not he’ll go on talking shop where he left off at the office and his behavior is otherwise identical. Once finding a heavy layer of ice in the refrigerator he threw the switch to defrost it without telling anyone. By the time somebody turned the frig on again a mess of lamb chops was starting to smell high—and this was during meat rationing.

Another time he developed a system of colored coat hangers, the color signaling whether the suit hanging on it needed pressing, cleaning or throwing out. It was probably the idea more than its practical use which appealed to him for office associates say he pays so little attention to clothes that when inspecting a job he’ll wander through mud, muck and drip without even a pair of rubbers unless someone forces waterproofing on him. He usually buys good-quality clothes, several suits at a time (sometimes of identical material) but once fell for a bargain in old-fashioned sharp-pointed shoes and bought 10 pairs because they were only $3 each.

Blue Nylon and Red Silk

Chadwick’s colored coat hangers pale in ingenuity beside the system of bright-hued ribbons with which he identifies his fishing line. Happily going over a cigar box full of neatly beribboned bundles of line he explains that “the red means a silk line—after the red flag of Japan; the green is for linen line from Ireland; and (triumphantly) the blue means nylon line—for the blue-blooded du Ponts!”

He insists he seldom goes off deliberately on fishing trips. “I do my fishing in whatever stream’s handy to the job I’m visiting,” he explains. Mixing the two pursuits so thoroughly once caused Chadwick to confuse fishing and engineering tactics. He discovered a wonderful pool from an overhanging ledge which offered such an excellent view he could even see two or three fish congregated at a certain point. “He took painstaking sights on the precise spot by means of several landmarks,” relates a Foundationite, “then scrambled down to river level. He found the spot again all right, but he hadn’t taken into his calculations the possibility that the fish might move off somewhere else.”

One of the few times he did make a special trip to catch fish was to the east coast during the war, but his outing was ruined by a string of telegraphed pleas from H. R. MacMillan, then Ottawa shipping czar, urging that he go to Pictou, and check up personally on progress of Foundation’s shipbuilding program. He reeled in his line.

“MacMillan wants me to come to Pictou, so I’ve come to Pictou!” he announced peevishly on arrival. Then he headed for a good fishing stream nearby and wasn’t seen at the shipyard for days. Foundation justified his tactics by building 24 steel freighters of 4,700 tons, and building 12 of them faster and eight of them cheaper than any other yard.

Chadwick’s marriage, like his fishing, has always been inextricably tangled with his work. Particularly in earlier years, Josephine Chadwick toured the country with her husband visiting job after job, scrambling after him over scaffoldings and into tunnels, and was for many years able to call dozens of the men on any job by name. Five-footfive, with green-grey eyes and brown hair now turned grey, Mrs. Chadwick is calm, collected and charming— though even she has her limits.

Years ago Dickie Chadwick arrived home for dinner one night all excited about a “half-million-dollar job which I’ve got to have estimates on by morning.” All evening “Joey” helped him check and recheck his figures. By 1 o’clock they had an estimate showing that Foundation would have to bid $600,000 to make money; by 3 a.m. the figure had risen to $750,000; then they painstakingly tried it still another way and by 4 a.m. came up with their final figure.

“See—we can do it for $500,000!” declared Chadwick in triumph.

“That’s what you told me it would cost when you came home 11 hours ago!” moaned his shaken wife, holding her aching head. “Come on to bed.”

The Wife Who Walked on Water

The entire family became involved in a comic opera crisis with cloak-anddagger undertones in the dark hours of Saturday evening, Sept. 2, 1939. While the world waited for Britain to declare war on Germany the Chadwicks of Montreal were ranging the town in frantic search of youngest son Mike. Mike had driven off with his dad’s car and locked in the trunk were secret plans for the antisubmarine boom for Halifax harbor. The blueprints had been entrusted to Chadwick the year before at Munich time and Mike had unwittingly made off with them just as his father was called to the phone by a long-distance summons to rush off with them to Ottawa.

The family couldn’t find Mike, but word caught up with him along the young-blood grapevine somehow. He was mystified about why the car was wanted, the family having a second one—until he discovered his father’s raincoat in the back seat. Thoughtfully he drove home, hung up the coat in a house by now entirely deserted by his pursuers, and departed again as carefree as before.

In desperation father finally called in the cops to take up the chase of the car with the top-secret trunk, but Mike

innocently evaded them all until he returned home after a pleasant evening to a thoroughly demoralized family.

Off to Ottawa went Chadwick with the plans, arriving soon before Britain’s ultimatum to Hitler expired, but not much. Buying up all the steel cable in Canada and improving on the original British Admiralty design as they went Chadwick’s men had the antisubmarine net strung across Halifax harbor within two and a half months—less than half the time at first estimated.

As for Mrs. Chadwick, her silent partnership in the Foundation Company has not been entirely without official recognition. The proud queen of the firm’s North Atlantic salvage fleet is named Foundation Josephine. And after all, she’s probably the only woman who ever walked across the St. Lawrence on dry land.

This was in 1940 when Foundation crews had flung coffer dams (temporary barriers of rock-filled log cribbing) across the St. Lawrence near Beauharnois before building a permanent dam of structural concrete to back up additional water into a nearby powerhouse. The enthusiasm with which the Chief telephoned his wife to invite her to be the first woman to

walk the bed of the St. Lawrence (“I told her she wouldn’t even need her rubbers!”) was typical of the spontaneous fashion in which he has always involved her in every project which engaged his interest.

It also indicated that R. E. Chadwick is perhaps never as happy as when he is playing hob with water—blocking it with dams, lacing it with submarine nets, plumbing it with pneumatic caissons, cheating it of luckless vessels or making it turn around and go the other way.

It might even be said that this fascination for water was what led him to desert the basements which the original Foundation Company of New York intended him to make a life work. Certainly he has never been able to get half so interested in routine items like building industrial plants, as in such damp assignments as laying underwater pipelines or urging on his salvage tugs in a race to beat rivals to a ship in distress.

The colorful exploits which transformed a dry-land construction outfit into an amphibious creature unique in engineering annals will be described in a second and concluding part of this article in the next issue of Maclean’s. ★