ROBERT STANFIELD The Tory who wouldn’t stay dead

Eric Hutton March 2 1957

ROBERT STANFIELD The Tory who wouldn’t stay dead

Eric Hutton March 2 1957

ROBERT STANFIELD The Tory who wouldn’t stay dead

Eric Hutton

It was a toss-up who was most surprised when the ballots were counted in Nova Scotia last October 30—the victorious Conservatives, the defeated Liberals or the voters who had fashioned the spectacular upset. In the lively postmortems that followed, several assorted theories for the surprise result were offered:

The overconfident Liberals had become careless after twenty-three years in power, said one. A struggle for the leadership after the powerlul Angus L. Macdonald died had split the Liberal party, others declared. Neighboring New Brunswick had elected a Conservative government and passed Nova Scotia economically, still others maintained. But all discussions were apt to concede that “. . . of course, Bob Stanfield was always in there trying.”

Which indicates that Nova Scotians still don't know quite what to make of their enigmatic new premier, Robert Lome Stanfield, even though increasing numbers of them have been abetting him in the remarkable feat of converting an apparently dead Conservative party into the government of the province within eight years. In 1948 when the lean, baldish Stanfield, then thirty-four, made his first appearance, almost apologetically, in Nova Scotia politics the Tories held not a single seat in the legislature. Moreover the party was without a leader and almost without an organization as a result of the “shutout” election of 1945 in which Con* servative candidates received a humiliating one third of the votes cast. Oblivion seemed near for a party which, at best, had held power for only a dozen years since Confederation.

Considering this the victory last October was remarkable enough, even though it wasn’t a landslide for Stanfield and his party. In fact their twenty-three seats give them a majority of just three over the Liberals' nineteen and the CCF's lone member. But a resuscitated Tory is a fount of optimism. No sooner had the provincial victory’s torchlight parades come to an end than jubilant Nova Scotia Conservatives be-

gan to see in Stanfield the man who might be the magician the national Conservative party needed to lead it back to power.

In the smoking cars of trains bound for the Conservative convention at Ottawa last December (at which Stanfield was to deliver the keynote speech) some Nova Scotia delegates frankly said they would vote for John Diefenbaker as leader since the election of the oldest candidate would probably mean an earlier opportunity for Stanfield to take over. One man who worked with Stanfield in the October campaign put it this way: “There’s never heen anything like

Stanfield in Canadian politics. We’re going to have to push him onto the national political stage over his own dead body, but we think the things that make him an unorthodox politician are the very things that can be parleyed into big-time leadership.”

Why Nova Scotians voted for Stanfield, and why Maritimcrs regard him as potentially a national political figure, are questions other Canadians may sooner or later want to have answered.

Nowadays any Conservative who shows winning form can expect to arouse some national party interest as a future prospect for leadership. But to Maritimcrs, most of whom regard all post-Confederation history as current, Stanfield possesses, in the manner of an infant Dalai Lama, certain special symbols of his eligibility. He’s a Maritimer, and half the eight Conservative leaders who have carried the party to power at Ottawa have been Maritimers. He's a Halifax law'yer, and three of the six Conservative prime ministers of the past sixty-five years were lawyers who practiced or trained in Halifax— Sir John Sparrow Thompson, Sir Robert Borden and R. B. Bennett.

Finally, in his own right, he’s a Stanfield. That name in the rest of Canada means, as it has meant since the time of the frostbitten Trail of ’98, a brand of stout long johns, a style of nononsense winter undercontinued on page 40

"There were just too damned many Liberals around,”

Robert Stanfield decided and retook Nova Scotia for the Tories. Many see him as a bright hope federally too

The Tory who wouldn't stay dead continued from page 20

He’s an awkward orator but fellow Nova Scotians don’t mind.


wear trade-marked by two Edwardian males engaged in arm-bending or “Indian wrestling." Nova Scotians, many of whom are occupied in fishing, farming, lumbering, stevedoring and other outdoor occupations, have associated the name Stanfield with cold-weather com-, fort for longer than other Canadians; but they also look upon the Stanfields and their underwear industry as symbols of unique success in both business and politics. For in the midst of their Maritime neighbors, in the oversized town of Truro, three generations of Stanfields have prospered increasingly since grandfather Charles Edward Stanfield set up a knitting and woolen-goods mill there nearly a century ago. In politics the Stanfields had filled just about every available public office—town councilors, mayors, provincial legislators, federal MPs, a senator, a lieutenant-governor, everything but a prime minister, and, until Robert Stanfield turned the trick last October, a provincial premier. And in the process no Stanfield had ever lost an election.

It is true that the new premier is rather indirectly connected with both the business and the traditional politics of the Stanfields. He has never been associated with the mills, except via a considerable inheritance from his father. And although he was named for Robert Borden, prime minister when he was born in 1914, for many years his apparent lack of interest in campaigns and elections had caused him to be called “the non-political Stanfield” in the family’s stronghold of Truro. The political Stanfields remember, for example, the bitter provincial election of 1941, when the Conservatives salvaged only four seats and when the future premier busied himself at Truro with his first big law case and ignored the campaign. In the 1945 election Stanfield was too busy establishing a new law practice in Halifax to appear overly worried over the

defeat of all the Conservative candidates.

It wasn’t until a year later that Stanfield took his first timid step into politics: he was drafted as secretary of the almost non-existent Conservative party. He was chosen, he later told friends, because he was “the only person they could find who could afford to give time to a party in the shape the Conservatives were in.” (Everyone in the Maritimes knows the Stanfields are independently well-todo, and they neither conceal nor display their prosperity.) Stanfield’s own reason for breaking his long habit of avoiding politics was even more oblique: “There were just too damned many Liberals around ...”

The next year Stanfield was elected president of the Conservative Association, and he was chosen party leader in 1948. But his stature with the public and even with party supporters advanced slowly, due largely to what his associates called his “positive genius for trying to make people underrate him.”

Nevertheless a Stanfield legend was in the making. Quiet but significant anecdotes were being related about him. His political honesty was illustrated by a speech he made to the Commercial Club of Halifax. The club proclaims itself non-political, but its influential membership usually tempts political guest speakers to dish out a self-helping of propaganda. As guest speaker Stanfield took the club’s “no politics” literally and regaled members for an hour on “the pleasures and problems of gardening.” Actually, gardening was more familiar to him then than politics. He is one of the keenest horticulturists in Halifax.

Another illustration of honesty is the story told inside the party of how Stanfield in one election flatly rejected a party strategist’s proposal to encourage “independent” candidates to run with the aim of splitting the opposition vote. After eight years in politics the Stanfield

legend still surrounds his unpolitical avoidance of publicity, his profound shyness and his insistence on personal privacy. He is still not on first-name terms with many men who consider themselves his close friends. Almost his first words after being elected premier gave public notice that he would lead almost no social life. A relative being interviewed about Stanfield after the election suddenly exclaimed: “Gosh, if Bob knew I was talking about him he’d murder me!” Another facet of the Stanfield story is a reputation for being an awkward orator. This is gradually becoming less deserved, but in any case it’s a matter of small concern to supporters who maintain that “Nova Scotians don’t trust a tongue that’s too glib.”

Who is it?

She says her greatest talent is cooking, but in show business she's so successÛ

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that of boss. Turn to page 42 to see who this girl f| turned out to be. j§

don’t trust a glib tongue

Which probably explains why old residents of Truro early detected in Robert Stanfield a strong resemblance to that other non-political Stanfield, grandfather Charles Edward, a lean, dark-browed man given to few words and great silences, to the processing of wool and to experimenting with machinery. Charles Edward learned the wool business from an uncle in Bradford, England, who staked him to a start in North America. He decided to settle in Philadelphia, but soon after his arrival there in 1855 he met a young shipowner named Lord, from Crapaud, Prince Edward Island. Lord told Charles Stanfield that the prosperous island province of British North America had no woolen mill. Stanfield took passage with him and disembarked at Tryon, P.E.I. There he built not only a woolen mill but a tannery and general store, a hat factory and a shipyard, and laid out a farm. Somehow he found time to court and marry Lydia Dawson, granddaughter of a colonel in the Irish Guards.

When Confederation brought the Intercolonial Railway, which joined the Atlantic seaboard to inland markets, Charles Stanfield decided to move to Truro, a village on the new railroad. He sold out his island businesses, repaid his uncle’s loan, and arrived in Truro with eleven thousand dollars in cash. With that capital he not only built a large house for his increasing family, but launched three woolen mills and two hat factories.

Charles Stanfield was scarcely the prototype of a modern high-efficiency industrialist. He loved to start new businesses, but hated to wind them up even when they proved unprofitable. He was an inveterate improviser and experimenter. At a time when knitted stockings were relatively expensive, he originated a product he called stockinette, or “stockings by the yard,” which was simply an endless knitted tube that the shopkeeper

“His family labeled him a parlor pink or—worse—

would cut into desired lengths. Sewn across the toe and drawn on, the Stanfield invention provided something less than a dainty ankle, but was cheap and durable and sold in vast quantity for several years.

Charles Stanfield has also been credited with introducing the feature known as the drop seat or “trap door” in men’s long underwear, but if he did he scorned to claim a patent or even note his innovation in the company’s records. When the family mansion was being built in Truro Stanfield noticed that in a laundry two blocks away great quantities of steam went to waste. He arranged with the owner to dispose of this steam and devised an underground pipeline to his home. In their first winter the Stanfield family enjoyed the comfort of what was undoubtedly the first house warmed by a “central heating plant.” The laundry owner was so impressed, however, that he decided to cut in his own house on the steam line. This proved too great a demand on the laundry boiler, and the Stanfields had to install their own home furnace.

The elder Stanfield was an immoderate walker. He strode between home and his mills, and took long walks to ponder any problem that arose. “It’s the only time I get to think, with (hat houseful of children,” he would explain. He and his wife were staunch Anglicans, and the entire family attended the small St. John’s Church three times on Sunday. The church was so tiny that the Stanfields occupied exactly half the pews. Among Charles Stanfield’s quirks was a refusal ever to be photographed, and no portrait or sketch of him exists.

When Charles Stanfield’s two eldest sons, John and Frank, grew up they worked in various mills in the United States and Canada to learn what was being done elsewhere. In 1896 they returned, full of what their father termed “wild ideas,” including a proposal that production be centralized and concentrated on fewer items. The sons proposed buying their father’s business. He agreed, but warned them: “I’ll be buying it back in a couple of years when you find your newfangled notions don’t work.”

It was, though, a modest business that Charles .Stanfield turned over to his sons. It was valued at twenty-seven thousand dollars and the sons gave their father notes for that sum, at five-percent interest. At the end of their first year, Frank worked all through New Year’s eve night to balance the books and discover whether they had a profit or a loss. He drew up this first stark annual report: “Employees, 17; sales, $24,000; profits, $2,250; customers, 92; shareholders, 2.”

The elder Stanfield did not have to rescue the business he founded. His sons concentrated on knitted products, sold off all the equipment connected with their father’s sidelines, and put the money into more knitting equipment. They developed a process for shrinkproofing knitted wool and—with the aid of a unique stroke of luck—launched a business that was immediately and hugely successful. That stroke of luck was, of all things, a gold strike forty-five hundred miles away.

Many of the hopeful prospectors who trudged the Trail of ’98 into the Yukon were Maritimers; most of them, as a matter of course, wore that familiar Maritime product, Stanfield’s Unshrinkable Underwear. Word of its suitability for Yukon weather spread among the sourdoughs from elsewhere who had

come less stoutly breeched, and soon orders from west-coast outfitters were swamping the little mill in Truro. The fame “Stanfield’s Unshrinkable” gained among men from all parts of the continent was the beginning of the wide distribution it has received ever since.

John Stanfield was the first of the family to enter politics, and in one respect the circumstances were strangely similar to those that faced his nephew Robert forty years later. Nova Scotia was represented in the House of Commons by L.iberal members only — the “Solid Eighteen,” they were called. In 1907 John Stanfield broke the Liberal monopoly by winning a by-election in the Colchester riding. On Parliament Hill he became known as “Honest John” and when the Conservatives came to power in 1911 he was appointed chief government whip. Early in World War I he undertook the job of raising an infantry battalion to take overseas. This unit, the 193rd Highlanders, inevitably became dubbed “Stanfield’s Unshrinkables.” John Stanfield was made a senator after his return and died in 1934. Neither of his two sons entered the family mills. John Y. Stanfield is a Montreal engineer, and


to Who is it? on page 40

Juliette, a dedicated cook who sang on the Billy O’Connor TV variety show but now stars on the Juliette Show, as well as singing on radio.

Harold Stanfield is head of his own Montreal advertising agency.

Frank Stanfield, father of the Nova Scotia premier and partner with his brother John in the Stanfield knitting company, doubled as active head of the business and as a member of the Nova Scotia legislature from 1911 to 1929. He was lieutenant-governor of the province for the last year of his life. He died in 1931.

The present head of the company is -Premier Stanfield’s eldest brother, Frank, who admits he once came perilously close to breaking the Stanfield record of never a political defeat. In the federal election of 1945 the nominated candidate withdrew just before deadline and Frank was pressed into service as a replacement to contest the Colchester riding, which includes Truro. He won by fifteen votes, the Liberal candidate demanded a recount and Frank watched his margin of fifteen votes dwindle steadily to eight. At that point the presiding judge ran out of ballots to recount and declared Stanfield elected.

Another brother, Charles, is vice-president of the company and has limited his political career to a seat on the Truro city council. At one time, though, he became the most famous of the Stanfields. That was in 1932 when he took a trip around the world—and telephoned from Singapore to a Halifax girl he knew. In those days it was an incredible accomplishment, and Nova Scotians talked about it for weeks. The youngest Stanfield brother, Gordon, known as Pete, is an engineer and head of a Halifax metal-products company.

Robert, the next-to-youngest Stanfield, never left his family in doubt as to the direction of his interest. He wanted to

Mackenzie King Liberal”

go to school long before he was old enough to be eligible and when he did start he soon earned a nickname that is still used occasionally inside the family: The Professor. He earned it, too. Mrs. Florence Peel, now the wife of a Truro doctor, young Stanfield’s history and English teacher in first-year high school, recalls that she had to read and re-read his examination papers in search of reasons for docking him a few marks, on the grounds that “no boy of that age could possibly write an absolutely perfect paper.”

Yet Bob Stanfield was no shrinking bookworm. At fifteen he was enrolled at Ashbury College, Ottawa, and played defense on the hockey team with so much verve that he got on the negotiation list of the Ottawa Senators, then in the National Hockey League. Nothing came of it, and nowadays Stanfield is inclined to doubt that he ever really was scouted by the pros. “I was too slow for a forward and too light to make a really good defenseman,” he insists.

At Ashbury, Prefect Robert Stanfield won the Southam Cup, the school’s prized trophy for combined academic and athletic prowess. At home his taste for history—“he had a real ‘history sense,’ an understanding of the meaning of events unusual for his age,” his teacher Mrs. Peel recalls—made him a minority of one in boisterous political debates in a family that was steadfastly Tory. For a couple of years he went through a phase of laying plans for the righting of ail the world’s wrongs, a gambit that caused his family to label him a parlor pink or (worse in Stanfield eyes) a Mackenzie King l.iberal.

Late one evening, Robert Stanfield, age sixteen, paced the floor of the library of the Stanfield home in Truro, lecturing his sister Kit on global affairs. In deference to the fact that most of the .family were in bed, he had removed his shoes and carried one in each hand. As his talk became more impassioned he emphasized his points by banging his shoes on a table with resounding crashes. Long before he was finished the household was awake. That night went down in Stanfield archives as “the time Bob was noisy.”

At twenty-two Stanfield graduated from Dalhousie University with a BA and the Governor-General’s Gold Medal for the highest academic standing in his year. That was in 1936, and Stanfield celebrated with a trip to Europe. In Germany the Nazis were in full power and “Heil Hitler!” had become the standard greeting. Stanfield’s traveling companions were intrigued and adopted it readily. He refused. “Hitler is a stinker,” he said flatly, “and I’m not going to heil him.”

Stanfield's “abstention” attracted unfavorable attention. There were glares and mutterings in trains, hotels, restaurants. His companions begged him to give in. “It’s only the German way of saying ‘good day’ or ‘hello,’ they argued. Stanfield remained adamant. Finally his companions decided they would have to cut short the German tour to avoid trouble. Only then did Stanfield back down—a little. He “heiled” with his fingers crossed.

Stanfield graduated in law from Harvard in 1939 and returned to Truro for the summer. His sister had married Fred Davies, son of Senator Rupert Davies, of Kingston, Ont., and had taken a summer cottage at Pictou. forty-five miles away. Reluctantly he accepted an invitation to spend a week end. Life at Pic-

tou, he always said, bored him. But this time he stayed on far into the summer. Only when he announced his engagement to Joyce Frazee, who was also summering in Pictou, did his family understand what had detained him.

Joyce Frazee was the daughter of a Vancouver bank official, and the granddaughter of Simon Holmes, one of those rare Nova Scotians who had been a Conservative premier of the province. She married Stanfield in 1940 and they settled in Truro. Among their mutual enthusiasms was music of the topmost classicism, while high on the list of their annoyances were visitors who chattered through Brahms and Beethoven. Which explained why many a caller on the Stanfields found their home locked and dark, while inside they listened to their favorite music in peace.

Stanfield’s first job was as a staff lawyer of the Acadia Trust Company, a concern of which his father was co-founder. Acadia Trust handles the Stanfields’ estates and many other respectable, dull accounts. But it is also responsible for one of the most remarkable trust funds ever established. In 1925 Frank Stanfield Sr. and three associates each deposited ten dollars, to be accumulated at compound interest for three hundred and thirty-five years, when, having swelled to $4,000,000, the fund would be distributed to charity. The contributors admitted that in addition to this noble purpose they also had in mind “emphasizing the accumulative power of money and the services provided by the trust company.” At the beginning of 1957 the fund had swelled to $1 16.58.

Nail-hard with cheaters

Stanfield was rejected for military service — and was promptly mobilized by Stan Lee, head of the Halifax division of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, the federal-government organization that controlled Canada's wartime economy. The Stanfields moved to Halifax and bought a big, comfortable frame house in the south end of town. Until then, Stanfield had had little personal contact with the seamier side of life; but the job he was handed filled that deficiency immediately. It was, perhaps, one of the toughest civilian jobs in one of the toughest locations: rentals administrator for the overflowing, brawling port of Halifax. The majority of Halifax landlords and landladies were fair and honest, but from the minority (reputed to be as proficient in tricking and gouging tenants as any in the world) Stanfield learned the inhumanities at first hand. And the cheaters learned that the quiet administrator who seemed so harmless could be nailhard when he had cause.

Stanfield had not long returned to his law practice—now in Halifax instead of Truro—and still had no intention of entering politics, when the provincial election of 1945 removed the last vestiges of the Conservative opposition in the legislature. With a few other young men who shared his opinion that there could be such a thing as too many Liberals, he started the apparently hopeless task of resuscitating the wrecked Conservative provincial organization. Once more he abandoned his legal career almost before it had got under way and traveled the province doggedly, wheedling back the discouraged remnants of local Conservative clubs.

In the 1949 provincial election Stanfield’s platform was modest: “At least give the Liberals a reasonably sized opposition,” he said in effect. “The government will be more efficient for it.” The voters seemed to agree with this argument, and elected seven Conservatives.

In 1953, after four years in which Stanfield and his colleagues toured countless miles through Nova Scotia, the Conservative membership was increased to a respectable dozen men.

In July 1954, Stanfield suffered the crudest personal blow of his life. While he was attending a political rally in Cape Breton, his wife drove three of their four children to a beach near Halifax. On the way back the car skidded off the road and Joyce Stanfield was instantly killed. By a tragic coincidence his sister’s husband, Fred Davies, had been killed earli-

er that year in an automobile accident in Nassau.

One result of his bereavement was that in last year’s election Stanfield conducted one of tire most strenuous campaigns any candidate ever undertook. No matter where in the province he spoke, he insisted on driving back to Halifax immediately after the meeting to breakfast with his children: Sarah, 15 (now attending Havergal College in Toronto); Max, nine, a robust extrovert; Judith, six, and Miriam, three.

On election night Stanfield heard the

results in the family home at Truro. When it became apparent that “Stanfield's miracle” had finally come to pass and the Liberal government would be narrowly but definitely defeated, the people of Truro organized torchlight parades through the street and staged a victory celebration before the Stanfield family home. The new premier slipped away as soon as he could.

“Tomorrow’s Hallowe’en.” he explained. "and I've promised to take the children around the neighborhood for the shelling out.” if