In London’s stately homes reside Old Family scions. Also nouveaux riches: nice enough, but a bit brash, don’t you know?

JON RUDDY June 1 1968


In London’s stately homes reside Old Family scions. Also nouveaux riches: nice enough, but a bit brash, don’t you know?

JON RUDDY June 1 1968


In London’s stately homes reside Old Family scions. Also nouveaux riches: nice enough, but a bit brash, don’t you know?


LONDON, ONTARIO. TO get there you take the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway west from Toronto, 120 miles of straight concrete slab that you can do in 90 minutes flat if you push it, the highway coming at you and at you out of farm country that is clean and gently rolling and that, even now in the first wet month of spring, is rich-looking under a patina of green like old copper. After a while you pass access roads to towns with flat English names — Brantford, Woodstock, Ingersoll — and flooded bottom land with clumps of second growth. There were pine forests here a long time ago, the trees 200 feet high and so close together that an American traveler in 1832 said he had never seen “such a vast quantity of timber on any particular space of ground.” Once there were many Indians in the western peninsula of Ontario, a tribe known as the Neutrals who avoided the wars of the Hurons and Iroquois and lived quietly in the twilight of the pine forest. In 1669 two missionaries from Montreal wintered there and the next year the peninsula was appropriated in the name of Louis XIV “as a territory not occupied.” The Indians were not mentioned in the proclamation.

London, when you get there in the green MGB with the rusty fenders (if that is what you happen to be driving), is a city of 200,455 souls, of whom 73.1 percent are of British stock. The city spreads out from a fork in the River Thames under a canopy of maple trees. The Forest City, they call it, and it is a beautiful name. The name derives not from the surviving shade trees but from a huge stand of timber that was here when the district was surveyed in 1800 (the Canada Act having asserted British sovereignty over Upper Canada nine years before). The settlers who came to London Township were Irish and English mostly, and mostly Anglican. From 1810 to about 1840 they came methodically, by sailing ship and oxcart, to escape the post-Napoleonic depression, to buy and clear land that was described as the most fertile in North America. They were for the most part industrious,

rather dour people, and they prospered. Some of their descendants still live here. They are entrenched and locally celebrated. They are the Old Families.

The best place to be going to in London is the London Club, a splendid bastion of lateVictorian architecture and life-style on which the sun has never set since 1881. (After the sun set abruptly on two arteriosclerotic members while they were exerting themselves at badminton, the badminton court was removed. Members now are restricted to billiards or bridge.) The best man to be meeting at the London Club for lunch is Verschoyle Philip Cronyn, great grandson of the first Bishop of Huron, former chairman of the board of Canada Trust-Huron and Erie, brother of actor Hume Cronyn and father of John B. Cronyn, who is the executive vice-president of John Labatt, Ltd., whose founder was the maternal grandfather of Verschoyle Philip Cronyn, the best man to be meeting at the London Club for lunch.

At 73, V. P. Cronyn is the second-oldest member of the club. He is sitting in the dining room now, fussing with his special black-andpink tea cosy and recalling the worst thing that ever happened to him, which was in 1936 when his horse fell on him during a hunt at the London Hunt and Country Club, breaking his collarbone and two ribs and puncturing a lung. (At the top level of London society having one’s horse fall on one is a distinct actuarial possibility. Joseph Jeffery, a partner in the law firm of Jeffery and Jeffery and chairman of the board of London Life Insurance Co., suffered a crushed spine and broken back when his horse fell on him. He fully recovered.) Cronyn has not been on a horse since 1936. He is still a keen fisherman. He has written a thesis on the art of casting a fly, which he has titled The Fly Leaf, and will publish it in pamphlet form. “It’s dreadfully boring,” says Cronyn, “—except for the man who wants to learn to cast a fly.”

You assumed, did you, that the servant problem is a dead conversational issue? You haven’t lunched at the London Club (where an unwritten house rule forbids discussion of “women and politics,” according to Colonel Douglas Black Weldon, honorary chairman of Midland-Osier Securities Ltd. and a past president of the club. “Somebody starts talking about so-and-so’s wife and he’s out on

his ear,” says Col. Weldon. “It’s happened.”) Cronyn says he had to move from a country home with seven bedrooms into town because he couldn’t find suitable servants. “The breed is dying out,” he says. “I can hardly find a char any more to come in a couple of times a week. You married?”

“Yes,” he is told. “Your wife got a maid?” ‘•No.”

“Not yet, eh? Well, maybe she is an energetic girl.”

Fox hunts, tea cosies, the assumption that you are keeping the old eye peeled for likely looking servants — life at the top in London still has an incredibly insular and genteel atmosphere about it, an atmosphere of lemon squash in the parlor, Tiffany candlesticks, the clicking of croquet balls on the far lawn and the grinding of bees in the peonies, P. G. Wodehouse novels, pantries that smell like oatmeal cookies and long, dappled afternoons by the river.

THE FACT IS that London is a bit of a backwater,” says a professor at London’s University of Western Ontario who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s still where Toronto was in 1939. But to the old families the world begins at Brantford and ends at Chatham. They are backwardrather than forward-looking people. Hell, for years the Chamber of Commerce was accused of keeping industry out. This is not an industrial city, but a couponclipping city. It’s all very lush, very cosy. The old families intermarry, interweave socially and professionally and sock away their wealth in vaults. You’re nobody in Middlesex County unless your grandfather lived here. [Ontario Premier] John Robarts grew up here but, as far as the old families are concerned, he’s an outsider and a parvenu. No ‘roots.’ The old families stay close to their clubs and their homes. Nobody has seen Dick Ivey [a former vice-president and director of the Bank of Montreal and chairman of Northern Life Insurance Co. of Canada] in a restaurant in 20 years. The town can’t even support a single good restaurant. This is quiet money, discreet money. The influence pervades all the social strata. John Fisher once called London the Dowager City and described how people here lined up at bus stops like so many placid elephants, trunk to

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The biggest scandal: a society lady married her chauffeur

tail. In the upper echelon, aristocratic traditions are observed, including discrimination. There is no rule about keeping Jews out of their clubs, but Jews are kept out nonetheless. There are a few divorces, but the biggest scandal 1 can remember was when one of the old-family ladies married her chauffeur. So you have this funny situation of a rich provincial town

stuck in a geographical appendix between Toronto and Detroit, thinking that it is the centre of the world.”

Well, you can be sure that a lot of Londoners take umbrage at that estimate. “Nonsense,” says Premier R o b a r t s. Col.

Weldon, who was on the university board for 22 years and served as chairman for nine, says he has a good itlea who this professor is, and that he is a troublemaker who isn’t even from London, isn't that right? "We've got a Jew in the club,” says Col.

Weldon. “Membership has nothing to do with race or religion. You come here to meet your friends. How would you feel if you walked in here and didn’t know anybody?” (It is true, however, that the faculty association of the University of Western Ontario has passed a resolution, aimed at the London Club and the London Hunt and Country Club, that university functions not be held on the premises of any institution practising discrimination in its membership. Joseph Jeffery says the one Jewish member of both clubs “is a very fine chap.” Jeffery adds, “I have urged them to put a Jew there. I think the barriers are coming down. But some years ago when I had Ralph Bunche [the American Negro diplomat at tl e United Nations] as my guest I asked somebody if I could bring him around to the Hunt Club. They said they would rather 1 didn’t. I was very annoyed. A lot of people have said that I damn well should have brought him around anyway and made an issue of it. But I

didn’t want him to be embarrassed.”) London's reputation as a goldpaved enclave of millionaires is difficult to document. The city nearest London in size and location, Windsor, has a higher per capita income. $5,531 per year to London's $5.023. but this statistic doesn’t mean much until you break it down. From income sources associated with wealth — dividends, bond and bank interest, estate and mortgage income and foreign investment — Londoners obtain more than $22 million a year: Windsorites,

less than $12 million. At one time, when London’s population was about 60,000, the city was supposed to have 60 millionaires. “I doubt that it’s got 200 now,” says a Western economist, “but if you threw a bomb into the London Club I’m damned sure you’d bag 60 any lunch hour.” The real substance of London, he adds, is “the hundreds of near-rich and small-rich,

managers, executives and professional men with substantial portfolios and maybe some real estate. Some of these guys meet socially at the Sunningdale Golf Club. I’ve heard them refer to the Hunt Club types as snobs and old fogeys. It’s hard to say who is snubbing whom.”

Surprising nobody, the London Chamber of Commerce denies the charge that it once discouraged new industry on aesthetic or anti-union grounds. It agrees, though, that London is still a city of small, decentral-

ized industry. “The old families are maintaining their money and prestige,” says Hugh Smith, general manager of the Chamber. “But new industry has brought in top management from other parts of Canada and the States, and there has been a melding of civic and business leadership.” London’s old money derives from real estate, oil and coal, brewing, banking,

communications, insurance, trusts and finance companies. With the Cronyns. the Jefferys, Col. Weldon and the Iveys stand such civic pillars as Walter Blackburn, fourth-generation publisher of the London Free Press (now 20 percent owned by the Southam chain) and holder of a radio-TV franchise: H. J. McManus, a trucking magnate and owner of the Hotel London: Maj.-Gen. Alexander C. Spencer, who invented an oil-cracking process and earned a fortune in royalties; and Fred Kingsmill. real-estate entre-

preneur and owner of a drygoods store whose antique façade would not have raised an eyebrow in Stephen Leacock’s Mariposa.

As V. P. Cronyn is London's representative Old Family scion at leisure, Joe Jeffery is the city's compleat executive. Jeffery’s law practice (staff of 50) and chairmanship of London Life (founded by his grandfather) are only the half of it. From his pine-paneled office on King Street, the walls covered with photographs of horses, yachts, ancestors and famous friends,

Jeffery keeps his thumb on half - a - dozen other enterprises including a radio station, a parking garage and a large realestate operation. He has 25 directorships, including The Canada Trust Co., The Toronto - Dominion Bank and Hiram WalkerGooderham and Worts Ltd. At 60 he is still an ambitious man. “We’re after a TV station and maybe a newspaper,” he says. “We're fed up with Blackburn’s communications monopoly. Col. Weldon said he would put a sizable chunk into a daily newspaper with me, but so far I’ve been talked out of it by my friends John Bassett [publisher of the Toronto Telegram] and Roy Thomson [Lord Thomson of Fleet], They say we’d lose a million.” Jeffery says he has already burned his fingers three times, in a motion-picture processing business, a dairy and a nightclub. “The problem was that 1 didn’t know the technical side well enough to talk to the managers,” he explains.

An increasingly liberal and youthful university faculty has been changing Wester n’s image from pious conservatism to what the Old Families are fond of describing as “a hotbed of radicalism.” An example of the sort of radicalism they resent is a sermon preached three years ago by Dr. Ted Mann, an Anglican priest who was then a Western sociology professor. Mann, a troublesome type who sensed that he was being squeezed off the faculty (largely because he’d undertaken a campus sex survey), seized the oppor-

tunity to blister what he called “an interlocking London elite” for complacency. class prejudice, self-seeking and standing in the way of progress. The elite, he said, consisted of the university administration, the mass-media monopoly, the bishop and executive council of the Anglican diocese centred in London, and the old moneyed interests. To which other university observers add London’s venerable, now-shrinking military establishment. “More brigadiers have

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Why Hume Cronyn left his home town

come back here to retire than to any other army base in Canada,” says a professor. “See, they are the kind of people who love to get in with a clique. London has the most entrenched and beautifully complex clique since the Family Compact.”

That London is a cliquish town few Londoners bother to deny. “Socially.

1 guess 1 stay pretty much with the older families,” says Jeffery. “I know that a lot of people have never quite been accepted. One of the oddities of the place is the extent to which the old families have intermarried. You have to be damn careful what you say about so-and-so, because the guy you are talking to is probably his uncle.” London Clubbers will tell you privately that even certain establishment figures are not quite . . . quite. “Joe McManus is a St. Thomas boy,” says one, as if that explains everything. “He’s a fine fellow, a Catholic you know — nothing wrong with that, is there? — and a bit brash. He brought professional wrestling back to London. I’ve heard it said he bought the Hotel London so he could play host.”

Although there is nothing wrong with being a Catholic, or a Jew, or a German (after British, Germans are the biggest ethnic group in London. 5.8 percent of the population), almost every member of the London elite happens to be a WASP who attends St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cronyn Memorial Church, St. John's in Arva (a wealthy suburb where Col. Weldon raises Black Angus cattle) or the Church of St. John the Evangelist; all Anglican. “The church in London is a kind of microcosm of the community,” says the Rev. Dick Berryman, whose former parish was the prestigious London subdivision of Orchard Park, home of rising executives. "London is schizophrenic. In some ways it’s a swinging place and in other ways it’s so stuffy and conservative and insular and parochial that you can hardly believe it. In my parish, when 1 wanted to join the Salem freedom march everybody thought it was great. But if I changed the service one iota they jumped on me. Fred Kingsmill said I should be sent back to college because I referred to an altar one day instead of a Holy Table, which is the term used in the Prayer Book. I told him I was not quoting the Prayer Book, but the Epistle to the Hebrews. That must have satisfied him, because he asked the warden for a blank cheque and donated $1,000 to our building fund.”

Londoners are notoriously quick to resent any suggestion of condescension from Toronto, especially regarding cultural pursuits: Little Theatre, ballet, symphony and so on. The same defensiveness emerges in business situations. "When guys come in here and say. 'I'm just back from the city' [meaning Toronto], I damn near throw ’em out of the office,” says Col. Weldon. V. P. Cronyn says that Torontonians “think everybody else is from the sticks. There are too many Toronto firms with branches here that don't have directors from London.” he adds. '‘That causes resentment.” London is also touchy about its bur-

geoning population. H. E. Lumsden. a Toronto insurance executive who once lived in London, likes to play a little game with Londoners he meets. "I say. 'I guess London must have 100.000 people now,’” he says, “and they never fail to jump at the bait. ‘Why, we've got over 200,000 people!’ they always say. 1 get a nasty little kick out of it.” There is a deepseated feeling among the London es-» tablishment that Toronto is essentially* rootless, unseemly. “Those society bastards dancing around in Toronto Life magazine,” says Col. Weldon. “They shouldn’t put themselves on display like that.”

An extreme lack of ostentation is what Hume Cronyn, the actor, best remembers about the people he knew as a boy in London. “Fortunes were not worn on the cuff,” he says. “It was not good form to display one’s money, and it wasn’t until I was much older and far away that I realized there were wealthy people at home. An extremely conservative town — God, it's another world. 1 had a wonderfully happy childhood, but I was aware fairly early that one's behavior in London was circumscribed. A great demand was placed on manners. Life’s patterns were entirely predictable. I guess that one of the reasons I went off — although I wasn't conscious of it then — was to avoid the implied restrictions. One could be so comfortable there, and yet . . .”

London swings (decorously)

When several journalists decided that London (England) was the world’s most swinging city, humorist Art Buchwald said he presumed they were referring to London, Ontario. If Londoners do swing, their arcs are rigidly prescribed:

Fred Kingsmil! raises Ayreshire cattle on several hundred acres of land in the middle of a suburb.

An insurance executive says that the scion of one of London’s oldest families has “more money than you could jump over with a pole.” What does he do with it? “I think he jumps over it with a pole.”

Col. Weldon goes to Baden-Baden annually to take the mineral baths.

A group that calls itself the 32 Associates has been dabbling in the stock market since before World War II and using the proceeds to throw elaborate dinner parties.

At 4 a.m. a Western professor wakes up and sees a horse staring at him through his open bedroom window. Later he finds out that the horse was an escaped hunter belonging to the Master of Foxhounds at the Hunt Club.

V. P. Cronyn is a longtime member of the Echo Beach and Montcalm fishing clubs, both in Quebec. Trout and salmon, you know.

London's fox-hunt season begins in late September and ends with the coming of inclement weather. There are two hunts a week, the biggest at Thanksgiving drawing between 70 and 80 hunters.

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LONDON (ONTARIO) continued

John Leonard Smallman, who at the age of 14 inherited the bulk of a multimillion-dollar estate, uses it to run Hillcrest, a racing stable. The Old Families do not approve. “He doesn't wear the mantle well,” says a past president of the Hunt Club.

To find a really dégagé member of the London plutocracy you have to go back all of 101 years, to the garrison town days when British Army officers resorted to desperate measures to relieve colonial boredom. The officers and some London intellectuals formed a Canadian version of the British Hellfire Club (they called theirs the Heilfriar Club) and distributed broadsheets that poked fun at the military and the nouveaux riches. One night a member of this group bet a friend that he could break into a number of London homes that year without getting caught. “Slippery Jack,” as he was christened by the local press, was able to outwit both the police and citizen volunteers despite the fact that his favorite midnight escapade was tickling the feet of pretty girls until they woke up giggling. Sundays would find this fellow twirling the waxed ends of his military mustache at his accustomed pew in St. Paul's. Eventually he returned with his regiment to England, where he assumed his father’s peerage, having acquired an Indian-like stealth in the colonies.

More characteristic of London than the Slippery Jack affair was the occasion of the first royal visit in I 860. London has always been very big on royalty. A history of the city, first published in 1900. is wonderfully smug about it all: “The demonstration on that occasion was said by one who accompanied the Prince of Wales to have been superior to anything elsewhere in Canada, where his visit was one continual ovation.” The mayor's welcoming address to the Prince contained this line: “The fact that at most it is only 40 years since, in the locality where you now stand, none but the Red Indian dozed under the shade of the primeval forest, will sufficiently explain to Your Royal Highness why we can conduct you to no magnificent buildings . . . but we are persuaded that you can well appreci-

ate the results of an industry which . . . is necessarily more marked by the useful than the ornamental.” Indeed. Using every cliché he could lay hands on. the Prince responded in kind: “The country through which I have passed this day presents the spectacle of a population prosperous and happy. Its progress alike excites

admiration and astonishment, and the industry evinced on every side has nearly supplanted the trackless forest of past generations by smiling fields and pastures reminding you of those which so many of you have quitted in your youth.”

Driving home to Toronto on the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway you can

see the fields and pastures smiling, all right, but it is hard to see the Red Indians dozing under the shade of the primeval forest. What you keep seeing when you look over at the farm country under a patina of green like old copper arc a lot of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants — Anglicans, almost certainly — dozing in leather chairs at the London Club. That's the spectacle of a population prosperous and happy, you tell yourself. driving home. ★