CANADA

A dowager’s legacy

Letter from St. Andrews

JOHN DeMONT March 30 1992
CANADA

A dowager’s legacy

Letter from St. Andrews

JOHN DeMONT March 30 1992

A dowager’s legacy

CANADA

Letter from St. Andrews

In the New Brunswick seaside resort of St. Andrews, it is known by some simply as “the Hill.” For the town’s residents—the rich and famous who flock there each summer, as well as year-round inhabitants—the grassy elevation has always been more than a mere rise of land. On its crest stands the green-andwhite, turret-topped Algonquin Hotel. Nearby, an elm-lined street leads down to a nine-foothigh grey wooden fence. Hidden behind the gates is Dayspring, the sprawling home once owned by Sir James Dunn, a wealthy and eccentric industrialist. Since his death in 1956, Dayspring’s owner has been Dunn’s widow, Marcia, who in 1961 married Maxwell Aitken, the press magnate who became Lord Beaverbrook and died in 1964.

Although she has tended to spend only a few winter months at Dayspring, Lady Beaverbrook’s presence, like the Hill itself, looms large over the town. Since Dunn’s death, she has lavished roughly $500,000 a year on the town to commemorate her first husband. Her money built the Sir James Dunn Arena, a recreation complex. She also donated funds for a health centre, annual grant to the local high school and a fire hall. She helps to finance the local community college and provides university scholarships to St. Andrews students. Not surprisingly, many of the 1,700 residents regarded the reclusive dowager, now 81, as a model of generosity. But others complained that the town’s reliance on Lady Beaverbrook smacked of an era when Canada’s social and political elite ran St. Andrews like a fiefdom—and locals entered the Algonquin by the back door. Now, after a bitter dispute that erupted last year, residents are working out new civic arrangements—without the help of their benefactor.

Last Aug. 15, the trustees of the Sir James Dunn Foundation, set up by Lady Beaverbrook in the late 1950s, announced that they would no longer provide annual funding to the sportsand-entertainment complex—$200,000 last year alone. In addition, Lady Beaverbrook ordered town officials to remove her late husband’s name from the arena’s facade. Foundation spokesmen say that the decision to cut off donations was made solely on economic grounds. But many residents claim that Lady Beaverbrook is punishing St. Andrews—and that the source of her displeasure is the proud Algonquin Hotel.

Only two weeks before the foundation’s

announcement, the town council agreed to a rezoning request by the Algonquin, approving the provincially owned hotel’s plan to construct 54 additional rooms on the Hill, only 100 metres from Dayspring. Through her lawyers, Lady Beaverbrook argued against the extension. And since the decision, her St. Andrews supporters have lashed out at the council. Declared Nancy Aiken, a local real estate agent: “I don’t think that these people realize just how much the town has benefited from Lady Beaverbrook’s presence.”

Others, however, say that there are drawbacks to Lady Beaverbrook’s philanthropy. Explains Sheila Simpson, a local shop owner: “We have been like supplicants looking for handouts.” And, in fact, many residents favor the hotel’s initiative, hoping that it will attract more visitors—and jobs—to a town largely dependent on tourism. Says Catherine Smith, a nurse who works voluntarily at the arena: “People who are working for something appreciate it far more than if it is handed to them on a silver platter.”

Accepting Lady Beaverbrook’s charity has always brought back distasteful memories for some older townspeople. A distinct class system once divided the town. In the 19th century, socialites from New England and Central Canada began flocking to the area, building opulent summer homes. The visitors included Sir Leonard Tilley and Sir Charles Tupper, both

Fathers of Confederation. They were followed in this century by magnates such as Dunn and C. D. Howe, the political and industrial giant. The town’s summer visitors now include New Brunswick millionaire Harrison McCain and Petro-Canada chairman Wilbert Hopper.

Then, as now, the summer residents enjoyed a comfortable existence—riding, sailing, playing tennis and golf, dining and dancing. But the gulf between them and the year-round residents was wide. Recalls Margot Mais, 76, granddaughter of former Canadian Pacific Rail-

way chairman Baron Shaughnessy, who spent her summers at the family home on the Hill before moving to St. Andrews permanently in 1958: “We lived in a separate world from the rest of town.”

Although Lady Beaverbook has given no indication that she is abandoning all financial support for the town, her relationship with St. Andrews has likely changed forever. As if to underscore that fact, earlier this month workmen removed the Dunn name from the outside of the arena and erected a new sign, designating the building as the W. C. O’Neill Complex—in honor of the arena’s first manager. Declared lawyer David Bartlett, the town’s acting mayor: “It is the end of an era.” And, for many in St. Andrews, the beginning of a more self-reliant one.

JOHN DeMONT