And the beat goes on

Earle McLaughlin kept an abacus on his side table set to multi-million dollar record earnings for his bank. He was a native-born son and heir to Canada’s twentieth century post-war boom. His cousin Sam was president of General Motors in Canada and manufactured Buick models under the family name until World War II. McLaughlin Buick is still a brand of repute among auto buffs.

Early in his career, Earle worked at 360 rue St. Jacques (then known as St. James St. at the tail end of anglo dominance in the city). This was then the very heart of the financial capital of Canada. 360 St. James, at 21 storeys, was the tallest skyscraper in the British Empire when it opened in 1928. It cost $6.5-million to build. Of course head office operations are long gone from this site. They were moved uptown in the early 1960s to Place Ville Marie, the cruciform by master architect I.M.Pei built on Earle’s watch. RBC’s head office is still nominally at PVM. The chairman of the Royal as I write and the current chief executive, as well as his forerunner, are all Montrealers. But they don’t live in Montreal any more. The bank is run from Toronto.

Earle didn’t start his career in the lofts of the skyscraper. He’d get there soon enough, as well as to the board tables of Canada’s biggest public companies and honorifics such as Chancellor of Concordia U. But in the 1950s he was managing the main branch of the Royal Bank of Canada on the ground floor at 360, with square picture windows overseeing the street (the branch is due to close in 2012). One of his clients was the owner and publisher of Financial Times of Canada, a troubled man named Ted Ertl.

Ted Ertl’s troubles were about fifty thousand dollars worth, an amount he owed RBC and couldn’t pay. He’d resort to great lengths and various dodges through the narrow streets and cobbled alleys of Montreal’s centuries-old financial district to avoid McLaughlin’s arm-twisting. Slip sliding through slush on St. James, ducking around corners, hugging the granite and the shadows, he’d manage to skirt the windows and the stern managerial gaze. Ted was an honourable man. He wanted to clear the debt. But the paper wasn’t doing well. Then he died.

Financial Times wasn’t always a loser. It did very well for its founding editor and owner, Robert Emmett Cox, after startup in 1912. The day of Emmett Cox was a day of robber baron industrialists and financial market manipulators, largely assisted and often enabled by a financial press controlled and operated by cronies. Monopoly wasn’t a board game yet. A monopoly was a licence to print money. While major monopolies were built around utilities and other essential services, there were a host of other opportunities waiting for anyone with the eye to see them and the daring to move. Emmett Cox moved in the same circles, for instance, as John Sparrow, an inveterate host and “life of the gathering” at open houses for journalists and entertainers at his home in the north of the city (Sault-au-Récollet) and his country estate in Sainte-Agathe. His was a local application of the baronial technique. Sparrow had built a monopoly of the important theatres and music halls in Montreal. By 1904 he controlled the Theatre Royal, Academy of Music, Théâtre Français and His Majesty’s. Control and restraint of competition kept admission charges higher than they might otherwise be. It was a modest form of the primitive, unchecked capitalism that held sway through the roaring twenties, until the stock market crash of 1929, which brought some regulation and, in the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission, run at first by one of the boldest barons ever, Joe Kennedy. (Ever struggling to catch up with its big neighbour, Canada has yet to establish a national securities regulator.)

Cox retired after the crash, which he came through with assets intact. His successors didn’t enjoy the same good fortune. Boom times for business tycoons enjoying media support were over. Ted Ertl held the publication together for years but he hadn’t done well at all. The bank said it was poor management. But the bank always says it’s poor management. Perhaps Ted wasn’t as sophisticated as other publishers. Perhaps it was ethics. Perhaps it was just that the centre of financial gravity was shifting. Whatever it was, he owed the Royal Bank about fifty large ones when he died.

Earle at the peak of his game

Earle McLaughlin didn’t need to concern himself with Ted Ertl’s posthumous debt. Earle was long past managing a branch by then. He had made general manager of the bank at forty-five, the youngest ever, and soon after that he was president, then chairman. A fifty thousand dollar problem was beneath notice. But he had approved the loan for Ted way back and felt responsible. So he called St. Clair Balfour, the patriarch then in charge of the family’s publishing empire, Southam Press (now Postmedia).

Balfour got the drift and was agreeable. It was chicken feed in the overall scheme of things. A favour for the biggest of the Big Five banks might be returned with interest some day, some way. It could prove a bargain. As for the Financial Times, Southam might even make a go of it. Financial Times had survived for fifty years by then. If this wasn’t a record for independent Canadian publishing, it was damn close. Balfour cut a cheque and Earle handed over FT.

Balfour hired Michael Barkway as editor and publisher. Garth Hopkins was managing editor, a cowboy from Alberta who had wrangled a communications job with the World Bank, where Barkway found him.

Michael Barkway wasn’t planning to shepherd some second tier business tabloid. He had come of age before the war and as a BBC correspondent had interviewed the likes of Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery. He knew Fleet Street, Muggeridge and Orwell. He was big time talent for a colony and if Canada wasn’t a colony any longer when he got here, we weren’t all that far removed. We were certainly a generation or two behind when it came to journalism. We had the steadfast Globe, here from the start and often enough playing an influential part at the country’s beginning. We had the CBC, bless the pioneers who created it and, even better, secured it tightly within the national infrastructure so that it might never be shook loose. Apart from that there wasn’t much to distinguish Canadian journalism, nothing to touch the Wall Street Journal, The Times, Washington Post or The Economist.

FT was consigned in Montreal to a nineteenth century industrial building on St. Alexandre Street in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Basilica, hundreds of miles away from and a world of mindset apart from Southam’s head office in Toronto. This was territory far beyond and beneath where Balfour or anyone close to him ever ventured. Here Barkway had no superior, no peer, no problems. He got what he wanted and he wanted the best. Of course it would be costly.

For a few years, at least, FT was among the livelier and more literate publications in Canada, an adumbration of the National Post formula a generation later. But it was fighting a losing battle. When the paper was founded and through its heyday, Montreal was still the financial capital. By the time I was hired by Hopkins in the early 1960s the centre of gravity was perceptibly shifting. Financial Times still had purpose. There was much that remained. As late as 1982 half of the twenty largest companies in Canada had their head offices in Montreal. But Toronto would be the financial capital for the future.

Senator Fraser

Barkway’s FT was a hothouse of talent, most of it young, some of it lovely, all of it springing successfully from the FT trampoline. Ken Strachan and Jake Doherty became publishers of Southam dailies. Neither rose to the height of Joan Fraser, who got the Montreal Gazette. Jake got to run both the Spectator in Hamilton and the Whig Standard in Kingston before being severanced in the Conrad Black takeover of 1982. Joan was booted from the Gazette by Black as well. Perhaps because Jean Chrétien hated Conrad so fervently that he’d do anything to one-up his lordship, she was named a Senator. Judy Maxwell ran the Economic Council of Canada until she ran afoul of Brian Mulroney by speaking some truth about Quebec.

Judy Maxwell

To rid himself of Judy, Mulroney killed the ECC, which for three decades had been the strongest independent voice on Canadian economic policy. She landed on her feet with the Order of Canada, on the board of Canada’s largest communications company and on the dais for at least eight honourary degrees.

Jock Osler

Jock Osler became Joe Clark’s communications director during Joe’s brief spell as prime minister. Bobby Stewart wrote the book on Sam Steele and for years produced the highly literate, intelligent series of essays that the Royal Bank gave as monthly letters to its clients. Mike Cassidy became leader of the New Democratic Party in Ontario, provincial opposition leader, then a member of parliament.

Mike Cassidy still stumping ’06

Don McGillivray succeeded Charles Lynch as Southam’s top Ottawa columnist. But his legend looms largest among the many young scribblers he taught at Carleton and Concordia and led in the attempt, never entirely successful for lack of support from accountant-cuffed media, to create a culture of investigative journalism in Canada.

Linden MacIntyre

Lindsay Crysler segued to a career as a journalism professor and head of the faculty at Concordia, after a spell as executive editor at The Gazette. Linden MacIntyre is a much published author of fiction and non-fiction and for more than two decades has been front and centre on the CBC’s flagship public affairs show, the 5th estate. Bogdan Kipling still plies our trade as a member, a dean surely by now, of the Washington press corps.

Tim Pritchard went to the Globe and was editor of the Report On Business for a long time, where he was succeeded by Peter Cook, who also cut his teeth at Barkway’s FT. ROB had arrived in 1965 to grab a chunk of Canada’s relatively limited attention or need for business journalism. It was a daily. It was fresh. It was from Toronto. It appeared just as Barkway was trying to revive Financial Times, tired and weekly, from Montreal. It was unexpected but it’s never only one misfortune or unpredictable reverse, it’s a flood of them that afflict the newborn enterprise or, like FT, the just reviving. As setbacks go, though, ROB was pretty major. In the end it gobbled FT.

It took double digit millions in losses and three decades to reach bottom of the sinkhole that McLaughlin had passed to Balfour. Then Southam offloaded it to the Globe for the cost of the subscriber list, which had some value for ROB.

Soon after I started at Financial Times under Barkway I began to learn of his illustrious forerunners, such as B. K. Sandwell, a colleague of Stephen Leacock, who later edited Saturday Night. And of course Emmett Cox, the paper’s founder. Cox prospered along with others like his friend John Sparrow in the money maelstrom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Sparrow’s theatre empire eventually extended to Toronto, Ottawa, Boston, and New York. His connections with the New York Syndicate were instrumental in making Montreal a showcase for pre-Broadway tryouts. Most American stars of the day walked his boards. In Toronto Sparrow would give a hand up to one of his managers, Ambrose Small, who would become an even more famous theatrical magnate than his mentor.

Small’s fame grew to international tabloid proportions following his disappearance one December night in 1919, the day after he had sold his holdings for $1.7 million. Described by one writer as “the jackal of Toronto’s business world . . . he was bare-knuckle capitalism,” Small’s fortune was largely made on what was the era’s equivalent of strip and porno shows, risqué plays about the imagined sexuality of single working girls. These played to puritan Toronto’s prurient preoccupation with country girls coming to work in the booming city, where the jobs were.

Tess Kormann Small

Small’s wife, Theresa (Tess), who inherited his fortune, was publicly suspected of murder and disposing of the remains. But no body was ever found and nobody was ever charged. Tess was ostensibly the total opposite of her husband. She was well educated, spoke several languages and was a devout Roman Catholic who raised large sums for charities. Born into the wealthy Kormann brewing family, she was a formidable businesswoman and a leading socialite. Her funeral in 1935 was attended by MPs, MPPs, high church officials and other dignitaries, as well as hundreds of the curious.

Years before this all-too-real melodrama, Tess Kormann’s older sister Emma wed Emmett Cox in 1903. (He would live until 1973, a hale nonagenarian.) Their daughter Ethel married  Pammy’s great-grandson, twelfth of Kate’s thirteen children, who carved his name on several national law firms, served as bâtonnier of the Montreal bar and who still, decades after his sudden death on Christmas Day 1980, remains a recognized giant of his profession. He and Ethel produced as the family expected. Two girls. Four boys. One of these, David, in the fullness of time, would succeed to more than one of Earle McLaughlin’s chairs.


A century standing by


On a warm summer day in 1985, Pammy’s great3grandson* looked on as Elmer MacKay, solicitor general of Canada, inaugurated the recently established museum of prison artifacts at Kingston Penitentiary, on the occasion of that cruel dungeon’s sesquicentennial. He was a member of the ministerial party because he had co-authored a history of KP. A hundred and fifty years before, on June 1, 1835, Matthew Tavender became Inmate Number One, sentenced to three years for grand larceny. Tavender and the convicts who followed him inside were forced into labour gangs that would greatly expand the fortress-like prison on the shore of Lake Ontario, but the earliest work on the massive stone building was done by local tradesmen. (A generation later the ancient stone walls would give up their last inmates at the instigation of Elmer’s son, Peter MacKay, minister of justice. KP, which overlooks the harbour where the sailing events were hosted during the 1976 Olympics, was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world when it closed finally on September 30, 2013.)

+ For an explanation of the convention designating various generations of Pammy’s family, see About Rideau Canal And All That on the bar above.

In Kingston, the local workers who knew best how to work with stone were those who had just finished the Rideau Canal. The new pen, destined to be still in use in the twenty first century, wasn’t the only lucrative construction contract in those days in Kingston. Fort Henry, which commands the city’s entrance heights was — is — an imposing fortification. Some of the last Martello Towers ever built are in Kingston. It was a bit late for these defensive forts when they went up — another example of the military preparing for its last war — but they still stand tall for tourists. These were massive works of construction and times were good in Kingston, which in another half-dozen years would be the first capital of what would become Canada and where the young John Alexander Macdonald was entering upon a legal career, his thought not yet turned to politics. It was a bonanza for stone workers. Good times would come again for their descendants in the 1860s with work on Parliament buildings for the new country then being born. In the meantime they built many great houses along the Rideau corridor between the first Canadian capital (Kingston 1841) to the one we have now (Ottawa 1867), including the official residences on Sussex Drive for prime minister and governor general.

Many of the stone workers were among or had been trained by those who came to work on the canal in 1826. There were two companies of Royal Sappers and Miners recruited to assist Lt. Col. John By (right) in his great task, a complement of a hundred and sixty two men. Fifty seven were lost to accident, disease and desertion through the six years of construction. When the work was finished, seventy one of those remaining accepted hundred acre grants of land and settled along the corridor of the canal, planting outposts of settlement where none existed. And then there were the lucky few who got the land and a job as well. But few were as fortunate as William (Pammy) Fleming, who got all of that and the lady too.

Everything Jim Simmons owned was sold after he was killed in a blasting accident on the canal at Newboro in 1830. His wardrobe and kit and ‘necessaries’ went to provide some relief to his family.  Pammy, who had been a friend and fellow bricklayer among the sappers, bought a pair of regimental trousers for twelve shillings. Elizabeth Simmons, mother of a girl and seven-year old Jim Jr., received thirteen pounds, eight shillings, ninepence. Not a fortune but a tidy sum and with a widow’s pension from the military Elizabeth could bide her time. There was no shortage of suitors. There were many more men than women in Upper Canada. Women could choose. She waited two years, until it was sure that the colonel would give Pammy the job at Chaffey’s Lock. He wasn’t a big man, just five and a half feet tall, but strong. (It wasn’t a time of tall men, then or for a long time after. The mean height of a company of British soldiers en route to India in 1865 was 5’5. Winston Churchill, who was almost a teenager when Pammy died in 1887, was well short of 5’7.) He hadn’t been a non-com. Sergeants and corporals were getting preference for canal jobs. But Pammy was made an acting corporal before discharge. And she knew he had one of the essential requirements. Pammy could read and he could write, one of the few who could.

In his survey of the Rideau route in 1826 John MacTaggart, Colonel By’s clerk of works, wrote that at Chaffey’s “I am not ashamed to own that I was more puzzled to know how to act, than on any other part of the route.” This was because MacTaggart wanted to bypass the mills that Sam Chaffey and his brother had built on both banks near a waterfall of thirteen feet. It would be too expensive to expropriate the distillery and the grist, carding and sawmills that the Chaffeys had put up in the six years they had been in the area. “High banks on either side of the river, and mills choking up that river, seemed to defy the science of engineering to pass them with the Canal . . .”

But the problem would be resolved by tragic circumstance just a year later when Sam Chaffey died of malaria. His widow decided to sell the millworks and two hundred acres of land to Colonel By for two thousand pounds. His brother Ben had already departed for the United States and the family spread later to Australia, producing significant memorials wherever they settled. They are inveterate builders. One of Sam’s nephews was back at Chaffey’s in 1872 to construct a stone gristmill.

The contract to remove the mills and build a lock with nine feet of lift and a twenty foot high dam went to John Sheriff & Co. The project became known as Haggart’s Job after Sheriff’s partner, “a jolly bachelor of that name, well known for convivial hospitality to all travellers by this route.” Another year, another tragedy, when John Sheriff succumbed to malaria in 1828, along with several labourers on the lock.

Over the six year construction period more than five hundred men and an unknown number of women and children at and near the canal works died of malaria. It was a disease that had been present in eastern North America for many years. The mosquito that transmitted it could and did live here. But it was groupings of people that helped to spread the disease. In construction camps one worker to another was a zip for a mosquito. No one escaped, from Colonel By down through the ranks to the wives and children of workers. Everyone suffered. During the “sickly month” of August, six out of ten workers took to their beds with terrible pain, stomach upset, vomiting and general debility. The only known antimalarial treatment was quinine but it was quite rare and very expensive. It was hard to get in Canada and few had it. The old Chaffey’s graveyard is said to contain the remains of more unrecognized malaria victims than any other. (In the picture, Mary Anne Chaffey’s plot is fenced in, with fieldstones and headstones in the distance marking early graves where wood crosses have rotted away.)

But the work continued. And what a work it was that the colonel had conceived. To build the canal, John By had two options. The conventional and proven option was to use excavated channels of considerable length to link existing waterways that were navigable, bypassing falls, rapids, swamps and rocky shallows. By dismissed this approach as being too expensive and time-consuming, given the terrain, geology and configuration of the lakes and rivers.

Through what would be called “a fundamental stroke of creative genius” he envisioned another option, the relatively untried technology called ‘slackwater’. It would use a large number of embankments and high dams to inundate shallows, swamps, and rapids, creating a series of basins deep enough to navigate the full length of the canal. This dramatically reduced the need to excavate channels. Costs and construction time were greatly contained and compressed.

Slackwater techniques had never been attempted in North America near the complexity of what By conceived to join the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers into a corridor linking the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. This would become the swiftest route of the day from Montreal, where most British troops were stationed, to the frontier opposite the United States at Kingston. It was the threat from the U.S. that By was addressing. He never forgot that. Speed was essential. His Corps of Royal Engineers designed an ingenious system to exercise unprecedented control over water levels. They included seventy four dams and forty seven locks at twenty four lock stations, allowing vessels to ascend eighty five metres to the summit of the canal from the Ottawa River, and then descend fifty metres to Lake Ontario.

Part of By’s genius was his foresight in planning for the future dominance of steamboats. The specs for the canal that he was given called for locks just sufficient to pass durham boats, flat-bottomed vessels propelled by sail or oars. By sought and got authorization to build larger locks able to accommodate the bigger boats that would use the emerging technology of steam power.

“It is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America,” UNESCO wrote in designating the canal a World Heritage Site. “It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early nineteenth century to remain operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.”

Once built, with what even today would be considered blazing speed, the problem became one of operations. By’s final task before departure was to ensure that key posts along the waterway were filled with the best candidates available. Literacy was a prime requirement for a lockmaster, but not the only one. They are outlined by Ed Bebee in his original and masterful portrayal of the workers who have kept the canal operating almost the way it was built for almost two centuries. His book is entitled Invisible Army: Hard Times, Heartbreak and Heritage, and he writes:

“What were the qualifications to be a lockmaster? First, military experience, generally as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), either Corporal or Sergeant; second the ability to read and write, because of the flood of written orders and the extensive record-keeping; third, basic arithmetic and some sense of book-keeping to be able to manage the accounts of tolls and local rents; fourth, robust good health; fifth, ‘steadiness’, which could mean anything. Sobriety was not a requirement, as soon became evident.”

Canal jobs were the pick of the province. The Army built the canal. The Army owned the canal. There was nothing more stable in all of Canada than the British Army. The pay was not bad and it came in cash, a rare perk in an economy that operated almost entirely on barter and long-term credit. Pammy was a lucky man and knew it the year the widow and the colonel said yes. It was 1832.

Lockmasters initially got housing (or materials to build their own) and permanent lock labourers had small houses or stayed in dormitories at larger stations. Garden plots were also provided. Lockmasters and workers were strictly admonished to avoid political partisanship and even voting. They were front line public servants and expected to behave as such. Patronage was endemic in the early days of colonial semi-self-government. The Rideau Canal was one of the few major generators of jobs and contracts in eastern Ontario. Politicians were very much aware of the opportunities. The local MP, or the defeated candidate if his party happened to be in power, would provide a list of acceptable candidates.

Pammy and his bride Elizabeth (later Gammy) had little time to consider their circumstances in those first months at Chaffey’s, after the military had departed and the first ceremonial passage was through the lock, en route from Kingston to Bytown. Colonel By and his family were joined by aides and dignitaries aboard the canal tug Pumper, renamed Rideau for the journey, greeted all along the great waterway he had built with rousing cheers that fell not far short of adulation. In this place and time he had made a wonder of the modern world. The people along the Rideau corridor, some who had been his soldiers and many who had worked on the canal, sensed greatness. Sadly, he was to fall victim to bureaucrats and petty politics on his return to Britain, his world-class achievement never celebrated by the British, whose taxes had paid for it.

The Pumper, built for Robert Drummond, one of the primary canal contractors, would be followed through the years by a succession of maintenance tugs well into the twentieth century. The longest lasting and most famous was Loretta, whose captain into the 1930s was Pammy’s grandson. Captain Ned, Kate’s brother, also had captained the Rideau King (left), one of the passenger steamers owned by his brother-in-law. For many years the Rideau King and Rideau Queen, with their musical steam whistles that could be heard for miles, provided a luxurious cruise along the beautifully crafted waterway between two of Ontario’s principal population centres. He was known as the ‘poet laureate’ within the family. When tied up overnight at a station along the waterway, the sweet sound of Captain Ned’s violin would often swell from Loretta’s deck and fill the summer evening all around.

In 1832 the population of York (Toronto) was 5,000, Kingston was 4,200 and Bytown (Ottawa), which hadn’t existed six years earlier, was 3,200. It was the beginning of urban society but not yet an urban economy. As one merchant wrote, “No one here can do business and obtain payment short of a year’s credit.” Almost all sales to farmers were on credit. They had no cash until the crops were harvested. Some debts were settled by a merchant buying land and having debtors supply labour or materials to erect a house or building.

Pammy, who built a ‘log house’ for his family when he arrived, was paid the lockmaster’s wage of $0.80 per day. The days were long, sometimes stretching through the nights and into new days. A lot of labour and time went to stretching the salary. There was a plot to grow vegetables. The potato was a staple of the daily diet, which made for hardship in the mid 1840s when a blight struck. Ireland was being devastated at the same time by this crop failure but the famine that prevailed there was in no way repeated here. Canadians were survivors in the toughest climate of the new world. They kept a cow, pigs and chickens. Fish were plentiful as were venison, ducks, muskrat. Drowned logs or trees from the surrounding forest were fuel for winter fires. They might have been colonists, or even colonials, but they weren’t landless peasants so weakened by life as the 20,000 Irish who died of disease and malnutrition on their way to Canada in 1847, one out of five who sailed.

In the colony the Rideau Canal was about to become an economic lifeline. It would get busier and busier, day and night, week after week, month on month until ice checked the flow. Ultimately, of course, the onset of a navigable St, Lawrence and the railroad combined to overpower the canal as a commercial route. But for a century the scene was the one described by an anonymous writer at Newboro, quoted by Robert Legget in Rideau Waterway. The canal was “crowded with boats carrying the produce of the country and bringing in such goods as were needed and the growing prosperity of the country could afford. City of Ottawa, Rideau King and Rideau Queen were some of the boats that carried passengers and freight and looked to one in their day like monsters of marine architecture. Tugs were towing 2, 3 and 4 barges; about 40 sailing scows carried out wood, lumber, pressed hay, grain, horses, cheese, whatever the country had to sell and brought in goods the merchants sold, the implements that were needed, the foodstuffs not grown in this climate and furnished employment to hundreds of men. Rafts of squared timber and of rough logs running up to hundreds of lock bands, built up with cook and bunk houses, stables for horses gouged by 20 or 30 men made their slow way to mills and market every year and left behind a fire menace. I have seen the men at work without a break for over sixty hours. They slept on the grass while the locks were filling and ate their meals that were brought to them sitting on a swing bar. They worked 24 hours a day, slept when they could. At first the lockmen were paid 60 cents a day for 71/2 months each year. Later their pay was raised to $1 a day and there never was a time when there was any trouble getting men to work on the lock.”

It was non-stop “when the horn blew we’d lock ‘em through” twenty four hours a day, seven days a week until 1871, after which Sunday was allowed off. Sleep between lockages was often snatched on a cot on the lockmaster’s porch. The biggest problem were the “blue barges” of logs, huge flotillas of lumber that had to be passed through the lock bit-by-bit, hour-after-hour.

For more than seven months a year there was no shortage of activity or company at the station. But in the winter it was thoroughly isolated. Distances to Kingston or even Elgin, a few miles away, were over trails rather than roads. The few people in the area had to make do with one another’s company. Pammy’s house, the largest around, was often the centre for euchre games, Christmas parties and impromptu dancing. “One of the high spots during the winter,” Melinda Warren writes in Hearth and Heritage: History of Chaffey’s Lock and Area, “would be when the carpentry crew came. The crew, of about twelve members, would camp at the station, sleeping on bunks in the storehouse. This work force was provided with their own cook, for a crew could live at the lock site for sometimes two months, building a new set of gates or a new dock. Because of their long stay they would become temporary members of the small communities. They provided a friendly diversion from long winter boredom. At night when the day’s work was done the crew, Lockmen and families would sit around the wood stove; stories and homemade bread in abundance. When the families retired for the evening, more stories and other ‘refreshments’ would be in greater abundance!

“It was a special time for the Lock Station when this crew came. The empty space which the crew left in the community when they moved on, would soon be filled by hard work to prepare for the new navigation season; and later new faces to relate the past winter’s tales to. . .”

Lockstations were strengthened in 1837-38 in response to rebellion troubles in both provinces (Upper and Lower Canada at that time, to become Canada West and East in 1841 and Ontario and Quebec in 1867) that pointed to the susceptibility of canal works to attack. Government durham boats loaded with ammunition and troops were passing through. Lock workers were called out to train with the militia. A report in Pammy’s hand describes “the loyal men who turned out to defend the lock and other works at Chaffey’s, Rideau Canal, on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th of July, 1838,” when the lock was menaced by sympathizers with the rebellion in Upper Canada. Under Pammy’s command twenty seven volunteers, including fifteen-year-old stepson James Simmons Jr., mounted sentries and patrolled the area to deter aggression.

Captain Billy, Pammy’s son, in 1890.

In the meantime Pammy and Elizabeth had a son William in 1833. As a boy he became a lake sailor and earned his captain’s papers at an early age. He would eventually be the first master of the Rideau Queen, owned by his son-in-law, and become widely known along the Rideau as Captain Billy.

As word spread of employment possibilities, good farmland and world class sport fishing at Chaffey’s, immigrant families began to arrive, many of them fleeing the famine in Ireland. Among these were the Doyles, who arrived from near Dublin in 1830 with an infant daughter. Young Billy and Margaret Doyle grew up together and just before Christmas 1854 they eloped and married. Elopement was necessary because the English Protestant Flemings and Irish Catholic Doyles were not ready mixers. They had to get over it eventually though as Captain Billy and his bride made passionate use of the long winters over the next two decades to produce five sons and three daughters, most born in a little log cabin on a section of Pammy’s property. The first born, Mary, married Captain Dan Noonan, who owned the Rideau Navigation Company. Henry, the second, became the third Chaffey’s lockmaster. A younger brother, Edward, would succeed Captain Billy as master of the Rideau Queen and earn his own local fame as Captain Ned.

Kate, christened Catharine, was the third, born in 1859. At nineteen she married James O’Brien, fifteen years older, the only son of Little Ned O’Brien, who had arrived in Chaffey’s from Ireland in 1840. Little Ned’s property would become the core of Queen’s University’s Biological Station (pictured) on Opinicon Lake a century later, where Pammy’s great3grandson Roberto would one day pursue studies toward his doctorate in zoology.

Jim O’Brien, who had been a lakeboat captain, tried farming at Chaffey’s as he and Kate started the family that would eventually number eight girls and five boys. But in less than a decade that toil was abandoned and they picked up and left for Montreal, the first ever of the family to move from Chaffey’s. Jim would be a milkdealer at first, then a grocer, and died in 1925. Kate would live to ninety nine in 1958 with the patience and quiet acceptance of the poker player and lifelong fisher she was.

The log cabin they were born and raised in had long outlived its comfort level by the time Captain Billy got around to building a proper home for his fast growing brood. Margaret would reminisce years later about the day in 1870 when the house was ready and what a pleasure it had been “to walk down the hill carrying baby Charles and take my family into our new home.”

And what a home it was. It’s described in a remarkable family manuscript written by Pammy’s great-granddaughter Catherine in 1975. Catherine was born at Chaffey’s in 1899 and knew Captain Billy intimately. They lived in the 1870 house together while she was growing up. Pammy had died a dozen years before but his memory lived strong in the neighbourhood where there were many old friends and much family. Catherine writes of the times, the neighbourhood, the customs, schools, entertainments, home life for the girls and the boys, a full and telling evocation of what it was to grow up and live at Chaffey’s Lock through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The manuscript is contained in the privately printed genealogical masterwork by Pammy’s great2grandson, James, entitled The Fleming Family Tree. Suffice to say the new home for Captain Billy and family was “the nicest and largest farm house in the community” with an iron roof, room to house a three-generation family of ten and an annex with a winter kitchen. It was still in use more than a hundred years after going up and may be still.

It was in this context that Pammy got the name he was universally known by, and which has descended to a property at Chaffey’s still referred to as Pammy’s Farm. A fourth generation grandson once suggested that it was derived from the derogatory slang for Englishman, ‘pommy’. This was impossible. Pammy was a man of respect in the county around Elgin. He had been discharged an acting corporal. There were very few field promotions in the two companies of sappers and miners of the Royal Engineers working with Lt. Col. By on the building of the Rideau Canal. Pammy was the Lockmaster at Chaffey’s, in command of a link on a vital waterway, holding one of the few permanent, paying jobs in the colony. He wouldn’t have been dissed by his neighbours.

Then, there were hundreds of demobbed sappers after the work was finished. Could Pammy have been a generally used nickname? Well no. Finally, there’s no record of the word ‘pommy’ being used before 1912, and then primarily in Australia. That’s well after Pammy’s day and far away. So how did he come by that nickname? For anyone with grandkids, it’s clear enough.  Pammy (William Fleming) had only one natural son, Billy. But he had eight grandchildren, all born at Chaffey’s, all within hailing distance for most of his life. He lived with one of his grandsons and family in later years. It was these kids who called him Pammy, an easy childish mangling of Papa or Grandpa. One after another they made it stick. Only they would have been innocent enough, and well enough loved, to have dared. For Pammy was far from a figure of fun. He had an aristocratic bent and, according to family account, in retirement “always dressed in a swallow tail coat, wore a high silk hat and carried a cane.”

A one storey, defensible lockmaster’s house was built in 1844 and after a dozen years in the log house Pammy, Gammy and family were finally able to move in. It was completely renovated in 1894-85 for their grandson Henry, another of Kate’s brothers, who was the third lockmaster at Chaffey’s. A second storey was added and a wood frame back kitchen. This house (pictured) is now a museum. Chaffey’s was a Fleming family fief for a century. After retiring in 1856, Pammy was succeeded by his stepson, Jim, who served until 1894. There was some fuss when grandson Henry got the next appointment. Patronage was alleged. Henry was dismissed in December 1896 but rehired three months later. He’d hold the job for more than three decades.

As Ed Bebee writes in Invisible Army, “An affable lockmaster with thirty-five years service at a popular station met a lot of people. When his family is there for generations, then relationships run deep.” Henry was such a person.

A combination of age (65 in 1922) and years of service (39) meant that Henry would most likely retire in the early 1920s. Knowing he’d have to move from the Lockmaster’s house, he wanted to acquire a property nearby where he could build a home. He wanted to get it at a good price and avoid an auction that might increase it, particularly since the CNR had built a station at Chaffey’s and local land prices had soared. So he wrote his good acquaintance, George Buskard, private secretary to Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, enquiring casually after family members and enclosing a sketch of the land he wanted. Within a day, enquiries on Henry’s behalf were dispatched on prime ministerial letterhead. The sale transpired as he had wished, helped by an Order-in-Council that designated him the buyer and sidetracked any other potential bidder. Perhaps most remarkably, the government had changed in the interim. Mr. Meighen had been replaced by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. But the change hadn’t bothered Henry. Rather, he lobbied again to have his retirement postponed. He wasn’t finally succeeded as Lockmaster until 1929. The family had held the job just three years shy of a century from the day Pammy got it from Colonel By.

James and Kate O’Brien. First to leave Chaffey’s, Pammy’s granddaughter Catharine (Kate) Fleming was the motherlink of the clan with thirteen children in Montreal. She lived to ninety nine.

After 1847, when work on the St. Lawrence River canals was completed, the Rideau system gradually lost its commercial prominence, though it long remained a gracious and comfortable route for passengers on the Rideau Queen, Rideau King and their like that plied regularly between Kingston and Ottawa. Until today the Rideau Canal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains a destination for boats and yachts from near and far as well as the focal point for local festivals in summer and, never forget, the largest skating rink in the world in winter.

Massacre starts Métis link

For more than a half century, they were all of one name. Then family mergers and moves away began. Doyles and Flemings and Simmons at Chaffey’s Lock turned to Noonans, O’Briens and Grays in Kingston, Montréal and Ottawa, then Jacksons, Breaults, Linders, Underwoods, Shaws, Kierans in Toronto, New York and London, then Cavalcantis, Pendakurs and deNeeves on the west coast, in Brazil, Ireland and the far east. There were fifty three great-grandchildren, almost a hundred in the next generation, then more than two hundred and by now, with the generation of great7grandchildren well underway, there are thousands of Pammy’s descendants in the land. Many have embraced cultures, traditions, languages, colours unknown to the Canadian progenitor. Others stayed close to the original homestead at Chaffey’s and live there still.
And some dug deep for Canadian roots. A child of the Inuit was adopted by Pammy’s great4granddaughter. A great5grandson is half Cree and a great6grandson is at least a quarter Mohawk.
A great2granddaughter married into one of the earliest lines of the Métis, a unique mix of aboriginal and colonist parentage, in this instance arising from one of the most inflammatory, defining incidents in Canada’s earliest days. It is still recorded as the worst mass killing in Canadian history, more than three hundred and twenty five years later. The Lachine Massacre.

Pammy’s granddaughter Kate at right, with her own granddaughter Eunice and great-grandsons Tony (right) and Brian, who are ninth generation Métis.

They came at night, an army of 1,500 Iroquois warriors, overwhelming the small Québec village and terrorizing Montréal a couple of miles east for days after. It happened August 5, 1689. The Iroquois took some captives from Lachine that day and those they didn’t kill or keep were returned in the year or so after the massacre. One of these was Anne Mouflet.
Anne Mouflet’s mother, Anne Dodin, was one of the famously-styled filles du roi sent by the Sun King Louis XIV to help populate what was then a French colony. In 1669 she married Jean Mouflet, a soldier in the Carignan-Salières Regiment and one of 450 who opted to remain here when the regiment went home to France. With a pension and a plot of land, he and Anne would have eight children.
In 1689 there were fewer than 12,000 colonists in Nouvelle France, or Quebec. There were another 1,000 in L’Acadie (N.B.) and 3,000 in Newfoundland. Lachine, with 375 inhabitants, was one of the larger communities. There were probably more than 50,000 aboriginals in the same territory, which stretched west only as far as an outpost at Kingston, then known as Fort Frontenac.
The assault on Lachine was the culmination of nearly a century of bloody, take-no-quarter, show-no-mercy brutality. If there was a single incident or instigator, it would have to be Samuel de Champlain. This was ironic because Sam was essentially a peacemaker whose entire career revolved about bringing people together. But he was new in Canada and made a big mistake in 1609 when he lined up with the Wendat nation (called Huron by colonists) against the Iroquois. In their very first encounter, Champlain killed two Iroquois chiefs. But these foes were more menacing than Sam or native enemies bargained for. They stayed at war continuously with Champlain and his successors and all but obliterated the Wendat. Sam’s shot would resonate for 80 years and finally explode in the savagery at Lachine.
Iroquois had seen the colonists as a threat to their sovereignty from virtually the first encounter. As time went on and newcomers kept coming, the Mohawk Chief Teoniahigarawe would warn, “Brethren, the Governor of Virginia and the Governor of Canada are both quarrelling about lands which belong to Us, and such quarrelling as this may end in our destruction.”

Iroquois flag

It wasn’t as simple as white people against auburn people. The whites — French, Dutch, Spanish and English — were fighting among themselves a lot of the time. And some blood feuds between aboriginal nations had gone on for centuries. But the Canadien-Iroquois connection at the core of the embryonic country was particularly intense, and so it remains in territories such as Kahnawake and Akwesasne, south and west of Montréal.
Iroquois are not an Amerindian nation per se, but a confederacy formed sometime in the fifteenth century. They refer to themselves as the Haudenausonee, or people of the longhouse, and there were five member nations in the 17th century — Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. They lived for the most part in what is now northern New York, southern Quebec and eastern Ontario, an area not then under colonist control and referred to in French as Iroquoisie.
Furs were the primary reason for the French presence in Canada. The primary motive of Iroquois was to control access to furs, which could be traded for metal goods, guns and ammunition, cloth and brandy. This meant fighting off Wendat and Illinois and other nations that wanted a piece of the action, as well as resisting the push of settlers for land. Skirmishes and battles, part of a way of life on this frontier, escalated in 1665 when the Carignan-Salières regiment arrived from France and promptly destroyed several Mohawk villages where inhabitants had been decimated by smallpox. In 1687, Governor General Denonville lured 30 Iroquois chiefs under a flag of truce from a council at Onondaga. He had them seized, chained and shipped to France to be used as galley slaves. He then led 2,000 men deep into Seneca territory and destroyed their largest village. The confederacy, infuriated, set out to terrorize Canadiens as never before.

Fort Lachine in 17th century

There is no list of the warriors who descended on Lachine. Most were Mohawk, but warriors and younger braves from all five nations must have been present, a badge of honour to be there. The names of the leaders have not come down, nor the numbers from each member nation. But we know something of one young Onondaga. His name was Little Dog, at least that’s how it translates. He was 17. Was he there? Passions ran high. For Iroquois this was not just jostling for advantage but a strike of retribution in a war for survival. Most likely he wouldn’t have been kept away. Certain it is that he had friends and family in the fight.
There was a summer storm that night. Thunder rolled over the St. Lawrence. Lightning flashes lit the 77 log, plank and stone homes in the rural community, 10 miles west of Montréal. A hard rain pelted the roofs and ground. There were guards on duty, as always, because the danger of attack was constant. But they sought shelter from the weather and were sleeping as a war party stepped ashore in the dark. Undetected, they fanned out in pairs, threes, fours and small groups, holding to the edge of the woods, away from dogs that might bark a warning. Dressed in loincloths, bodies and faces painted to terrifying effect, they were armed with metal hatchets and guns supplied by English provocateurs in what is now the United States.
The command to attack comes at dawn Friday, August 5. They descend, smashing at windows and hacking doors, with howls and shrieks that disable their victims with fright. Some colonists try to barricade their homes. The attackers set fires and wait for them to flee the flames. Twenty-four settlers are killed in the initial raid (Jean Mouflet, Anne Dodin and two of their daughters among them), more than ninety are taken prisoner and four dozen die in captivity (including Anne Mouflet’s husband Mathias Chateaudeau and their son Jean) but Anne Mouflet survives.
The massacre sparked three years of off and on warfare, with sporadic attempts at parleying. Then a new player entered the arena. The name of Louis-Hector de Callière doesn’t echo through history’s halls as loud as Champlain, Maisonneuve or Callière’s long-time boss, Louis Buade de Frontenac, whom he succeeded. But his contribution was at least as valuable.
Callière convened the Great Peace Council of 1701 in Montréal. He had the assistance of some French military successes to bring adversaries to the table, but for his time he was a diplomat. He went first to meet Iroquois for a conference in the territory of Onondaga, in March 1700. In September, he signed a preliminary treaty with 13 chiefs. He then invited all Amerindian nations of the Great Lakes region to a council in Montréal in the summer of 1701.


Thirty nine nations sent representatives and their chiefs, sachems and orators were given warm welcome, here described by the great historian of pioneer North America, Francis Parkman.
“A vast, oblong space was marked out on a plain near the town, and enclosed with a fence of branches. At one end was a canopy of boughs and leaves, under which were seats for the spectators. Troops were drawn up in line along the sides; the seats under the canopy were filled by ladies, officials, and the chief inhabitants of Montréal; Callière sat in front, surrounded by interpreters; and the Indians were seated on the grass around the open space. There were more than thirteen hundred of them, gathered from a distance of full two thousand miles, Hurons and Ottawas from Michillimackinac, Ojibwas from Lake Superior, Crees from the remote north, Pottawatamies from Lake Michigan, Mascontins, Sacs, Foxes, Winnebagoes, and Menominies from Wisconsin, Miamis from the St. Joseph, Illinois from the river Illinois, Abenakis from Acadia each painted with diverse hues and patterns, and each in his dress of ceremony, leathern shirts fringed with scalp-locks, colored blankets or robes of bison hide and beaver skin, bristling crests of hair or long lank tresses, eagle feathers or horns of beasts.
“Pre-eminent among them all sat their valiant and terrible foes, the warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy, who could make a whole new world tremble and spread dread over an extent of more than fifteen hundred leagues.”
Callière opened with a speech. Each chief answered in turn. It wasn’t going to be a cut-and-dried process. To start with, his Wendat allies were a problem. Kondiaronk, the Wendat grand chief, once ambushed an Iroquois peace delegation to prevent a treaty between the French and the Iroquois. Kondiaronk was here.
Hassaki, chief of the Ottawa, came with four Iroquois captives. “You asked us for our prisoners,” he said, “and here they are. I set them free because you wish it.” Then turning to the Iroquois deputies: “Know that if I pleased I might have eaten them; but I have not done as you would have done. Remember this when we meet, and let us be friends.” Iroquois shouted their approval.
One chief followed another, with much the same message. The Miami orator said: “I am very angry with the Iroquois, who burned my son some years ago; but today I forget all that.”
Discussions were prolonged and after several days agreement was still not near. A major stumbling block was the return of prisoners captured by Iroquois during previous campaigns and enslaved or adopted.
Finally, on August 1, Kondiaronk stood to speak. Though suffering from influenza, he addressed the assembly for two hours, winding up to an impassioned conclusion: “Let it not be in a forced or insincere way that you ask Onontio for peace; for my part I return to him the hatchet he had given me, and lay it at his feet. Who will be so bold as to take it up?” Kondiaronk was onside.
But the next day he died. His funeral was said to rival that of Frontenac three years before, a demonstration of the esteem in which he was held by all sides. It may have given even more power to his words at the council, which reconvened with a presentation by Wendat Chief Michipichy.
“We thought that the Iroquois would have done by us as we have done by them,” he said, “and we were astonished to see that they had not brought us our prisoners. Listen to me, my father, and you, Iroquois, listen. I am not sorry to make peace, since my father wishes it, and I will live in peace with him and with you.”
When he and all the rest had ended an Iroquois orator strode to the front. “Onontio, we are pleased with all you have done, and we have listened to all you have said. We assure you by these four belts of wampum that we will stand fast in our obedience. As for the prisoners whom we have not brought you, we place them at your disposal, and you will send and fetch them.”
What a crowd it was! What an event! A constellation of chiefs. Anne Mouflet, now 31, would be there and as a Lachine survivor perhaps somewhat of a local celebrity. Her second husband was there as well. Anne’s first had been killed by her side that fearsome night at Lachine. She had married again eight years later. René Tsihène was his name. He was Onondaga.
Tsihène is not a French name and not Iroquois. My brother, who is educated in these matters, believes it to be a stab at ’ti chien, ‘little dog’ in French. This was either his true Onondaga name or one he was tagged with by the white eyes in town. He also adopted, as a sign of respect, the name of Anne’s first husband, Mathias Chateaudeau, who was killed by his kinsmen at Lachine. And it’s by this name — Massias — that he enters the written historical record.
He had met with Callière just before the conference was to start, when an incident threatened to derail the process. He was one of two deputies from Onondaga who were in town when they heard that a band of their hunters had been ambushed by Ottawa warriors. Such an attack contravened a preliminary agreement signed the previous year. The chiefs sought a meeting with the governor and “Massias, who had married a French woman, spoke first on this occasion.”
After asking that the Ottawa attackers be punished, the chief turned to a personal matter. He said that his frequent voyages between Canada and Iroquois territory on behalf of the peace process had prevented him from going to the hunt. Because of this, his wife was not able to take care of her responsibilities as an Iroquoise. “I ask of you,” Massias said, “for my son, a donkey no more than 10-12 years old that will be able to haul wood for heating.” One was found and given to him.
On August 4, 1701, eve of the massacre a dozen years before, the representative of each nation affixed his mark to the peace treaty. While tensions between the Canadiens and the Iroquois would continue they never erupted into warfare again. The Great Peace of Montréal is still recognized as a valid treaty by the nations involved.

Great Peace Treaty 1701

Genealogical tables don’t say how Anne Mouflet and Little Dog Tsihène came together after the bloody events of August 1689. Did she go to him? The marriage took place in Iroquoisie, in a Catholic church that preserved a record of the union. We don’t know whether they met or spoke when she was a captive and he a young warrior. The marriage came long after. It’s not obvious that he came all the way into her world but he came far enough for his line to survive there.

Métis blue flag

Métis red flag

She would live to be 70 and, after Massias died, took a third husband. But it was Massias who fathered this line. Out of the ashes of Lachine they survived to help populate the nation that in time would become Canada. Their healthy branch of Pammy’s family tree is living proof. After a few centuries, every genealogical list reveals dozens more cousins from the same stock.
Theirs was far from the first mixed marriage between white and aboriginal although it was early in the origins of that distinct Canadian population, the Métis. Most of the unions that produced the 400,000 Canadian Métis alive today began in the 18th and 19th centuries, between Algonquin, Cree, Ojibway or Mi’kmaq women and Canadien voyageurs and Scottish traders on their travels east and west from Montréal. But René Tsihène Massias was the man of Anne’s house.
These two were in the thick of it at Lachine that night in August 1689, on opposite sides, his people killing her people, and terrifying her. But survival in harsh conditions — harsh was a common condition in 17th century North America — requires a practical turn of mind. After a while hurts heal. Cooler counsels prevail. Come together. No more war. War no more. Peace.
Unusual it was for her to be Canadienne and he Onondaga. How much more unusual that they had set aside the hate from that day of infamy when their peoples had been on opposite sides? Despite furious provocation, this early willingness to bury the hatchet — Callière and the chiefs threw war-axes irretrievably into a “pit so deep that no-one could find them” before the peace conference — has become, after germinating all these centuries, a quasi-genetic Canadian trait to consult, to compromise, to accept and welcome differences, to mix, to keep the peace.

Scottish strain plays loud and long

Entering the bank

Whenever I’m in Montréal with a little extra time I’ll go into the Royal Bank at 360 St. Jacques in the old town. The Royal was founded in Halifax, but Nova Scotian reserve was let loose when it came to the bank’s new head office in Canada’s cultural and financial capital. It’s a remarkable entrance: high coffered cathedral ceilings, bronze fittings and crests, marble walls and counters, hand-painted wood, hand-broken marble mosaics in an Aztec-like pattern, gilded plaster. When I’m here I think of Earle McLaughlin.
I was a writer for Financial Times of Canada, which began as the Montreal Financial Times in 1912. I’m not in Montréal as much as I once was. It was home for more than thirty years. My schooling and early working years were there. But I came to the national capital a long time ago and live next to Armenia now on Queen Elizabeth Driveway, on the west side of the canal where flowers and trees get tended by the taxes of all. It’s one of the perks of a capital.

Armenian Embassy

It’s even more so in Washington. QE Drive was the first boulevard planned in Ottawa, once planning began. In its early years the capital was a mudhole in spring, a dustbowl in summer and impassable in winter. Fall foliage was a time of great beauty because the forest was everywhere. Now the ravages of weather have been overcome by technology but the forest has disappeared as people have flocked to the capital.
Earle was a storied bank guy, a direct link to the Scots who came in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to run the country’s money. They succeeded brilliantly. So much so that near the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, through the worst financial meltdown the world has ever known, worse some say than the crash of 1929 that brought on the great depression, Canada came off better than anywhere.
Financially, fiscally, structurally Canada was hurt less than any country in the world, some of which were devastated, like Ireland, or virtually destroyed, like Iceland. All but one of the thirteen largest banks in the United States were about to collapse in the depths of the credit crash in 2008. They were all “at serious risk of failure,” is the way Ben Bernanke put it, who was chair of the United States federal reserve. Canada’s Bernanke was Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney. He faced no such fearsome cliffhanger. McLaughlin, Muir, Finlayson, McMaster, MacKinnon, et alia, et alia, helped us here by managing prudently.

McLaughlin in his prime

Bank of Montreal was established in 1817 with five Scottish directors, joined by three more a year later. In 1832, the Bank of Nova Scotia opened, managed and controlled by Scots immigrants. Nova Scotia the province, of course, means New Scotland, which pretty well tells where the original non-native settlers came from.
Before 1971, Canadians of Scottish descent were a separate census category and around that time they registered as the third largest ethnic group in the country after the English and French. They have always remained a unique cultural group, including highlanders, lowlanders and Scotch-Irish from Ulster, and they proved influential in the growth of the Canadian economic and political framework, within which they often became leaders. Thirty percent of industrialists in the 1910 census self-identified as Scottish.

Bishop Strachan

Money matters particularly grabbed their attention, and they largely controlled the trade in furs, timber, banking and railroad management. Almost one quarter of Canada’s industrial leaders in the early twentieth century had been born in Scotland, and another quarter had Scottish-born fathers. As they became established as a major ethnic component of the fast growing Canadian population during the mid-nineteenth century, they came to dominate in other areas as well, such as education and politics. All but three of the Fathers of Confederation — all but two if Joey Smallwood is excluded — were Scots or of Scottish descent.
The Scottish diaspora to the new world spread the influence of its late eighteenth century enlightenment, an optimistic belief in the practical ability of people to use reason to make things better — the ideas of Adam Smith, David Hume and the like.
Scotland’s emphasis on universal, free education was adopted in Canada. Scottish ideals of scholarship and intellect took root here. Leading colleges and universities were established by John Strachan in Upper Canada (Trinity College at UofT) and by a bequest of James McGill in Montreal. McGill University is renowned for its work in chemistry, medicine and biology, where there are long-established Scottish traditions. Peter Redpath, Montreal-born son of a Scottish immigrant and Rideau Canal contractor — his father John was part of the consortium that built the towering Jones Falls Dam, in its day the largest in North America — paid for the McGill museum, the library and a university chair.

Jones Falls Dam

There are a host of Scottish names writ large in the Canadian pantheon. After Alexander Graham Bell conceived of the telephone he went to find resources in the U.S. He had great success there but his heart remained in Canada and his remains rest here. Global media barons Beaverbrook and Thomson, whose first daily paper in Europe was The Scotsman. Donald Smith and George Stephen, the principal drivers of the near-impossible, bankruptcy defying ribbon of track that bound the nation together from Atlantic to Pacific. Alexander Mackenzie was the first Liberal prime minister (1873-78). William Lyon Mackenzie, who led a revolt against autocratic rule in Upper Canada in 1839, became a symbol of Canadian radicalism. His rebellion dramatized the need to reform the country’s outmoded constitution. Sir Richard McBride was premier of British Columbia from 1903-1915. William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950), who was as proud of his Scottish heritage as he was of his rebellious grandfather, was three times prime minister and served in that office longer than any other. For over 200 years, Scots have entered the country in a constant flow. Their presence powerfully permeates the Canadian culture of politics, education, religion and business.
John A. Macdonald, Old Tomorrow, was a bank director before he was prime minister. New generations and new peoples have come on or come back to loosen the Scottish grip on Canada’s money supply. But Scots set the pattern and so far it has been good, allowing for some Keynesian adjustments along the way.

A model of civilization in time

The first Canadian is the Inuit, the Dene, the Amerindian. Much honour and respect are due fullblood canoriginals who still live in a direct line from these first ones. They have kept the dream and the flame alive.
The next Canadian, first to arrive after ten millennia of American isolation, was French. Some still live in direct descent of these and they are at the core of the great Canadian nation.
Next are the Métis, children of the first Canadians X newcomers from Europe, mostly French at the start, but soon embracing many from oncoming waves.
The third wave comes strongest, an influx of Scots, Irish and English at a time of great turmoil in the British Isles. At Confederation, Irish Canadians are the largest English-speaking ethnic group in Canada. Irish-French families, unusual elsewhere, are fairly common here, the two cultures divided by language but united by creed.
Not long after Ukrainian and other east European farmers and Chinese railroad builders begin the populating of western Canada. There are others, many strong individuals of all races and religions, who bring their strength to an emerging nation through the twentieth century — the century that raises Canada among the most admired and most desired of all. This was the fourth wave.
Canada has emerged a mosaic, not a melting pot, built on genuine respect for compromise, for tolerance, for difference. We apologize when we’ve done wrong. But our values are strong for right, for justice, for compassion.
The fifth wave is forming as the third millennium begins. The wave of the future. How far may it take us? A thousand years. Longer. Why not? We’ve pulled together a lot in a relatively short time.
Why should it not be that infusions from India, Viet Nam, America, Jamaica, Haiti, Hong Kong — some from everywhere, joining with all who came before — will make Canada a model of global civilization by the year 3000?