Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Reporter, a Civil Servant and a Tramway Deal

A reporter I knew who covered a city beat for a smallish newspaper once told me civic corruption, even in littler cities, is all about land... and money, because land is money.

He would have been interested in the story I am writing, tentatively called Service and Disservice, about the 1914-1917 period in Montreal.

The Montreal Municipal elections of 1914  focused on two issues, an impending Tramways Deal (and wherever the trams went, land prices increased) and a "Pure" Water Issue.  For some righteous people, it was all about providing quality services to the tax-paying citizen - and 'purifying' City Hall along with the water supply.

 For others, businessmen both English and French,  it was all about making a bundle in the process.

The tramways deal, a 40 year contract, was said to be worth a billion dollars to certain people, who knows who, likely Hugh Graham of the Montreal Star, or so his rivals claimed.

Graham  is accused of having bought off all kinds of politicians, in Quebec and in Montreal. He also is accused of monopolizing the Montreal media by buying more and more newspapers.

My story Service and Disservice will peak at the 1917  Conscription Crisis, but the characters will be social reforming suffragists as well as  City Hall officials. Well, my grandfather will make an appearance, for sure.

My first ebook about the era, Furies Cross the Mersey, is about the British Invasion of Militant suffragists to Montreal in 1912/13.

A main character in it is Miss Carrie Derick, VP of the National Council of Women, Past-President of the Montreal Council of Women, President of the newly formed Montreal Suffrage Association.

Derick figures big in the 1914 civic elections. She gives multiple talks, One talk is showcased in all the papers: "A Woman Speaks about the Elections."

Carrie Derick, stumping for Stephens, promised that ALL women will vote for him. (Not quite getting the concept, I guess.) The Montreal Suffrage Association executive voted to support candidates who were for women suffrage, whatever else their platforms.)

In these articles, Derick's many affiliations are not mentioned just the fact that she is a prof at McGill. Hmm. The Montreal Council of Women's social hygiene program turned off the French and La Fédération St. Jean Baptiste (the French equivalent) was not active in this 1914 election, as they had been since 1904.

My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Second Assistant City Clerk, is also in all the Montreal newspapers at the EXACT same time. In very late March, 2014, he is caught in a bribery sting by one Edward Beck, intrepid reporter, who employed Burns Detectives from New York with 'detectaphones.'

In his article, Beck called my grandfather a grafter, go-between in Quebec City, and a manipulator who played both sides of civic government, the aldermen and the Executive Committee.

An article from the 1937 Montreal Gazette claims that my grandfather's real job was 'to teach aldermen their jobs" and he went gray doing it.

My grandfather was related to the Forget's through his mom. (Well, so am I.) From La Patrie.

Lookie here: from Toronto World

The timing of this bribe is most suspicious.The 1914 election was held a few days later. In the 1910 and 1912 elections, where 'reformers' won, a 'graft-free' City Hall was the slogan of the day.

Beck accused my grandfather of exacting tribute from lowly day-workers for the city.

I guess they were going with this winning 'beat the grafters' formula in 1914 as well.

Whatever, my grandfather managed to get off, suing Beck for 25,000 dollars, but being awarded only 100 dollars by The Court.

 Alderman Mederic Martin, a clownish candidate with no real organization behind him and no newspaper support, won a surprising victory over the 'pure-government-minded'  Citizen-Committee approved Col. George Stephens, who loudly proclaimed in his speeches that he was not in anyone's pocket.

A French newspaper, Le Pays, claimed that it was the English newspapers that made Mederic, by putting him down so much, ridiculing him so much, making the average man identify with him.

One newspaper suggested Martin was an ape aspiring to higher things. His campaign consisted of throwing his calling card with Vote Mederic Martin onto a table at City Hall in front of reporters.

Read this Coolopolis bit.

(Martin had claimed, after going AWOL on a visit to the Quebec Premiere, that he had been drugged by the opposition.)

Mederic Martin went on to be Mayor Montreal for a long time,  although after 1921 the position was mostly ceremonial.

 My grandfather rose to be Director of City Services, a post created in 1921 to ensure an equitable distribution of city funds across the districts.

He had a memory like a steel trap. Everything happening at City Hall passed by his desk. Put two and two together.

Mederic Martin would lose the 1928 civic election to Camillien Houde, another Man of the People. Houde would, then, in 1930, kick out my grandfather, but not before my Grandpapa negotiated a huge life pension of 8,000 dollars a year.

That's all in Milk and Water, about "Prohibition Era" Montreal, where there was no prohibition.

 Above, Mederic Martin and Aldermen, fishing trip.  My family photo. My grandfather in white hat with black band beside Mayor Martin in cap, center. Below. Mederic Martin toasting David the Prince of Wales in 1927, at reception on Mount Royal. The Prince enjoyed partying with Mayor Martin, apparently.

 George Stephens, head of Harbour Commission and Edward Beck, reporter, formerly of the Herald. When Hugh Graham purchased the Herald in 1913, Beck was kicked out as Editor (or left on his own volition.) He started his own tabloid, Beck's Weekly, devoted to cleaning up Montreal City Hall. 

That paper lasted only one? issue, the March 28, 1914 issue  where he smeared my grandfather. 

Graham apparently made it impossible for Beck to get newsprint for his new tabloid.  The Daily Mail printed Beck's sexy stories as did the Toronto World, and quite gleefully too. 

The Toronto World reprinted some parts of it verbatim. Beck called City Hall 'a sink hole of corruption.' He was a talented over-the-top writer who should  have penned Crime Novels, I think.

Here's an interesting summary of affairs in Montreal, written in a newswire story from Toronto and printed in a Pittsburg paper. This is in January of 1914, when Edward Beck of the Montreal Herald caught three alderman in a similar bribery scandal.

I think Beck wrote this too. He's the one who caught the aldermen in the bribe, but his newspaper, the Herald wouldn't print it, (having been bought by Hugh Graham) so he quit and brought the story to the Mail.