Sunday, July 26, 2015

Milk and Water and Jules Crepeau

Exactly 100 years ago, the Industrial Titans of Montreal (and therefore Canada) were at war and my grandfather, a middling Montreal civil servant, got caught in the middle.

That's how I now see the totally forgotten Edward Beck Affair of 1914.

 Edward Beck was the Editor of the Montreal Herald, one of three important English newspapers in Montreal,  who ensnared three Provincial politicians in a bribery scam using Burns Detectives and a 'detectaphone' and who was VERY proud of it.

The Herald had recently been sold to a group of people. one of whom might have been Hugh Graham, the owner of the Montreal Star. He wouldn't say.

Whatever,  the 'new' Herald owners wouldn't print his story.

Beck writes in the Montreal Daily Mail tabloid. That's him in the photo.

The Toronto Newspapers and the Montreal Daily Mail, a tabloid, picked it up.

So, Beck left the Herald, started his own tabloid, Beck's Weekly, a newspaper with one sole published aim, to expose the corruption at Montreal City Hall. The original Title was to have been THE TRUTH.

His first act was to ensnare my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Second Assistant City Clerk, in a similar set-up right during the 1914 municipal election campaign.  (What WAS my grandfather thinking, all considered?)

This episode made all the papers, as Beck had already published the details, but only the Toronto Sun quoted from the Beck's Weekly article.

As you can see: Beck's prose was rather dime-store novel.

My grandfather sued for libel and won, but only 100 dollars.(LOL)

Beck was put under arrest.

Beck was run out of the Montreal newspaper business, not that it stopped him from criticizing Montreal City Hall and Quebec Politics in the future, in oblique ways.

Oddly, Sir Hugh Graham, publisher of the Montreal Star was a witness at Beck's Inquest. Hugh Graham. Graham apparently had many alderman under his sway - and was about to benefit financially from a 40 year tramway contract that Beck despised.

My Grandfather was related to the Forgets. Sir Rodolphe Forget was the richest French Canadian industrialist and a partner of McConnell's in Montreal Electricity and Transportation. He was one of the few people supporting heavy underdog Mayor Mederic Martin in the 1914 municipal elections. Martin was elected.

Now, newspaper editors and middling civil servants are supposed to be impartial about the Big Business goings on of the Country, but clearly Beck and Crepeau  were not.

Anyway, my grandfather would win this squirmish and be richly rewarded in 1921, becoming the first Director of City Services with a salary of 10 thousand a year.

He would be once again embroiled in scandal: I write about it in Milk and Water: Scandals, Lies and Cover Ups in Jazz Age Montreal.

One can only imagine how Beck felt about the 1921 promotion, working in Ste Anne de Bellevue for a magazine representing the Pulp and Paper Industry.

He died in 1930 and his obit glossed over his 1914 debacle. As far as I can see he never became Editor of the Montreal Star.

But I only touch on Beck in Milk and Water. I have my grandfather brush him off in a few lines.

But going over the information today, I realize that there was much more to the story than I first realized.

In February/March/April 1914, as Beck was busy catching politicians under sleazy conditions, a Montreal Water and Power Bill was being introduced in Quebec.

The City was wanting a bill passed to make it legal to purchase Montreal Water and Power, a private company that ran suburban water-works - and that was making Montreal's galloping expansion very problematic.

Now THAT you can read all about in Milk and Water.

The City Engineer, in 1914, was suing Beck for libel over this business. In November 1913 Beck had published a full page hissy fit in large BOLD type, dissing the proposed Montreal Tramway Contract and Montreal City Hall Corruption.
(I saw it in the Herald archives in Ottawa, while looking up info on the Montreal Suffrage Association, a start- up that Beck gave a great deal of newspaper space to so that they could explain themselves.)

The Tramway Company's Brazen Demands! was the headline of the full-page editorial/rant in 16 or 18 point.

"It is well-known that the tramway company has City Hall under its thumb and it can work its sweet will with the people working there."

It is known to have an alliance with a sector of the newspaper industry, stifling public opinion.

The President of the Tramway and several of his henchmen occupy seats in the Legislative Assembly and unblushingly vote away people's rights."

Hmm. And despite this Private Members Bill being passed without a reading (apparently) it would take 13 years before the purchase was finalized and then, it  was finalized under very IFFY conditions.

 Norman Webster and other rich industrialists would buy the company in early 1927,  flip the company and make 4 million in a month or so, because Montreal City Hall voted to buy the company, for 14,000,000 and not the 10,000, 000 Webster had bought it for.

A MNA the Honorable Perron, would also make money. I believe his law firm defended my grandfather in the 1914 Beck Case. (It also was future Premier Tachereau's law firm.)

My grandfather  would be forced to resign in 1930, ostensibly over this Water and Power Purchase.

New Mayor Camillien Houde would claim my grandfather should have advised against the purchase. (Which made no sense.)

My grandfather would counter that it was all none of his business and that he never attended the almost secret sitting of City Council where the final decision to purchase was made.

And Webster and his partners would be acquitted of all wrong-doing in the affair.. Webster would be very relaxed even glib at the hearing over the purchase. The Court would concur: "It is s perfectly acceptable to speculate for business," the presiding judge would remark.

Despite costing the Montreal taxpayer 4,000,000 dollars, the Montreal Water and Power purchase would prove to be a very good thing for the City of Montreal.