Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Montreal City Hall and Murky Business Practices

My grandfather's City Hall File.

It seems we are an hierarchical beast.

Studies show that citizens, even of a democracy, aren't particularly jealous of people in higher classes, even if these elites are making money way out of proportion to their service to society.

People are jealous only of those individuals whom they consider equals, and those people are making more than they are, then they get pissed off.

Kind of sad, but it explains a lot. And it keeps the peace, as long as our bellies are full. We are all 5 meals or so away from rioting in the streets.

This brings me to Edward Beck, Montreal Herald Editor in Chief in 1910.

He hated my grandfather, Second Assistant Clerk at City Hall, so, in 1914, he set him up in a bribery sting.

A big Tramways Deal was unfolding at the time and he had Burns Detectives from New York pretend to be an interested party, ready to part with a few hundred to secure favour with certain aldermen.

Beck hated that 40 year Tramsway deal so much, he published a full page rant, in various bold types, in the Herald, around November 17, 1913.

He sounded like a madman, or, at least,  a very mad man.

He caught my Grandfather, Jules Crepeau, in 1914, when he was no longer Editor of the Herald.

 I guess that November rant was one editorial too far.

Beck published the details of the sting in his own short-lived tabloid Beck's Weekly, a rag with one purpose:to embarrass City Hall.

I wouldn't know about these flowery articles dissing dear Grandpapa  but for the fact they were republished in the Toronto Sun.

Beck wrote:

Beck later describes City Hall as 'a sweet scented sink hole of pollution' - giving me the distinct impression he was also an unfulfilled mystery writer.

This sounds personal, doesn't it? Even if the sting wasn't strictly really PERSONAL, as far as I know. Beck hated everyone at City Hall and McConnell and Hugh Graham.

The truth is, Beck was a pawn in a war among the big industrialists of the era. My grandfather was, too, no doubt.

But, still, it all sounds so personal... and I can hazard a guess as to why. All I have to do is look at the 1911 Census.

Beck, at the time, was making $3,000 a year,  a good salary for the era. And so was my grandfather.

But Beck was jealous that my grandfather was 'doubling' his salary by taking bribes. That's what he accuses my grandfather of doing in his newspaper reports.

(My grandfather, at the time, had 3 children in their tweens and teens. His wife, Marie Roy, was a capable habitant woman, daughter of a Master Butcher so she brought a big dowry to her 1900 marriage.

I don't think she liked to live high...Indeed, in the 1920's, when Jules was Director of City Services, she did all the cooking and cleaning herself in their three story greystone on Sherbrooke West, taking in wayward girls from the nuns for extra help :)

Of course, maybe Jules had mistresses. Most men of his ilk in the era did.

As it happens, Edward Beck had to leave the newspaper biz after he lost the slander lawsuit against my grandfather.

The judge had him pay out just $100 in retribution. LOL. (After all, the Burns Detectives had caught my grandfather on 'tape'...with their detectaphones. I'm guessing that evidence wasn't admissible.)

Beck then went to work for the Pulp and Paper Industry in PR. His offices were in the Harpell Building in Ste Anne de Bellevue.

In 1921 Beck was making 8,000 a year, a little less than my grandfather, so he did OK.

And I strongly suspect he continued penning articles against Montreal City Hall during this time, but only anonymously.

When my grandfather got his big job as Director of City Services, in 1921,  Beck must have been mightily pissed off! He died in 1930, but not before seeing my grandfather brought down by Camilien Houde that same year.

So Beck died a happy man, no doubt. Although he likely wasn't pleased with the fact my grandfather negotiated for himself a HUGE life pension of 8,000 a year.

I don't know if my grandfather, making 10,000 a year, took bribes in the 1920's. I do know that he got so many 'presents' at Christmas my grandmother filled an entire room with them. The gifts from the Chinese community were especially impressive. I have a nice piece of silk still - and other relations have a teak table and a dragon mirror carved from wood.

There were enough cigars to last my grandfather and his son a year! She gave most perishable stuff away to Catholic charities.

British-born Edward Beck.

I'm writing all about this Beck/Jule's story in a sequel to Furies Cross the Mersey (the story of the British Invasion of Militant suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13.) This book, called Service and Disservice (for now) is difficult to write -even if I've done the research.

It will also cover the Conscription Crisis and the story of how the suffragists of Canada were manipulated by Borden into supporting  Limited Franchise for Women

The story of the business/ politics of Montreal in the era is VERY murky.

(I wish my grandfather had kept a diary. All I have is news clippings from the French papers.)

The big industrialists did all kinds of strange things, and even seasoned historians have had trouble unraveling the story of all the big financial deals of that time, the Tramway Deal and the Water and Power Deal to name two of the biggest.