Monday, October 10, 2016

A Tale of Montreal Corruption and Politics

Edward Beck, pictured above, didn't like my grandpapa, Jules Crepeau, Second Assistant City Clerk at Montreal City Hall in 1914.  He called him a grafter and set up up in an elegant bribery sting designed to make sure the Mederic Martin camp didn't win the Municipal Election. But they did anyway. Don't mess with the big guys. My grandfather was a little guy who was aligned and very useful to the Big Guys. He would end up Director of City Services in the 1920's. Beck possibly was just a pawn of industrialist Lorne McGibbon.

A year ago, I took a train and the subway (the tram!) into Montreal, Point St Charles, to watch a little outdoor play about Carrie Derick and her fellow Donaldas, female McGill graduates. In  1912  biologist Derick was awarded a courtesy post at McGill making her the first woman full professor ever in Canada.

I have written an interesting ebook about Derick (Furies Cross the Mersey) covering the same territory and a follow up novel, Service and Disservice, about the WWI years and the iffy involvement of the Canadian suffragists during the 1917 Conscription Crisis.

Both books are availabe in Amazon Kindle format.

This 'Canadian suffrage story' in not an easy one to tell. Even the polished scholars who have written about it tend to make errors in their papers.

You see, people didn't tell the truth back then, during the War, so it's doubly hard to figure out what really happened.

To make things worse, there's a Big Wig side-bar I'm attaching to this little feminist tale that is especially steeped in mystery and murk. It's the story of the controversial Montreal tramways contract.

 Mederic Martin, who was considered a joke candidate in 1914 would be Mayor until 1928 with a hiatus in 1922-24.(OOPS...I'm thinking Donald Trump.) One newspaper portrayed him as a baboon.

Cartoon of Montreal Star owner Hugh Graham as a chicken and Municipal aldermenas his eggs.

And the scandalous story involves my grandfather, who was Assistant City Clerk in 1913 - and the Montreal subway.

Now, when the Montreal Subway, ah Metro, opened in 1966, my brothers and I spent a lot of time riding it for fun.

It was a pretty, clean subway. It cost 10 cents to ride, I think.

Today, it's $3.25 I think.

The reason I have to put the story of the Montreal Tramways into my Suffrage and Conscription Story is that the Suffragists of the Montreal Council of Women got all caught up in that controversy

 Edward Beck, Editor of the Montreal Herald in 1913, got them involved by giving them a special suffrage insert in his newspaper, in return for their official condemnation of the Tramway Deal.

Beck simply hated the City Hall and this proposed 40 year Tramways Deal, because his former boss, Hugh Graham of the Montreal Star, standed to make millions from from the deal.

Or maybe Beck, like grandpapa, was just a pawn of industrialist Lorne McGibbon, a former partner of Hugh's who had had a falling out in 1912.

The Toronto newspapers say as much, that this is feud or vendetta between McGibbon (owner of the Herald until 1913) and Hugh Graham.

The papers describe McGibbon as a business man of many interests. I found only Rubber and Mining interests on the web.

And I also found a very interesting 1916 news report about this McGibbon giving a rousing recruiting speech, saying they must get the 500,000 men for Borden. (Canada only had 8 million people, imagine!)

McGibbon says in that speech that Montreal Companies are seriously thinking of hiring only ex-soldiers. So that would be an interesting insert into my story Service and Disservice, where the Social and Moral Reform Ladies are working so hard to raise money and roll bandages, but also very proud of how some young women are taking over men's jobs during the war.

A small character in Montreal history, but he figures big in my story Service and Disservice, maybe. (Later: Actually, the Internet records that McGibbon caught TB and used his money to fund a TB recovery hospital in Ste. Agathe, the famous one on the hill we passed on trips up north.. my parents always pointed it out.)

Opponents said this Tramways Deal was about some people making millions and then funnelling some of the ill gotten gains into the coffers of certain, see Liberal, political parties.

A few days before the Special Suffrage Issue of the Montreal Herald was published, in late November, 1913, with a greeting from  Christabel Pankhurst in Paris, Beck (McGibbon) published a full page rant against the Montreal Tramways Deal, in huge bold print!

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.

Luckily, the Daily Mail and Toronto World, newspapers that were also against the big industrialists of the Laurier Era, printed long-winded explanations of the genesis of this controversial deal.

Apparently, it all started in 1910 when a company was launched to build a Montreal subway. Well, the Tramways people (Rodolphe Forget, one of my grandfather's relations) didn't want that.

They created a counter proposal about improving tramways in the City, but first they wanted a 40 year contract.

A certain Monsieur Robert, a MNA in Quebec, took control of the tramway company in 1912. Hugh Graham was aligned with him.

The funny part is, I only need to write a few paragraphs about the deal in the book, but even for a few paragraphs, I have to understand it.

That's because Beck caught my grandfather in a bribery sting in late March,1913, a few days before the April 1, 1914 municipal election, and the suffrage ladies of Montreal were VERY BIG into these municipal elections, because spinster and widows with property could vote.

Indeed, their interest in  the Woman Suffrage issue stemmed from one successful intervention in the 1910 Municipal Election.

That year, the  Social Reformer Ladies (both the English and the French)  worked hard to 'purify' City Hall in 1910 and now, in 1914, they English side hoped to do it again. They also passed a resolution condeming the Tramway Deal, not exactly a social reform issue.

The French Women (La Fédération St Jean Baptist and Mme Gerin Lajoie) bowed out of the 1914 election and I suspect the Tramway controversy is the reason why.

But, in 1914, no cigar, as they say.( After all, Martin was a tobacconist.) Mederic Martin got in as Mayor...Rodolphe Forget's candidate... and my grandfather survived his little embarrassment to be the very functionnaire who announced to the Press at City Hall late on April 2, 1914, that Monsieur Martin was the new Mayor of Montreal.

Sweet Revenge.

If was Honorable Perron's law firm that got my grandfather out of trouble and Perron also benefitted from the tramway deal.

And Rodolphe Forget's daughter, Thérèse Casgrain, would end up leading the charge for Woman Suffrage at the Provincial Level in Quebec. (Her 1970's bio didn't mention any of this. She married in 1917 and lunched with Sir Wilfrid.)

 My poor Grandmaman. She must have freaked out during that week! Maybe she kept herself busy making all those tourtieres. She did her own cooking and cleaning, even when they were very well off. Why they needed all that extra money, I don't know.

Emmeline Pankhurst and Carrie Derick. Possible the least idle ladies in history.

Mederic Martin would resent the meddling of the Montreal Council of Women or these "idle women" as he dared to call them in the Press. He had to publically apologize. These Protestant women were many things, but they were never idle.
Grandpapa Jules was no idler either. He had total recall memory, it appears. .He would rise to be Director of City Services and then be pushed out by Camilien Houde, over another controversial contract  flip by the Big Guys. La plus ca change. I wrote about it in Milk and Water.

P.S the William Fong bio of  McConnell touches on this Dictaphone affair, but doesn't pretend to understand it. The tramways deal is explained, but it takes pages and pages.