Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR SC
Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR SC
Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR SC

Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR SC

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Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway CPR SC
Lords of the Line The Men who built the Canadian Pacific Railway  by David Cruise & Alson Griffiths SOFT COVER Copyright 1988   486 pages
In the spring of 1891 William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, made a blunder. It was only a medium-sized blunder as blunders go, but because Van Horne was Van Horne and the CPR was the CPR it changed the result of an election. Partial to extravagant gestures and hyperbole, Van Horne wrote a highly critical letter about Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal party. Somehow the letter made its way into the newspapers, and the Liberals, favoured to win the forthcoming federal election, were outraged.
Concerned that the party would seek revenge against the CPR if it came to power, Van Horne met with his second-incommand, Thomas Shaughnessy, a former politician, to do some damage control. Instead of issuing a simple statement of retraction or explanation, the pair decided to throw the massive weight of the CPR and its purse behind the Conservatives, both publicly and covertly. "Through various channels of the Company we organized a most far-reaching and effective bit of election machinery," Shaughnessy later boasted, "to which, in my mind, Sir John Macdonald owed his success in that campaign."'
It wasn't the first "effective bit" of electioneering by the CPR, nor would it be the last. During the construction years, George Stephen greased the wheels of Parliament with $1 million in bribes, or "bonifications," as he called them. It was widely rumoured that he gave Lady Macdonald a ,000 necklace -a gift many believed saved the railway from bankruptcy. Such high-handed tactics, together with nationwide resentment of the CPR'S early monopoly and massive land grants, have made "Goddamn the CPR" the nearest thing to a national curse that exists in this disparate country. Still a powerful presence, the company, with more than $20 billion in assets and over 105,000 employees, ranks as the second-largest corporation in Canada.*
Lords of the Line is about the six men who have dominated the Canadian Pacific Railwayt for 91 of its 107 years. Corporate titans whose power at times rivalled and even surpassed that of the country's prime ministers, they have been overshadowed by the company's historical importance.
Unmasking these men became a passion. In the two years of research and writing, we crisscrossed the country a dozen times, sniffing out clues. We washed century-old grit, and not a few cobwebs, off our hands at a dozen archives, where we read nearly 300,000 letters. We uncovered plots and counterplots and schemes within schemes as complicated and cruel as any concocted by Nicole Machiavelli. We found Rockefeller-like feats of entrepreneurial daring and moments of touching humanity. One particularly poignant visit was to William Van Home's tragically neglected summer estate, Covenhoven, on Minister's Island near St Andrews, New Brunswick.
Another moving moment was our descent into the dank, stone CP vaults in the bowels of Windsor Station, the company's Montreal headquarters. Few outsiders have ever set foot inside these caverns which contain so much of our country's history. Long, grimy piles of documents and correspondence are heaped one upon the other beside dusty barometers, dishes, lamps, linen and other relics of train stations, telegraph offices and steamships. Eeriest of all are racks of still-pristine uniforms once worn by long-dead hotel, train and ship employees. They hang there as if their owners had just left work and expected to return for their next shift.
Lords of the Line isn't always a pleasant tale, as it ripples through bogs of corruption, greed and treachery, but it is often a story of great courage, foresight and self-sacrifice, with all the attendant humour and eccentricities of the human spirit. The Lords, though not always the paragons portrayed in history books, were all larger-than-life characters, who ruled with the kind of iron-fisted autocracy that may never again be possible.

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