CHARLES MELVILLE HAYS
1856-1912

From: "Montreal, Pictorial and Biographical"
Pub. by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, 1914


The tales of heroic conduct in times of war will always arouse the enthusiasm and call forth the praise of those who hear them, but heroism is by no means confined to the men who wear their nation’s uniform and march to the sound of the bugle.  It has been manifest where there were none to witness and none to record the story and with nothing but an individual sense of duty for its inspiration.  The world thrilled with the story of the heroism of the men, who, in the silence of the night, gave women and children over to the care of the few who manned the lifeboats and quietly awaited death on the decks of the steamship Titanic when it sank on its maiden trip across the Atlantic, April 15, 1912.  Included in the great toll of  human lives exacted by this catastrophe, was that of Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railways and one of the foremost railroad magnates of his generation.  His was the master mind in the development of the Grand Trunk Pacific and his work for the Grand Trunk Railway has become a part of the history of the Dominion.  One of the elements of his success was that he was always essentially and strictly a railroad man, never dissipating his energies over too broad a field but concentrating his efforts along that single line of activity.

A native of  Rock Island, Illinois, Mr. Hays was born in 1856, and was but a child when his parents removed to St. Louis, Missouri, in which city he was reared and received his educational training.  He was but a boy of seventeen when he started out in life on his own account as a clerk in the passenger department of the Atlantic & Pacific Railway.  From that time on his advancement was continuous and rapid, solely the result of his thoroughness, efficiency and genuine merit.  After a year he was transferred to the auditor’s department, and later was called to a position in the office of the general superintendent where his aptitude, enterprise and initiative were soon recognized.   From 1878 until 1884 he was secretary to the general manager of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and in the latter year was offered and accepted the position of secretary to the general manager of the Wabash & St. Louis Pacific Railway Company.

In 1886 he was appointed general manager of the road the following year became general manager of the Wabash Western, comprising all of the Wabash lines west of the Mississippi and also between Chicago and Detroit.  In 1889 he was appointed general manager of the reorganized and consolidated Wabash system and controlled the important and manifold interests of the railway for six years or until he resigned to become general manager of the Grand Trunk, succeeding L.J. Seargeant.  Five year later he left the Grand Trunk to take the position of president of the Southern Pacific Railway Company but remained in that connection for only a year, as the railway passed under the control of the Harriman interests, whose policy differed from that of  Mr. Hays.  About that time he received a communication from Sir Charles Rivers Wilson, again offering him the position of general manager of the Grand Trunk and he returned to the latter road late in 1901 as second vice president and general manager.  His connection therewith was continuous from that time until his demise, and on the retirement of Sir Charles Rivers Wilson in October, 1909, he was appointed president.  In the meantime his connection with railway interests constantly broadened, making him one of the notable figures in railway circles on the American continent.  He became president of the Central Vermont Railway, the Grand Trunk Western Railway, the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railway, the Toledo, Saginaw & Muskegon Railway, the Michigan Air Line Railway, the Chicago, Detroit and Canada Grand Trunk Junction Railway, the Detroit & Toledo Shore Line, the Southern New England Railway Company, the Canadian Express Company, the Grand Trunk Railway Insurance & Provident Society and of various corporations featuring largely as factors in commercial and industrial development.  He was chosen to the presidency of the St. Clair Tunnel Company, the International Bridge Company, the Montreal Warehousing Company, the Portland Elevator Company and the New England Elevator Company.  He also represented the Grand Trunk Western Railway as a director of the Chicago & Western Indiana Railway and Belt Railway of Chicago.

In 1905 he was made a member of the permanent commission of the International Railway Congress and also a director of the United States Mortgage & Trust Company.  He was a delegate to the Imperial Trades Congress in 1903.  He became a director of the Royal Trust Company and the Merchants Bank of Canada and a director of the Canadian Board of the London & Lancashire Life Assurance Company.  He was also a director of the Montreal Horticultural and Fruit Growing Association – a fact which indicated much of the breadth of his interests.  His executive ability was sought as an element in the successful management of various benevolent, charitable and philanthropic enterprises.  He was a governor of the Montreal General Hospital, a governor of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a governor of the McGill University.  In 1907 he was decorated with the order of the Rising Sun (third class) by the emperor of Japan.

He was a man of remarkable personality.  Obstacles and difficulties seemed but a stimulus for renewed effort on his part and he was never happier than when he could grasp an opportunity and utilize it to the fullest extent or untangle a knotty problem in railway management and control.  Mr. Hays was a well known  figure  in club circles, belonging to the Mount Royal Club,   St. James Club,   Canada Club, Forest and Stream Club, Montreal Jockey Club, Montreal Hunt Club, St. Maurice Fish and Game Club and the Laurentian Club of Montreal and the Rideau Club of Ottawa

Sir Wilfrid Laurier had termed him “a valuable acquisition to Canada,” and the Montreal Witness said he was “A splendid example of what brains, pluck and industry can overcome and accomplish,” while the Montreal Standard styled him “a man of quiet dignity, whose sanity and strength are seen and felt in all his undertakings.”

Mr. Hays was survived by his widow, who was Miss Clara J. Gregg, a daughter of  William H. Gregg of St. Louis, Missouri,  and four daughters Mrs. George D. Hall, of  Boston, Mrs. Thornton DavidsonMrs. A. Harold Grier and  Mrs. Hope C. Scott, of Montreal.

One of the ships that hastened to the relief of the Titanic recovered the body of  Mr. Hays, which was brought back to Montreal for interment and laid to rest following one of the most imposing funerals ever accorded a civilian in this city.  Mr. Hays worshipped at the American Presbyterian church of Montreal and was one of its trustees, but retained his membership in the First Presbyterian church of St. Louis, Missouri, and in the memorial services held in  the former on the 25th of April, 1912, a sermon by  the Rev. Dr. McKittrick, pastor of the First Presbyterian church of St. Louis, following the death of Mr. Hays, was read.  He said in part: 
 

“The colossal catastrophe of the seas which has so recently startled and dismayed the civilized world could not pass today entirely unnoted in the temples of the living God.  Among those who went down to their unexpected and, it seems to our vision, their untimely death, there was no man who worthily had a higher position in the social, industrial and financial world than Mr. Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada.  Since commonly the boy is father of the man we might almost refer to him as ‘our Mr. Hays’ for he was once in our Sunday School, and afterwards a member of our Board of Trustees.  His is an inspiring example to all our boys and to every boy in the land of what may be accomplished by rightful purpose, industry, determination, all these by the worthy motives which variously constitute character.  It took all the elements which are found in a manly man to make first so notable a record as was his in this city, and then to create for himself the distinguished name and for his undertaking the great prosperity which concerning both the history of today reveals.”

The following reference to Mr. Hays’ life and work was made at the close of public worship in the American Presbyterian church, Montreal, on Sabbath, April 28th.  Dr. Johnston said: “The subject that we have been considering this morning has unavoidably suggested to you, as it has to me, many thoughts regarding the life, the death and the work of Mr. Charles M. Hays whose loss our land mourns today.
 

“Much has already been said of Mr. Hays as the railway magnate, the man of enterprise, the devoted husband and father and the loyal friend.  Upon these phases of his character I will not therefore further dwell, but there remains something to be said of that feature of his life which, though less conspicuous to the general public, nevertheless lay deep and strong behind all these other characteristics, and was indeed the inspiration of them.  We all in this congregation know the large place which Mr. Hays gave to the work and worship of the church, and the readiness with which his time and influence were always lent to its interests.  He loved the House of God.  That love, in a measure, was doubtless the result of early training in a home of whose deep religious character he ever loved to speak in terms of affection and appreciation.  It was also due in part to his deep sense of what he owed in his place of great prominence to the community at large, and to a younger generation in particular, in the way of example.  Most of all, however, it was due to his appreciation of the place that worship should have in every life, and to his deep sense of the need of every soul for those things that the House of God and its services can give.  This attitude instead of lessening, as in so many lives it does, as responsibilities increased, and honors accumulated, deepened in Mr. Hays with the passing years.

“The continent-wide enterprises with which his name will always be associated were not simply enterprises and interests to him.  They constituted a work, a ministry, which it was given him to administer for man, through man for God.  The tends of thousands for whom he had already thrown open the door of their exodus from European stagnation and oppression were his Israel, whom he, in God’s name, was leading out into liberty and larger life.  These broad prairies and  boundless stretches  of Northern Saskatchewan and the Peace River district, those hitherto impassable Rockies, giving gateway to the flowering farmlands that slope toward the silver sands  of the Pacific – these were his Canaan, which it was his to conquer, not with sword and clash of battle, but with genius and enterprise and the power of science, so that into the good ‘Land of Promise’ he might bring the oppressed peoples of the world, to make a nation strong in liberty and in righteousness.

“Did time permit I could tell you much of how Mr. Hays carried on his great heart, the toiling multitudes of earth and their needs, and of how it was to him a vision glorious that he was permitted in some measure to contribute to their uplift and redemption.  He, too, like Israel’s leader had looked  upon the burdens of the people.  To us it seems that, like Moses, he has been permitted only to view his promised land from afar.  On the threshold of completion he has been bidden to lay down his work.  A broken column?  A work incomplete?  Yes, if this world is all, and this life the only life, but if death is indeed for the life that lives in Christ, not extinction but expansion, not frustration but promotion, then surely in some other of the many mansions in our Father’s one great house, they still serve who have ceased from labor here, and work with gladness for the bringing in of that day when throughout all the universe of God there shall be nothing to hurt nor to destroy, but ‘God shall be all and in all.’”

The press throughout the American continent united in tribute to Charles Melville Hays and under the caption of Montreal’s Loss the Gazette of April 19, 1912, said editorially: 
 

“Among the many places which will have home reasons for bearing the loss (April 15, 1912) of the steamship Titanic in sorrowful memory there will be few to rank before Montreal.  Of residents who had won or were wining honorable places of usefulness in the city’s commercial life, no less than four ended their earthly career in the dark hours of Monday when the Atlantic waters closed over the wreck of what had been one of the world’s noblest vessels.  First of these, of course, ranks Mr. Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railways and director and adviser in many allied and other enterprises.  Mr. Hays came to Montreal as a stranger, when the condition and fortunes of the Grand Trunk Railway were low indeed.  The life had apparently gone out of the direction and a great property, with great potentialities, was in danger of passing into bankruptcy.  He and his associates found their task harder also because they were strangers.  It was only a little while, however, before the city and the country, as well as the proprietors of the railway, recognized that in the new general manager, which was the title Mr. Hays then had, they had a man who for capacity ranked with the highest in his profession.  With a slight interruption Mr. Hays has had chief executive control since 1897 of the Grand Trunk Railway.  In that time it has been lifted physically to the standard of a high class, well equipped road, with few superiors in America.  Financially it has been so improved as to meet the interest charges on the new capital raised for betterments and has been able to pay dividends on some of the older issues that once seemed to have lost all value as investments.  In late years he was a chief moving spirit in the projection and construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, which is now approaching completion.  His work in these connections speaks of his executive ability louder than can words written or spoken.  It is only to be added that in all relations of life, business, or social, he was a plain, courteous and kindly gentleman, to whom all were ready to pay in full measure the respect that he deserved.”

The memorial service read in the American Presbyterian church to which previous allusion has been made, was one of the most impressive ever held within the boarders of Canada and the tributes to Mr. Hays on that occasion attested how high was the position which he held in the regard of business colleagues, of eminent educators, ministers and others.  Principal Peterson of  McGill University said in part:
 

“We have done well to come together in this solemn manner, not to meet in a useless parade of grief and sorrow, but to pay a sincere tribute to the worth of one who has gone to his last reward and to express our sympathy to those who suffer the loss of one so dear, and who have scarcely yet survived the shock of their sudden bereavement.  Our men died like heroes – in that last dread extremity they bore themselves nobly and well.

And I doubt not that foremost in fortitude was that great-hearted man who today is mourned throughout the world, Charles M. Hays, who was then eagerly returning to take his controlling part in those great enterprises with which his name will always be associated, and no doubt looking forward with joy to returning to his accustomed work and surroundings here. The vast transportation system over which he so well presided, and to which he gave fresh life, has just paid him well earned tribute in those moments of organized, concerted silence stretching across this continent – the awed hush of reverent respect and tender sympathy from every section of the railway service and from every rank and class in the community at large.  It was a moving incident, but only a slight indication of  the esteem in which he was held everywhere, and of  the loss which the railways and the people have sustained.

Mr. Hays came to Montreal in 1896, shortly after I came here, and since then it has been my privilege to know him well, and to meet him frequently in university and other affairs.  Only a short time before Mr. Hays left Europe I had a walk with him, when he talked to me of his plans for the future, and discussed university and other educational matters, with the grave and serious hope for future advancement which marked his thought.  Little then did either of us think it possible that so terrible a disaster should cut short his vigorous and useful career.  He was a real leader of men, a  true captain of industry, carrying a huge burden of work and responsibility on his shoulders, and always carrying it as a strong Christian man should.  We shall go forth from this solemn service to our customary duties, graver and sadder men.  It may be that we shall not have the melancholy duty of following to the grave the remains of this man whose work interlinked a vast continent.  He has found his grave in the ocean, and it may be literally said of  him that the whole world is his tomb.  Certainly his memory will not soon die; for long will the memory live of his impressive memorial, of his sad fate and the sorrow of his stricken family.  And when the far-reaching plans for which he stood sponsor are realized we shall often go back in thought to what this city, this dominion and the empire at large owes to  the ability, the integrity and dauntless energy of Charles Melville Hays.”

One of the glowing and well deserved tributes paid to the memory of Charles Melville Hays was spoken by Rev. T.S. McWilliams, D.D., of Cleveland, Ohio, who said: 


“The man whose loss we mourn today, and whose memory we would honor was not merely a national, he was an international figure.  The great enterprise of which he was at the head, and, to an unusual degree the guiding and animating spirit, was not merely a national, but an international railway.  It seems fitting therefore that one from the United States should have a small part in this memorial service.  The humble tribute which I bring is not merely that of a former pastor – as such I was privileged to say a few words on Sunday last.  Nor is my tribute that of a personal friend – as such my place would not be here in the pulpit, but in position with the mourners, amongst those who most deeply and genuinely feel a sense of personal loss.  Mine is the privilege today of bringing a neighboring nation’s tribute, if you will; of assuring you that many of the American people share with you the sorrow and sense of loss which feel so keenly.  In the United States the late Charles M. Hays was born, and there he spent the larger part of his life.  Of our country he remained a citizen to the last.  Yet there were few men more genuinely devoted to the interests of Canada or more intelligently attached to British institutions than he.  Few, if any, in Canada saw with clearer vision the great possibilities of the future of your country and believed more intensely in the great destinies of Canada.

To speak of Mr. Hays’ preeminent ability as a railway man is scarcely necessary.  We have only to look around to see the monuments to his genius.  There are two immense office buildings that ornament your city; there is that wonderful steel bridge over Niagara’s gorge and the great station at Ottawa.  There is the rejuvenated and vastly extended Grand Trunk Railway.  And, perhaps greatest of all, there is the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, destined at no distant date to span this continent, making accessible natural resources of incalculable value, and bringing into practical part of the national progress vast regions at present inaccessible to the agriculturist.  These are great enterprises which have attracted the admiring attention of the world and stimulated rival systems to greater activity, while bringing millions in money to your land, and, what means much more to you, an unprecedented tide of immigration.  It is but just to say that such enterprises as these have been no small factor in the building up of that great progress and prosperity which characterizes Canada at the present time.

The credit of such achievements is, of course, to be shared with Mr. Hays’ earnest colaborers – and he would have been the first to give them such credit – but to Mr. Hays is certainly due the credit of the initiative.  For a man at the early age of thirty-eight years to rise from the bottom of the ladder to the presidency of such a railway system as the Wabash, and later to be selected as president of the Grand Trunk, charged with its rehabilitation, and to so conduct its affairs that after only five years its securities had enhanced in value by eighty-six millions of dollars; to be called to the presidency of the Southern Pacific, and then called back again to the Grand Trunk to consummate yet vaster plans – these are proofs positive and sufficient of his preeminent railway genius.  The tribute of silence in which we a few minutes ago reverently joined – a silence in which we were joined by that great army of employees from ocean to ocean – was not the silence of obedience to an enforced order.  It was the genuine heart-felt tribute of men of all ranks to a leader whom they had loved and lost.

“The contagion of his example spread through every part of that great system.  Himself a hard and rapid worker his own example was sufficient incentive to do away with indolence and incompetence.  His presence anywhere on the system encouraged and thrilled to better work not by fear of the tyrant’s command to go, but they thrilled at the leader’s call to come.

“Mr. Hays was first, last and all the time a great railway man.  But it would be unjust to speak merely of that.  He possessed other qualities that impressed me even more than that.  He was throughout his life a man of lofty and unbending principle.  I personally know that his early ending of his connection with a great railway system, sacrificing a position to which was attached great honor and an immense salary, and his going out of that office, not knowing whither he went, was a wonderful example of the triumph of principle over what appeared to be personal interests.  It stands as a proof of Mr. Hays’ unwillingness to be the tool of a designing genius no matter what that might seem to offer him in the way of personal remuneration.  And in the great positions he held it was his constant endeavor to be just to all.  It was his endeavor by day and his prayer by night to always carry an even balance between the employees of his company and those who had invested their living in it with even justice to both.  Knowledge of this permeated the whole system and brought a realization amongst the men that the main endeavor of the leader was not to get out of the employees as much as possible and give them in return as little as possible, but that they were really working with, not for, their president, in the interests of all.

“And he was public-spirited man in many other spheres.  That he was a generous friend of education is proven in that he was a governor of McGill University; that he was a benefactor to suffering humanity is shown the hospitals of which he was a governor.  But far more than these public positions were innumerable cases in which he proved himself a generous but unostentatious friend to the needy.  And may I for a moment draw aside the sacred veil, and speak of his home life.  As a father, husband, brother, comrade, to all in his household he was ever the genial, pure, high-minded Christian gentleman – the idol of his home, as he deserved to be.  His religious influence was unmistakable and caused him inevitably to work for the right.  I am confident that his deep religious sense of duty was at the bottom of much that we admire in his career – he was utterly honest, not because he believed it to be the best business policy, but because he had faith in the right; he was filled with genial optimism, not from blindness to the facts, but because he knew them.

“That such lives should be allowed to be interrupted by such disasters as that we now mourn is a problem which cannot be satisfactorily answered.  It may be said that no man’s place is impossible to be filled.  But Methodism has never found another John Wesley, and the Grand Trunk will look and wait for long before it finds another Charles Melville Hays.”


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