From: "Montreal, Pictorial and Biographical"
Pub. by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, 1914
The history of Canada’s great industrial and commercial growth during the past thirty or forty years is but the history of such men as Robert Meighen one of the foremost business men of his generation, whose intense and intelligently directed activity constituted a potent force in the material development and progress of not only the city and province of his adoption but various other sections of the Dominion as well. His birth occurred at Dungiven, near Londonderry, Ireland, April 18, 1838, his parents being Robert Meighen and Mary McLeghan, whose family numbered five children. The family history shows a long line of Irish ancestors.
Robert Meighen was educated at Perth, Ontario, for following the father’s death the mother brought her family to the new world, settling at Perth, where her sons were educated and established themselves in business as retail and wholesale merchants. The firm of A. Meighen & Brothers has for many years been one of the most extensive mercantile firms doing business in the old Bathurst district. Robert Meighen carried on business in partnership with his brother at Perth, Ontario, until 1879, when he removed to Montreal and entered into business relations with his brother-in-law, Sir George Stephen, later Lord Mount Stephen, whom he succeeded as president of the New Brunswick Railway, which now forms part of the Canadian Pacific Railway system. Successful from the outset of his business career, Mr. Meighen continually extended his effort into other fields. He became one of the founders of the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, establishing and operating mills and elevators at Keewatin and portage la Prairie, which are among the largest and best equipped in the world. Shortly after the organization of this company Robert Meighen became its president, which position he retained till the time of his death, directing its policy and formulating the plans upon which the mammoth business was constructed. This represented, however, but one phase of his activity. He carried his efforts into many fields, none of them failing to profit by his cooperation.
“The Gazette,” at the time of Mr. Meighen’s death, said in part: “Mr. Meighen was a self-made man and was proud to designate himself as such. From the day he entered business pursuits at Perth, many year ago, down to the time he became a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, an institution he had championed from its inception, in commerce, in finance and in imperial politics, Robert Meighen was never at home except on the firing line. Although the face is only perhaps known to the newspaper fraternity and to some of the leaders of tariff reform in England, he advocated closer relations between the mother country and the outlying dependencies of the empire even before Mr. Chamberlain took the platform in England as the champion of such a policy.
“Mr. Meighen was known in eastern Ontario as a clever business man, a follower of Sir John A. Macdonald, and as a man who had ideas and could fearlessly express them on the stump and at the fireside, many years before he came to Montreal. It was ere his removal to this city that he had secured, most successfully, the right of way for the Ontario & Quebec Railway, now the Montreal & Toronto section of the Canadian Pacific, and later on he was entrusted with the promotion of a bill which was of the utmost importance to that railway. Mr. Meighen was not a member of parliament, but he stated his case to the members outside and in the lobbies of the house with such forcefulness, such clarity of view and in so straightforward a manner that few could withstand his cogent arguments. It was a tribute to his power that Sir Richard Cartwright’s denunciation of him was quite as vehement as the thunderbolts which the chief antagonist of the great railway project used to launch against Sir John Macdonald, Sir Charles Tupper and the other parliamentary giants of the day.
“Mr. Meighen believed not only in the Canadian Pacific project itself, but also in the ultimate value of the great tracts of land lying for a thousand miles along to the north of where the line was being run away up to the Saskatchewan, and, if he died a rich man, it was due to abiding faith in the future of Canada’s western domain and in the ultimate development of the Dominion as a whole. It was in reply to a jocular observation from Mr. Choate, the then American ambassador at the court of St. James, who had asked Mr. Meighen when Canada was going to throw in her lot with the United States, that the Montreal imperialist declared that it was customary for the larger unit to absorb the smaller, and no doubt at her pleasure Canada would follow the established precedent.
“A good many shrewd Montreal merchants smiled when Mr. Meighen came from a small Ontario town to this city as the promoter of a great industry, but many months had not passed before they discovered that both in commerce and finance a rival worthy of their keenest steel had taken his place amongst them and ever after, when any important subject was up for discussion on the floors of the Board of Trade, the opinions of the man from Perth, uttered with characteristic Irish eloquence and wit, invariably commanded respect and attention. His fellow members did not always agree with him, but they were always ready to admit that he was sincere and that he spoke the truth as felt it.
“Returning from England some years ago, when everything spelt unrest in industrial Britain, Mr. Meighen gave an interview to The Gazette which has perhaps been quoted more frequently by politicians on both continents, as well as by Canadian public men of all parties, than any other of his utterances. Mr. Meighen, who was always a great reader, declared that England at that time could only be compared to Athens when Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, went out with his lantern looking, as he said, for a man. He said, however, in the course of that interview, that the man would be found, and sure enough it was not long before Joseph Chamberlain was entering upon his whirlwind campaign in favor of imperial preference and the absolute unity of the British empire. Mr. Meighen was denounced more than once at the Montreal Board of Trade, but a good many of the men who came to scoff remained to pray, to use Mr. Meighen’s own graphic language. Three years ago, when a resolution was to be introduced before the Montreal Board of Trade on the policy of imperial preferential trade, Mr. Meighen was particularly anxious that it should be fathered by a leader in commerce and finance. He prepared the resolution, called upon the late Sir George Drummond, president of the Bank of Montreal and universally admitted to be the first authority on matters of trade and finance in the Dominion, asking him to move it. Sir George Drummond’s answer was characteristic of the man. ‘Mr. Meighen,’ he replied, ‘this resolution meets my views exactly, but the honour of moving it belongs to you and you alone and I will take a second place. You will move the resolution and I will be only too happy to second it.’ Mr. Meighen delivered a masterly address on that occasion and the resolution was carried.
“His greatest energy was centered in the development of the company over which he presided up to the hour of his death, yet he stated not very long ago that he was shaping things in such a manner as would permit younger men to assume the responsibilities of management and that after the million-dollar bond issue had been retired he would then feel that he could take a rest.
“The late president of the Lake of the Woods Company was from the outset an uncompromising opponent of the Washington reciprocity pact and he did not hesitate to state on every offered occasion that the ratification of such a treat would be a severe blow aimed at the unity of the empire, and a decided mistake in the widest interests.
“He was the confidential friend and associate in various business enterprises of both Lord Mount Stephen and Lord Strathcona. These eminent men had implicitly confidence in Mr. Meighen’s business judgment, and as a matter of fact many other men high up in imperial statecraft came to him for advice on both Canadian and British trade matters. Indeed, some of the best speeches delivered on the unionist side during the last two British elections drew their information from, and were in part, inspired by the ideas of this foremost, perhaps, of Canadian tariff reformers.”
The same paper said editorially: “A worthy and widely respected citizen was lost to Montreal by the death yesterday morning of Mr. Robert Meighen. In business he won marked success. He helped in no small way to show the great possibilities of the milling trade of Canada and so profited the country as well as himself and his associates. He judiciously employed the wealth that came to him and greatly increased his store. The largest business enterprises sought his counsel on their directorates and profited by this connection with them. He was a man of ideas in matters outside of commerce, and held and advocated views about the country and the empire with vigor and courage and the broadest loyalty. In private life his sincerity, earnestness and kindliness caused all men to give him their regard. In his capacity as merchant, citizen and man he rose to high stature; and at a ripe old age closed a worthy career, leaving memory that is a help to what is good and creditable in business life.”
Among his business connections, not already mentioned, Mr. Meighen was managing director of the Cornwall Manufacturing Company, a director of the Canada Northwest Land Company, the Bank of Toronto, the Dominion Transportation Company, the St. John Bridge & Railway Company, the Montreal Street Railway and the New Brunswick Land Company. His activities likewise extended to other fields having to do with many subjects of vital interest to city and country. He was a director of the Montreal Parks and Playground Association and was president of the New Brunswick Fish and Game Club. He was likewise vice president of the King Edward Memorial Committee of Montreal, was chairman of the Canadian board of the Phoenix Assurance Company and was a governor of the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Western Hospital and Maternity Hospital of Montreal. The Montreal Standard named him as one of the twenty-three men at the basis of Canadian finance, and it was a recognized fact that few men were more familiar with the problems of finance or did more to establish a safe monetary system. Mr. Meighen belonged to various prominent social organizations, including the St. James Club, the Mount Royal Club, the Canada Club and the Montreal Club.
He was a Presbyterian, a member of St. Paul’s church a chairman of its board of trustees. All his life Mr. Meighen was a firm believer in the copartnership of capital and labor and in the coexisting duties, on a fair basis, of one to the other. He realized and carried out the idea of their inter-dependency. When labor had contributed to the success of capital he never allowed it go without recognition and its just reward, with the result of absolute confidence on the part of his employees in his fairness and regard for their interests, and a willingness to give, in turn, their loyal and honest support to capital. Above all Mr. Meighen had keen human sympathies. He delighted in the energetic young man cutting out his road to success, but this did not prevent him from having patience and sympathy with those who, perhaps through lack of natural gifts or unfortunate circumstances, found life an uphill pull. In astonishing numbers both kinds of men seemed to bring their success and their failures to him, and to both, provided they showed honesty of purpose, he would give his time, his advice, and his help in the open-hearted way characteristic of a man who had not a single ungenerous impulse in his nature.
At the time of his death when the press throughout Canada was giving appreciations of his ability and of his success, one of his intimate friends remarked, “They have omitted the biggest thing about him – his heart” – and so it was. When these two, great heart and much ability, go hand in hand and work together, one vitalizing, as it were, the conceptions of the other, a potent force if felt to be abroad. Well is it for our Canadian business world to have had such a force in its midst as the late Robert Meighen truly was. He died when still, one might say, at the height of his activities and with a heavy burden of work upon him, but to work was his pleasure. His loss was deeply deplored by all who knew him and he left behind him a record of a man who in all things was the soul of honor and an example o those who come after – “Follow on.”
Mr. Meighen left a widow,
Elsie Stephen, daughter of the late
William Stephen, formerly of Dufftown, Scotland,
and three children, Lieutenant Colonel F.S. Meighen,
who has succeeded his father as president of the Lake of the Woods Milling
Company, Mrs. R. Wilson Reford
[Elsie Stephen Meighen]
and Mrs. R.O. Harley.
By Benjamin Sulte, Dr, C.E. Fryer & Sen. L.O. David
Canadian History Company, Montreal and Toronto, 1908
A Philosopher has written "Life is a sequence; the logical, far-seeing mind is a cumulative consequence. Men who are wise at forty were not idle at twenty"
This statement finds verification in the life record of Robert Meighen, who, as the promoter of railway and transportation interests, and of industrial concerns, has become a forceful factor in business circles of Montreal.
He was born April 18, 1839, at Dungiven, near Londonderry, Ireland, a son of Robert Meighen and Mary McLeghan, the former an agriculturist. Following the father’s death, he was brought to Canada by his mother when a very small child, becoming a resident of the town of Perth, Ontario.
His education was acquired in.the public sbhools there, and at the age of fourteen he began business life in the firm of A. Meighen & Brother, the business having been established by his brother, Robert Meighen, eventually becoming a partner. The business was founded fifty-five years ago, and is still in existence.
Robert Meighen removed to Montreal about 1879, and became associated in business with Sir George Stephen, now Lord Mount Stephen, whom he succeeded as President of the New Brunswick Railway Company, which has since been merged into the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
In connection with Sir George and others, Mr. Meighen founded the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, with mills at Keewatin and Portage la Prairie, and a chain of elevators throughout Manitoba and the Territories. These are among the most extensive and best equipped in the world, the business having reached mammoth proportions.
In addition to his duties as President and Managing Director of this Company, Mr. Meighen is also a Director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Montreal Street Railway, the Canadian North-West Land Company, the Bank of Toronto, and the Dominion Transport Company. He displays an aptitude for successful management, and a readiness in understanding intricate business situations that have made him a valued co-operant in the successful conduct of these different enterprises. He figures prominently in the business circles of the Province, and is an active member of the Montreal Board of Trade and the Corn Exchange.
In July, 1868, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Meighen and Miss Elsie Stephen, the youngest daughter of the late William Stephen, formerly of Dufftown, Scotland, and a sister of the Lt. Hon. Lord Mount Stephen. They have one son, Lieutenant-Colonel Meighen of the Fifth Royal Highlanders of Montreal, and two daughters, one the wife of R. W. Reford of the Robert Reford Company, and the other the wife of Dr. R. 0. Harley, of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Mr. Meighen, whose social qualities render him popular, is a member of Mount Royal Club, St. James’ Club, Montreal, and the Canada Club, while, in his religious faith, he is a Presbyterian. His political belief is that of the Conservative party, and he is a strong protectionist and advocate of preferential trade within the Empire. He looks at life from the standpoint of a broad-minded man, who recognizes opportunities not only for business development, but for municipal and provincial progress, lending his aid and influence in support of various measures and movements promoted for the public good.
Return to Notable Montrealers
Back to the homepage