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Sir Thomas Shaughnessy 'The Canadian Pacific'

Spy (Sir Leslie Ward) (1851-1922)



Watercolour and bodycolour

18 x 14 ¾ inches

Vanity Fair, 26 August 1908, Men of the Day no 1133, 'The Canadian Pacific'

Chris Beetles & Alexander Beetles (eds.) Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection, London: Chris Beetles Ltd, 2023, page 177

'Portraits of Vanity Fair: The Charles Sigety Collection', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, October-November 2023, no 86

Thomas Shaughnessy (1853-1923) was born in Wisconsin, USA, where he began a career on the Milwaukee Railway. In 1882, he was made general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway and moved to Montreal, where he would remain for the rest of his life. In 1891 he became the company’s vice-president, before becoming its president in 1899. For his services to the growth of Canada’s industry, he was knighted in 1901 and raised to the peerage in 1916.

"Of that Irish stock which does better everywhere else in the world than it does in Erin, Thomas Shaughnessy was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1853: he had the ordinary public school education of the American lad, and at sixteen, by his own desire, he went in for railway work and got a place as clerk in the purchasing department of the Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railway. The boy was, of course, filled with ambition; but it is very unlikely indeed that his boyish ambition ever soared higher than the reality.

A very glutton for work, Thomas Shaughnessy in a few years became general storekeeper, and had to look after the distribution of the supplies over the whole system. It was in this way that he came in contact with William Van Horne, who was at that time General Superintendent of the railway. A little later, William Van Horne went to Canada, and in 1882 he sent for Thomas Shaughnessy, and made him the Purchasing Agent, with an office in Montreal, for the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was just about to be started.

Only one man living can tell the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and that man is Sir Thomas Shaughnessy. His life history is the history of the great steel girdle. Five men formed themselves into a syndicate and undertook to construct the railway: they were George Stephen, now Lord Mount Stephen, who was the initiating genius of the line, and the first President of the Company. He had been building the Saint Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba road, with James J. Hill, and made a lot of money; he was the first man to see that the Canadian Pacific Railway was at least as feasible as the Union Pacific. The others were Donald A. Smith, now Lord Strathcona, William Van Horne, R. B. Anzus and Duncan Macintyre. Hill retired very quickly because of a disagreement with his colleagues.

It all looks very easy now; but financing the railway was very difficult. It was thought at first that sixty-five million dollars of common stock, with a Government subvention of twenty-five million dollars would suffice to construct the whole road; but it was almost impossible to sell the shares. Still, the construction of the road went on: two men being determined to see it through, George Stephen and Donald Smith. These two found millions of dollars for the railway as and when they were wanted. But in 1884-5 it was necessary to borrow from the government; thirty million dollars were borrowed on bonds, giving the whole of the completed line, rolling stock, stations and everything as security. Sir John Macdonald, the Premier of Canada, did his best, and carried the loan through: the loan was all repaid before the end of 1885, by an issue of thirty-five million dollars in bonds. As soon as the road was completed these bonds were taken up, and the financial stress was lifted, but of course even then the road was not a paying property; branch lines and feeders had to be constructed; but in measure as this was done the road prospered.

Before this Sir Thomas Shaughnessy had made himself a marked man: in 1885 he was appointed Assistant General Manager under Van Horne: in 1891 Lord Mount Stephen retired and Mr. Van Horne became President and Thomas Shaughnessy became Vice-President. In 1900 Mr. William Van Horne in his turn retired, and Thomas Shaughnessy became President: he was knighted the next year.

The Canadian Pacific Railway is regarded by experts as the greatest railway on the American continent: it owns 9,500 miles of road in Canada, will own 10,000 before the end of the year, and controls over three thousand more miles of railway in the United States. It directs a fleet of sixteen steamers between Great Britain, the Continent and Canada. The steamers run to Quebec and Montreal in summer, and to St. John, New Brunswick, in winter: the two Empress vessels are among the finest steamers afloat: the railway also manages a line of steamers from Vancouver to Japan, China and Hong Kong, and possesses three high-class passenger boats. It has also trading steamers running up the Pacific Coast between Vancouver and Alaska, and vessels on all the lakes, especially on Lake Superior.

As Sir Thomas Shaughnessy says, ‘The Canadian Pacific has already given the All-Red Route: if the English want it improved, it can be improved at a very small cost: if the British government wishes to give a subvention for the carrying of mails, we will undertake to deliver mails and passengers in Chicago from Great Britain a day sooner than they can be delivered via New York.’

Sir Thomas Shaughnessy is very proud of Canada and of its future. The Goldwin Smiths, he says, and the Judge Longleys have no following:

‘Canada is not going to cut loose from the mother country: we do not regard ourselves merely as a colony; but as a sister nation: we wish to have more voice in such affairs as concern us chiefly; but we believe that the connection with the mother country will become even closer with time, and with improvements in the ways of communication.’

Sir Thomas Shaughnessy was married in 1880 and has five children, two boys, and three girls.

When the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the development of Canada comes to be written, the two names of Lord Mount Stephen and Sir Thomas Shaughnessy will be found linked together indissolubly: the first was the inaugurating genius, the second brought the great line to assured success and the first place among Transcontinental railways.”

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