by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
It was on Saturday, September 25, that the news of Frederick Edward Molyneux St. John’s appointment to replace William Fisher Luxton as editor of the Manitoba Free Press finally became public knowledge.
“The announcement made in Saturday’s (Winnipeg Daily) Tribune was the sole topic of conversation on the streets and the rotundas of hotels. Knots were to be seen gathering here and there discussing the all absorbing theme and speculating as to what would come next.”
What was revealed was that Luxton had asked for a few months extension on the $40,000 loan from Donald Smith, a director and financial backer of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), which the reporter claimed Luxton had been lead to believe would be granted. Instead, Smith called in the loan, which Luxton was unable to repay.
In the meantime, a special meeting of the Free Press board of directors was held for Friday, September 22, “and the by-law appointing Mr. Luxton and defining his duties was cancelled and a resolution passed declaring the position of managing director, held by Mr. Luxton, vacant.”
In his letter to the editor of the Tribune, published on September 25, 1893, Luxton wrote that the story of his expulsion from the Free Press was essentially accurate, “but it is not the whole story.”
Luxton said he had refused to accept interference in the editorial position taken by the Free Press from Smith and William Cornelius Van Horne, the president of the CPR. He alleged that the CPR’s Van Horne and Smith had tried to influence the editorial stand of the newspaper during federal and provincial elections.
“I declined to accept the dictation; but, inasmuch, as my views as to what was ultimately desirable in respect to the elections were not very wide of those of the would-be-dictators,” he wrote, “the Free Press, in pursuing its own course, escaped any manifestation of displeasures from that quarter.”
In fact, Luxton supported the election of Liberal Thomas Greenway, but later came out in opposition to the Northern Pacific Railway (NPR) deal made by the newly-elected premier of Manitoba. With Norquay out of the way, Premier Greenway was able to negotiate an end to the CPR rail line monopoly with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. While the CPR received $15 million from Ottawa to end the monopoly, Greenway was assured that other railways would be permitted to build branch lines south of the CPR main line.
The Northern Pacific Railway (NPR) deal resulted in the U.S.-controlled railroad completing the Red River Valley Railway (RRVR) line from the U.S.-Canada border to Winnipeg and beginning another branch line to Brandon with financing provided by the provincial government. The new railroad in Manitoba then became the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway. The NP&MR was opposed by the CPR, but the disputing sides reached an agreement whereby the two companies divided traffic amongst themselves and colluded to charge the same high CPR rates. The loser in the agreement was Greenway, who didn’t deliver on his promise that the new railway would provide competition for the CPR and lower freight rates to Manitobans.
“There has been a constant friction between the CPR management and the Free Press on the question of freight rates,” added Luxton. “The former was very much irritated by the insistence of the Free Press that transportation rates on grain are a terrible burden on the farmers and that there was no competition between the CPR and the NPR.”
According to his obituary in the May 21, 1907, Tribune, Luxton’s “personal opposition would probably not have led to the great open rupture (with Greenway) that followed had it not been that the editor was surrounded by strong-headed advisers who worked upon his feelings and played upon his pride, to an extent that finally drove him into bitter hostility and strong denunciation of the Greenway-Martin administration.”
One of those forcing Luxton’s hand was his friend, Hugh Sutherland, who was dissatisfied with the Greenway government’s NPR contract, as it was Sutherland’s desire to have the provincial government concentrate its efforts on funding the construction of the Hudson Bay Railway that he controlled.
It was written in Luxton’s obituary that the majority of his friends respected his integrity, but realized he was doing himself and the newspaper great harm by his bitter assaults on local politicians.
Luxton said the financial interests in the Free Press that the CPR had gained, allowed the railway company to take over control of the newspaper’s board of directors, who then voted for his expulsion. He said that after 21 years of being with the Free Press, he was “turned penniless into the street without an hour’s warning, notwithstanding that my engagement is manifestly a yearly one and binding on both parties, the company and myself, until the middle of April next, unless sooner, terminated by mutual consent.”
(Next week: part 4)