|Sir William Mackenzie (2002)
The financial wizard of the Canadian Northern Railway
Born 1849 Kirkfield, Ontario.
A former schoolteacher who became a successful railway contractor on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) main line. In association with Donald Mann he formed Mackenzie Mann & Company Limited (MM&Co.) in 1886. The company contracted to build the Qu’Appelle Long Lake & Saskatchewan and Calgary & Edmonton lines, which opened 1890—1. In 1896, MM&Co. acquired the charter from the Lake Manitoba Railway & Canal Co., and through a complex series of acquisitions and amalgamation of local lines, formed the Canadian Northern Railway Company (CNoR) in 1899. Mackenzie became its President in 1902, a position he did not relinquish until the property was taken over by the Dominion government in 1917.
Mackenzie’s ability to finance CNoR projects earned him the reputation as that of a “shrewd financial wizard.” His became a household name, praised by his partners and cursed by his detractors. But he was much more than a railway magnate. He was equally adept with business ventures across Canada and in Brazil including Brascan, the Toronto Transit Commission, gas, electric and telephone utilities, and coal mining, whaling and timber. He also owned La Presse, at the time the largest newspaper in Canada. The Canadian Northern became an important component of the Canadian National Railways (CNR). In a fitting tribute, Historian R. B. Fleming has called Sir William Mackenzie “the railway king of Canada.”