AITKEN, WILLIAM MAXWELL (1879-1964)
AITKEN, WILLIAM MAXWELL, FIRST BARON BEAVERBROOK; favorite son and philanthropist; b. Maple, Ont., 25 May 1879, s/o William Cuthbert Aitken and Jane Noble; brother of Robert Traven D. Aitken; m. 1st, 1906, Gladys Henderson Drury, of Halifax, and 2nd, 1961, Lady Dunn, widow of Sir James Dunn; d. Cherkley, Mickleham, England, 9 Jun 1964.
W. Maxwell ("Max") Aitken grew up as the third son in a family of nine at the Presbyterian manse in Newcastle. He was a difficult child and an indifferent student whose interests lay in practical matters and the world of business. Before he left school at age fourteen he had already accumulated a good deal of work experience, as the local distributor for Saint John daily newspapers and as an evening clerk in the drug store owned by E. Lee Street. He busied himself in this way until age seventeen, when he formed a friendship with Richard B. Bennett, the junior law partner of the Hon. Lemuel J. Tweedie of Chatham, and accepted an offer to apprentice under him as a law clerk. He took up residence at the Adams House, and had been engaged in the law office for about eighteen months by January 1897, when Bennett resigned to move to Calgary. He hoped to be invited to continue his apprenticeship under Tweedie, but he was not. Instead he enrolled in the law school in Saint John, where he failed the examinations of his first year and had to withdraw. Soon afterwards, he followed his friend Bennett to Calgary. There he sold insurance, operated a bowling alley, and in 1898, managed Bennett's first political campaign, for a seat in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, of which Alberta was still a part.
From 1900 onward there was so much development in Aitken's career that no brief account could do it justice. In 1900, at age twenty-one, he began to sell bonds. In 1903 he created the Royal Securities Corp. He based himself in Montreal, and within a few years, through the amalgamation of smaller companies, he created the Steel Co. of Canada, the Canada Cement Co., and other large trusts in the banking, transport, steel, coal, and hydro-electric industries, making himself a millionaire many times over before he was thirty. In 1910 he moved to England and won a seat in Parliament in that year's general election. In 1911 he was knighted, as Sir William Maxwell Aitken, at age thirty-two. When World War I broke out he became general representative of the Canadian government at the front. In 1917 he was raised to the peerage in Britain, as First Baron Beaverbrook, of Beaverbrook, N.B., and Cherkley, Surrey, England. In 1918 he was appointed minister of information. After the war he left politics and became a newspaper tycoon, buying the Daily Express and the Evening Standard of London and founding the Sunday Express.
Beaverbrook entered politics again during World War II, becoming minister of aircraft production and later lord privy seal in Sir Winston Churchill's cabinet. Between 1921, when his book Success was published, and 1963, when The Decline and Fall of Lloyd George appeared, he wrote nine books, and possibly as many were written about him. Many other facts could be cited concerning his political, business, and literary activities, but he is of most significance in New Brunswick and on the Miramichi as a philanthropist. The Beaverbrook scholarships, the first of which were awarded in 1920, have helped several generations of New Brunswick's leading students to acquire university training at home, as well as to undertake advanced study in Britain. Beaverbrook's numerous benefactions to the University of New Brunswick were a major factor in the institution's growth in the 1950s and 60s from a small college to a mid-sized Canadian university. To Newcastle he gave the former Old Manse Library, Sinclair Arena, and Town Hall. He also gave an arena to Chatham and The Enclosure park to the province. His was the guiding hand behind the folklore collection project which led to the creation of the Miramichi Folksong Festival. All residents of the Miramichi over the past fifty or more years have benefited directly or indirectly from his largess.
The following inscription on a statue erected in Beaverbrook's honor in Fredericton expresses the thanks of the public, and especially of the children of New Brunswick, to this most famous of all Miramichiers:
THROUGHOUT A CAREER REMARKABLE FOR ITS MANY ACHIEVEMENTS, INCLUDING VALUABLE SERVICES IN TWO WORLD WARS, HE ENRICHED THIS PROVINCE BY COUNTLESS BENEFACTIONS AND PROVIDED OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE YOUNG, ENABLING MANY TO ENJOY A FULLER LIFE. THIS MEMORIAL TO THEIR FRIEND AND BENEFACTOR IS PLACED HERE BY THE SCHOOL CHILDREN AND OTHERS THAT HE MAY KNOW THE GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION THEY FEEL FOR HIM.
Beaverbrook's first wife, Gladys H. Drury, who belonged to one of Canada's best-known military families, was only eighteen years old when they were married and not yet forty when she died, in 1927. They had two sons and a daughter, all three of whom were MPs in Britain. Beaverbrook's second wife, Lady Dunn, whom he married in 1961, was the widow of his old friend Sir James Hamet Dunn, the wealthy Canadian industrialist who was born in Bathurst, N.B.
[b/m/d] Encycl. Can. / Advocate 6 Dec 1927; Aitken; Can. Encycl.; Driberg; Encycl. Brit.; Hoddinott; Taylor; World 7 Feb 1920