Clarence Decatur Howe, born in Waltham,
Massachusetts, on January 14th, 1886; died
in Montreal, on December 31st, 1960. Engineer
C.D. Howe inscribed to Prime
Archives of Canada, C-020113.
Nicknamed "the Minister of Everything",
he was described as a "fascist, but
a nice Fascist", and accused of having
set himself up as a virtual dictator. All
agreed, however, that Howe was the man that
got things done. As minister responsible
for transportation, munitions and supplies,
he gave Canadians the means that were urgently
needed to support the war effort.
C.D. Howe was born in Waltham, in New England.
His father was in the construction business,
and the family was affluent enough to allow
young C.D. Howe to receive a university
education. He studied at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in Boston between
1903 and 1907 and graduated as an engineer.
In 1908 he took up a teaching position
in civil engineering at Dalhousie University
in Halifax. He was already convinced that
any problem could be solved through common
sense and hard work. On that basis, and
despite the fact that he had no practical
experience in that area, he left for the
Canadian West in 1913 to supervise the construction
of grain elevators for the Canadian Board
of Grain Commissioners.
In 1916, Howe created his own engineering
firm in Port Arthur, Ontario, with a specialty
in grain elevators: the C.D. Howe Company
Ltd. was to be immensely successful in the
1920s building elevators and bridges in
Vancouver, Saskatoon, Churchill, Port Arthur,
Toronto and Prescott, and as far as Buenos
Aires in Argentina. In the 1930s though,
the Depression forced the company to drastically
reduce its activities.
While Canada was in the grip of the great
economic depression, the Liberal Party of
Mackenzie King asked C.D. Howe to run
in the 1935 federal elections. In September,
he was elected as Liberal MP for Port Arthur
and chosen by Prime Minister King for the
double portfolio of Shipping and Railways,
to be fused in 1936 in a single department,
that of Transportation.
Applying his pragmatic outlook and keen
business sense to political issues, Howe
launched a reorganization of the Canadian
harbour system and a restructuring of the
Canadian National Railway to help them regain
profitability; he also ensured state control
over the airwaves by creating the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation (CBC - Société
On June 30th, 1937, Howe flew from Montreal
to Vancouver on a Lockheed 14H of the Department
of Transportation. The 17-hour and 34-minute
flight was the first transcontinental connection
in Canadian history and the first flight
of a new Crown corporation, Trans-Canada
Airlines, which would become much later
In 1939, the Department of Transportation
was feverishly preparing for the upcoming
war. On April 9th, 1940, the Department
of Munitions and Supplies was created, with
C.D. Howe at the helm. The engineer turned
politician was facing a major challenge:
to lead the Canadian population and industry
through the production changes required
by the war effort.
Through the War Measures Act, the Department
of Munitions and Supplies enjoyed far-reaching
powers, controlling markets, the allotment
of natural resources, production volumes,
and the use of specialized manpower. To
run this gigantic war production machine,
Howe relied on the patriotism of Canada's
leading businessmen, asking them to provide
their services to the Department of Munitions
and Supplies for the duration of the war
without compensation. He also surrounded
himself with an outstanding management team,
which included men such as E.P. Taylor and
Miss Edna Poirier
presenting the Honourable C.D.
Howe with the 100,000,000th
25-pounder shell produced in
Canada. The ceremony took place
at the Defence Industries Limited
facility in Cherrier, Quebec,
by Jack Long. National Film Board
/ National Archives of Canada,
Howe himself was not immune from the perils
of the war. In December 1940, as he was
sailing to Great Britain aboard the Western
Prince, his ship was torpedoed by a
U-boat; Howe spent eight exhausting hours
aboard a lifeboat on the icy sea. The possibility
of death by exposure or by drowning, or
by enemy fire from the submarine that surfaced
near his boat, could not abate Howe's determination.
Having been rescued by a merchant ship,
he resumed his journey to London without
any delay and according to plans.
On October 13th, 1944, C.D. Howe was put
in charge of a new portfolio, that of Reconstruction.
His task was to reorganize Canadian industry
back into the free enterprise mode, to ensure
employment for demobilized soldiers and,
in general, to maintain the wartime level
of activity into the upcoming peace era.
Industry had to be freed from government
control measures and guided through a shift
to the production of consumer goods for
the welfare of the whole population.
As peace returned, Howe was appointed Minister
of Trade and Commerce; he was to keep that
portfolio in the government of Louis Saint-Laurent
who replaced King as Prime Minister in 1948.
He was in charge of armament production
programmes during the Korean War and in
the earlier stages of the Cold War.
In 1956, a scandal erupted over the financing
of a trans-canadian natural gas pipeline
and Howe was in the eye of the storm. His
intractable attitude and abrupt manners,
which could be tolerated from the former
"Minister of Everything" in times
of emergency, were no longer deemed acceptable
in a democratic, parliamentary regime. At
the 1957 federal elections, the Liberal
government was defeated and Howe lost his
seat. After 22 years of uninterrupted good
and faithful service, Howe, now 70-year
old, retired from political life.
beginning of the war, it has not been
my practice to take part in the debates
of the House, apart from giving certain
information about my department which
seemed to be required in order to allow
of decisions being reached. I have been
entrusted with the task of mobilizing
the activities of industry for war production,
and I have concentrated all my time and
thought on that particular problem."
C.D. Howe, June
R. Bothwell et W. Kilbourn,
C.D. Howe: A Biography, 1979.
John D. Harbron, C.D. Howe,