The Benevolent Banker; Revelstoke

 © David Watts

My fellow Canadians, listen and learn

Of a high British businessman, banker and lord

Whose faith in our future was as great as his finance

Whose bonds were as good as his word.



 So here’s to a peer of Canada’s connecting

The benevolent banker who did what he could

Things were down all around us but still he invested

Bought us time and a chance to make good.


Canadian Pacific was virtually bankrupt

Its goal was in sight but its funds were all gone

And Stephen and Smith were prepared to face ruin

Lamenting the friends they’d let down.


The Government said it was finished with bailouts

Fronting already more than the country could take

And Tupper was pounding the pavement in London

Where he asked Baring’s Bank for a break.


Baring’s Chairman, Lord Revelstoke, made the investment

In a line almost finished whose coffers were broke

He’d have nothing to do with loans and half measures

But bought all its bonds at one stroke.



Revelstoke’s purchase was C.P.’s redemption

On the market its value shot upwards and then

The line was completed, the Company solvent

Would never go begging again.



The town that they named for him marked the division

Where the Empire’s mightiest steam engines came on

Today it’s a Mecca of mountains and fitness

With the Monashees and Selkirks around.



The line through the Rockies is a list of investors:

Stephen and Ogden and Rogers and Field

And then there’s the place that they named after Revelstoke

Who knew his investment would yield.



Ye bankers and brokers, look well to your duty

To the fledgling and foreign who come for your help

Remember Ed Baring and his faith in our future

Who believed we could make it ourselves.


(Chorus 2 times: 2nd chorus begins:)

So here’s to a peer of the Canadian Connection…


Endnotes/Commentary on “The Benevolent Banker: Lord Revelstoke”

With the bad press are getting in Third World countries these days, I’m happy to acknowledge the role of two bankers in investing in and sustaining Canada. The first was George Stephen (Lord Mount Stephen), C.P.R.’s first President who was also Chairman of the Bank of Montreal. The second was Edward Charles Baring (Lord Revelstoke), Chairman of the family business of Baring Brothers. His bank’s purchase of an entire

issue of C.P. bonds in one the Railway’s darkest moments turned Canadian Pacific from a loser to a winner overnight on international markets. His investment enabled completion of the line, and saved the Dominion of Canada as a result.


3-4 Baring would be first to quibble with the title of this song, emphasizing his bank’s decision to back Canadian Pacific was not philanthropy but foresight. He recognized the C.P.R. as a sound investment that would benefit his bank, which is why he moved to buy up the whole issue of Company bonds. Other bankers who declined to invest further in the C.P.R. were looking at its debt load. Behring chose to focus on its potential and management strength.

9-12 The Railway line was just weeks away from completion–and revenue earning potential—but its financial resources were exhausted. To meet one more payroll Stephen and Smith took out a loan mortgaged on their personal possessions. Another payroll was approaching and with no relief in sight, Stephen resigned himself to bankruptcy and was writing to apologize to friends he persuaded to invest and whom, it seemed, would be losing their investment.

13-14 Sir John A. Macdonald was adamant that no more public monies could go to the Railway. His Government’s strength was concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Montreal was C.P.R.’s headquarters and eastern terminus, and was benefiting from jobs already created. Ontario could see no immediate benefit and was the heartland of the Liberal Opposition which had opposed the C.P.R. from the outset. Many would be only too glad to see the Railway fail. With British Columbia talking succession from Canada, many Ontarions of both parties were saying “If they want to go, let them–we’re not throwing any more money to those ingrates.” Sir John A. had lost power once over the railway project–in the Pacific Scandal of 1873. With the electorate opposed, he was not prepared to risk his Government on the issue again.

15-16 Charles Tupper, a Nova Scotia Father of Confederation, cabinet minister and future PM—the last Conservative who would try to fill Sir John’s shoes after his death—was going door to door between the banking houses of Britain, seeking a loan that would see the line finished.

17-20 Edward Baring, Chairman of the strongest in banking firm Britain—bought the entire line of bonds C.P.R. had just issued. His purchase gave the bank a major interest in the Railway.

21-24 The Baring Brothers’ purchase did two things: (a) It gave the Railway desperately needed working capital, so it could continue to meet payroll till the line’s completion, and (b) It gave the C.P.R. a seal of approval on international markets, helping to guarantee its future.

25-26 The grateful C.P.R. directors put Revelstoke’s name on the major divisional point midway between Calgary and Vancouver. The Calgary-Revelstoke division had the steepest grades of the whole line: the Big Hill down the west slope of the Rockies and Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains. Years after the worst of these grades had been eliminated by the Spiral Tunnels (1989) and Connaught Tunnel (1916), Revelstoke was the western end point for the Selkirk Locomotives, the largest in the British Empire and among the largest in the world.

27-28 The Town of Revelstoke’s claim to fame today is its history, scenery and outdoor activities.

29-32 All of these “invested” in some way or other except Field. Van Horne named a subdivisional point (midway between Calgary and Revelstoke) after American Cyrus Field in the hope that he would invest in the C.P.R. He never did.

33-36 An appeal to today’s bankers to follow Revelstoke’s example, and take the long view.