1925, “No Sham or Show to Fraser, Lumber-Paper King of the East”

From the archives, here is a transcription of an article by Floyd S. Chalmers published in The Financial Post on June 19, 1925:noshamorshow

“The first time I saw Archie Fraser and his brother, Donnie, they were bunching shingles in a little mill yard up-province. Their father owned the mill but the boys worked from dawn to dark and they learned the business from the sawdust up.”

Archibald Fraser

Archibald Fraser

So spoke a Fredericton, N.B. man to me the other day. I had asked him about his fellow neighbor, Archibald Fraser; asked him how a man could acquire millions; could build up a business so large that to go into Montreal to borrow five million dollars on it, wasn’t particularly startling; could become the richest man in his province and yet never lose his good Scotch common sense, his freedom from sham or show; his big-hearted seven-days-a-wee Christianity.

“You see, it was this way,” went on the Fredericton man. “Archie Fraser’s dad came out with a party of Scotch immigrants. He hadn’t much money but he had a determination to work and a bundle of pride. When the immigrants landed in Fredericton the town put them up at the court house. But old Donald Fraser was too proud to accept anything that looked like charity. He put his little family up at the hotel and it took his half sovereign to do it. And then when he got along a bit the boys got out and worked and they’ve been working ever since.

“That’s why Frasers is what it is to-day, the biggest lumber, pulp and paper business in the East. And it’s going to keep on growing bigger and stronger or I miss my guess. I saw one of the Fraser boys the other day and what do you think he was doing? Chopping down trees. And he’s the heir to millions. “Do we like Archie Fraser around here? I guess we do.”

Fraser Names Means Much

Frasers have been a name of names in lumbering in Canada for many years. But it is only of recent years that the company has been widely known outside the lumber industry. Archibald Fraser’s entrance into the field of big finance is making his company known from coast to coast. But the country will never hear much of Fraser himself, the president of the company. He’ll sign his name to annual reports and prospectuses but he won’t get his picture taken. He’ll interview his bankers but not the newspapers. He’ll drive a super-something car because it get him around his mill more speedily than anything else but you’ll seldom get him out of grey tweed, black melton and a black hat. He’ll sign his name Archibald in business documents but he leaves it at Archie in the phone book. Personal publicity and show mean so little to him that he probably won’t bother to get angry when he sees this sketch of himself in print.

His Aberdeen Complex

Archie Fraser came from Aberdeen, which is one thing he’ll never forget. He is just as Aberdeen-conscious as most people who hail from the Granite City, for he pts natives of Scotland in two classes, ––Scotsmen and real Aberdonians. Back in the late “70’s,” Fraser’s father packed his duds and assembled his family and joined a group of immigrants sailing for New Brunswick. Most of them settled up-province around Kincardine and Kintere [Kintore] which they settled and named.

Fraser, senior, got work on a railroad being built from Fredericton to Woodstock and when the road got as far as Riviere du Chute, he quit this job and became a sawyer in a lumber mill while his wife worked for the mill-gang. The frugal pair saved every dollar they could and when their employer got sick of lumbering and said there wasn’e anything in it, Fraser took over the mill.

When Archie Fraser was 14 he started to work in the mill and when he was 21 he went into partnership. The elder Fraser died in 1916 but it is fair to state that the biggest growth of the companies has come during the regime of Archibald Fraser for he has been its directing head since long before his father’s death. The other brother, Donald Fraser, has been chiefly in charge of actual lumbering operations.

In Pulp and Paper

The opening up of the Panama Canal has brought big changes. Lumber from the Pacific Coast was loaded on vessels and brought around to sell at low prices on the Frasers’ traditional markets in New England, Europe, even in the Maritime Provinces. It made competition keener and together with the depletion of the forest, put many mills out of business. There used to be 16 saw mills on the St. John River near St. John. Now only one is running. But the Panama Canal didn’t put the Frasers out of business although it made them change some of their methods, put them into pulp and paper more than lumber.

In 1916 Archibald Fraser decided to enlarge his firm’s output more and he built a big sulphite pulp mill at Edmundston, N. B. The town seemed to have everything against it as a location for a sulphite pulp mill but Archie Fraser listened to people’s comments and said nothing. This year the reason why Edmundston was chosen was revealed when the Frasers revealed that they were going to build a paper mill at Madawaska, Maine. Madawaska is across the river from Edmundston. The Frasers cannot make the kind of paper they want in Canada and sell it in the United States. The duty would be twice as much as the profit they expect to make. But they are building a paper mill on the American side; will ship the pulp across the river in pipes and thus get around the United States tariff laws by doing most of the work in Canada and finishing up in the States.

Planned Far Ahead

All this has been in the back of Archie Fraser’s head for ten years and he has never breathed a word of it. Not until the whole thing was finally closed would he tell what kind of paper he intended to make. I asked him a few months ago. He answered: “An all sulphite sheet.”

“Yes, I know, but writing, books, magazines; what?” I further persisted.

He replied, “I’m not saying yet.”

This reticence is a regular characteristic of the man. A New Brunswick newspaperman said to me the other day, “You’ve been talking to Archie Fraser. Well, did you find out why he went to Europe? He wouldn’t tell me.”

The officials of the company seem to have caught the habit. Some time ago when plans for the Fraser mill in Maine were first worked a Montreal editor wired to the president, Fraser Companies asking for information. A wire came back, “The president is in Europe.”

Studied European Mills

Fraser spent many weeks in Europe going through the big pulp and paper mills of Scandinavia. He wanted to see why those mills were able to cut into markets that belonged, by geography, to Canada. Incidentally, he came home convinced that Canadian pulp and paper mills need not long fear foreign competition. “Europe I coming back,” he says. “Soon they will be needing all their own paper over there. Take Russia now. Russia used to use over 20 pounds of paper per capita yearly. Now its using 2 ½ pounds. There won’t be European pulp and paper on this side when they get back to pre-war condition.”

Fraser travels a great deal. He lives at Fredericton, which is several hours’ run from the most important mill. “Why don’t you live at Edmundston?” I asked him.

He replied, “I don’t believe in getting too near my work. If a man gets away from it he gets a better perspective. I travel around among the mills, I go to New York, Montreal and elsewhere but I never stay long at the mill.”

In traveling around his miles, to Montreal and elsewhere, Mr. Fraser travels by automobile a great deal. Extra-cautious drivers would consider him a speed-fiend by comparison for his impatience to reach his destination leads him to high speed. They say down in New Brunswick that his car has turned over several times and that he was once shaken up badly in a motor accident. But he sticks by his car. Once he was in hospital for a few weeks. When the doctors let him go they told him to take it easy. But he drove from Montreal to Fredericton as the first thing he did when he left his bed.

His company has grown to large proportions and is now extending further. It controls 2200 square miles of timber land, a kingdom in itself. There are over a dozen mills with annual capacity of 124,000,000 ft. of lumber; 158,000,000 shingles; 200,000 laths; 100,000 railway ties; 58,000 tons of pulp yearly to which will be shortly added 200.000 tons of paper. The balance sheet shows total assets of over $25,000,000.

$25,000,000! And the man who first owned the mill Archie Fraser’s dad started with, said there wasn’t anything in lumbering!”

See the story here.