The Howard Dynasty
by James Shepherd
Benjamin Cate Howard (1865-1923) was born with a deep and solid Eastern Townships’ heritage - his grandparents from his father’s side had been Irish immigrants arriving in the Townships in the early 1820’s, and a set of great grandparents from his mother’s side had been part of the Marlow pioneers in Stanstead, arriving from New Hampshire circa 1800. As it was, Ben Howard was born the second son to a farming family on what was known as the Howard Farm, Apple Grove, which was an area just a few miles northwest from where the old Marlow Settlement had been located - present day, Marlington.
In his youth, Ben became a sheep breeder and exhibitor at various county fairs throughout the Townships. He was mildly successful in this endeavour. As he matured, he married Helen Eloisa Salls on January 1st, 1885, and they had their first and only surviving child - Charles Benjamin Howard - in September of that year. By this time they were living in Smith’s Mills (present day, Tomifobia), and Ben soon owned a store. It mattered little how successful this business had been since it burned to the ground in the early 1890’s, and they lost everything.
Ben moved his family to Sherbrooke and started working for Mr. G .A. LeBaron, a well-known and successful Townships’ entrepreneur. Whether is was through Mr. LeBaron or through the contacts he had made when he attended Stanstead College for a few years, we do not know, but what we do know is that when Ben started working in the lumber business, his own entrepreneurial talents began to blossom.
Forming a partnership with a T. M . Craig, known as Howard & Craig, they built several lumber mills, and then pioneered the use of the railways to ship pulp lumber to paper mills. This must have taken a large piece of borrowed capital investment, but it paid off. Before long, Ben made his fortune in the lumber industry, thus forming his own company, B C Howard & Co. He employed his brother-in-law, David Johnson Salls, and through his loyalty and hard work and of other parties like David, the Howard Dynasty became well established by the early 1900s.
However, Ben was more than just a lumber baron, as he diversified his holdings and invested in other companies which included manufacturing, insurance, and real estate; he also sat on the boards of various companies, including financial institutions.
Feeling the need to contribute to the welfare of his community, Ben held such offices as the president of the Sherbrooke General Hospital, and chairman of the Stanstead Wesleyan College. Opening up his estate to the public, he established a large park for its enjoyment.
Of course, in attending to the public interest, Ben also served as alderman for the City of Sherbrooke, representing the North Ward for many years. He died relatively young, passing away in 1923 at the age of 57, but he passed more than just his fortune down to his son.
Senator Charles Benjamin Howard (1885-1964) may have been born in humble circumstances like his father, however, when he reached his teenage years he found himself living within a prominent and privileged family in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Charley received a good education, graduating from Stanstead College and attending various business schools, being groomed to take over the company businesses.
Since Charley knew that the core of the family business was the lumber industry, he took time to learn the business from the ground up by working in even the most hard labour driven areas, like the lumber camps, just so he could have a better understanding. Of course, he may have been encouraged to do so by his father. Regardless as from where the motivation came, Charley was the better for it. He always considered himself, “a lumber man.”
Charley also served as an alderman when he was fairly young, representing Little Lake, Sherbrooke. It seems that he developed a love for the political side of life through serving in municipal government. Driven by ambition, like his father, Charley set his sights upon a greater goal, and in his case, it was for a much larger political arena.
Shortly after his father passed away, Charley ran for the Sherbrooke constituency as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa under the wing of the MacKenzie King Liberals. He was successful and every time he ran for an election he won. He served four terms as a Member of Parliament. When he was ready to retire from the House of Commons, the Prime Minister appointed Charley to the Senate in February, 1940, Wellington Senatorial Division.
Combined with performing his duties as a Senator, and running the family business, which was quite extensive by this time, he ran for Mayor of Sherbrooke. In keeping with tradition, he did not lose that election either and so Charley Howard also served as Mayor of Sherbrooke, 1950-51. He later headed down to New York City in 1952 and served with Lester B. Pearson in Canada’s United Nations delegation.
Charley expanded the Howard family holdings investing in insurance companies, printing companies, and in local Sherbrooke enterprises such as the Sherbrooke Pure Milk Co. Ltd., etc. Near the end of his life, he disposed of his beloved Howardene Estate to the City of Sherbrooke. The Park still bears the Howard name. The three large Anglo-Norman style homes on the estate also found their way into ownership by the City. A street in Sherbrooke bears his name - rue du Sénateur-Howard.
Senator Howard was described as “rotund,” and being hard-nosed at times. However, he was also known to be quite congenial and of a cheery disposition. Through my family, which was related, we learned that he was a very generous man. Charley was also completely bilingual, although not unusual these days for Townships’ Anglophones, for his times, it was relatively uncommon. Married three times, he had two sons from his first marriage with Alberta May Campbell. She died in 1943.
Senator Charles Benjamin Howard passed away in March, 1964, and thus ended the Howard Dynasty.
Men of Today in the Eastern Townships 1917, V.E. Morrill/Erastus G. Pierce, (1917), p. 188.
Parliament of Canada
The Montreal Gazette, (Obituary) Friday March 27, 1964
Unpublished Family Sources
The author is a great grandnephew of the late Benjamin Cate Howard, and is also a first cousin of the late Senator Charles Howard, two generations removed.