Saturday, June 2, 2012

Old Black Joe Flavelle: Condemning the Great War Profiteer

 Library and Archives Canada/C-23692
Joseph Wesley Flavelle was a self-made millionaire whose business interests extended far beyond the meat-packing industry.  It was his profits from interests in the William Davies Company during the Great War, however, that drew a broadside of condemnation from the Canadian press and public.

The accusations were especially pointed from a man who in late 1916 had told Toronto manufacturers to ignore profit during the war.  Flavelle harangued the businessmen:

"Profits! I have come straight from the seat of a nation where they are sweating blood to win this war, and I stand before you stripped of many ideas. Profits! Send profits to the hell where they belong."(Bliss, p, 295)

Nevertheless, it was due to profits that the country found their villain in Flavelle.  Michael Bliss' biography noted that a man that started his fortune in the pork industry lent himself to gluttonous metaphors.  Bliss notes, "there were bitter jokes about baconets and baconeers, hogging the profits and wallowing at the trough." (Bliss, A Canadian Millionaire, xi) 

The story was broke by Saturday Night, and a reprinted pamplet shows the vindictive vitriol poured out on the Canadian businessman.
From "Joseph Discovered by his Brethren", Gadsby, H. Franklin.

Cover of Saturday Night pamphlet
The scandal killed Flavelle's reputation.  Despite his role in organizing the munitions industry, cleaning up the mess of inefficiency and patronage from the Sam Hughes days, Flavelle was the war's most notorious profiteer.  As he stated after a commission had cleared his name, "Shall we close this chapter[?] It is all over except the unfortunate remembrance in every part of Canada that I am [...] a profiteer." (CBC)

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