Class of 1988
Sir William Maxwell “Max” Aitken was born in Maple, Ontario in 1879. Raised in Newcastle, New Brunswick, he was the sixth in a family of ten children. A financer, political figure and newspaper magnate, Aitken got his first taste of the publishing industry at age 14 when he published his own newspaper, The Leader.
Upon moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia as a young man, Aitken met his future mentor and friend, John F. Stairs, who hired him and trained him in finance. Although Aitken had received very little formal schooling, he became general manager of Stairs’ Royal Securities Corporation in 1904, quickly establishing himself as a gifted dealmaker. Stairs died unexpectedly that same year, leaving Aitken control of the company that he would eventually sell in 1919.
Maxwell Aitken married Gladys Henderson Drury on January 29, 1906, with whom he would have three children. They moved to Montreal, the financial center of Canada at the time, where Aitken acquired a seat on the Montreal Stock Exchange and made his first million before the age of 30.
The family moved to England in 1910, at which time Aitken struck up a lucrative friendship with Bonar Law, the only Canadian to ever become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Max also befriended the likes of Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. Elected to England’s parliament, Aitken served until 1916. Knighted in 1911, he later was made a Baronet. When elevated to the peerage in 1917 Max took his title, First Baron Beaverbrook, from a stream called Beaver Brook that he swam in as a youth.
During World War I Aitken created the Canadian War Records Office in London, and ensured that Canada’s contributions to the War were printed in Canadian and British newspapers alike. Aitken also published a number of books on the topic; 1916’s Canada in Flanders heralds the achievements of Canadian soldiers on the battlefields.
He began building his publishing empire by acquiring the London Daily Express and Sunday Times, founding the Sunday Express in 1918. After World War II, the Daily Express became the largest selling newspaper in the world, with a circulation of 3,706,000. His great press domain was used to support his ideal of a greater British Empire.
Max Aitken was admired for his abounding energy and capacity for hard work. A generous benefactor to New Brunswick, he provided additions to the University of New Brunswick, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel (whose profits were donated to charity) and many other projects. His financial genius was demonstrated throughout his long and diverse career, and he remains a both a key and controversial figure in our nation’s history.