At first glance, Edward Plunket Taylor, a 61-year-old Canadian industrialist and sportsman, would seem the perfect type to play the villain in the film version of an Eric Ambler thriller. A big, balding man with a Sydney Greenstreet chuckle, Taylor has a thick portfolio of international holdings ranging from timber to tractors. To make the rounds of his empire, he flies a quarter of a million miles a year, much of it in his own turboprop Vickers Viscount. It is easy to visualize Taylor, as played by Greenstreet, pressing a button (closeup of a well-manicured hand) and barking, "Europe marches tonight!" Toward the end of the film the hero, played by Cary Grant, would trap Taylor in the Tyrol and exclaim with proper amazement, "So you're Mr. Big!"
Taylor, pointing his pipe (really a pistol) at Grant: "Very clever of you, sir. Ho, ho, ho!" (Sound of shots, fadeout, start of chase sequence in funicular.)
Alas, life only imitates art up to a point, and "Eddie" Taylor is no such villain at all. He is a tycoon, all right, but his fortune rests on a base of beer, not bullets. Instead of Europe marching, Canada burps. Thanks to Taylor, Canada also bets; he is the Dominion's leading patron of Thoroughbred racing. In fact, he is the Dominion's leading anything when it comes to the turf. For instance, in 1960 he was the leading breeder of winners in all North America. Not all the winners raced in the turquoise and gold colors of Windfields Farm, Taylor's stable; he likes to share his bounty. Each September he holds a private sale of all the yearlings bred on his stud farm near Oshawa, Ontario. Previous buyers get first crack, and they can buy any yearlings they wish as long as they meet Taylor's price tag. There is no haggling. All sales are take it or leave it. After a stipulated number of the yearlings have been sold, Taylor halts the sale and keeps the leavings. He does quite well with them. Four years ago no buyer wanted Victoria Park, priced at $12,500. Taylor kept him, and before the colt was retired to Oshawa last year he had finished third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Queen's Plate (Canada's own version of the Derby) and $250,076 in purses, the alltime record for a Canadian horse. Taylor was pleased by Victoria Park's performance but not particularly surprised. Horses bred by him have won 10 of the last 13 Queen's Plate races. The winner last June was the Taylor-bred Blue Light, owned by Colonel K. R. Marshall, the chairman of The Jockey Club, Ltd. The victory was worth $46,620 but, more important, it was the colonel's first Plate win in 50 years of trying. He had paid Taylor only $7,500 for Blue Light in the 1959 yearling sale.
If Eddie Taylor had never had success in breeding or racing horses, he would still be the most important man in Canadian turf circles, for one very good reason. He is the president of The Jockey Club, Ltd. Ten years ago, when Ontario racing was strictly bush league, the province had seven tracks, all third-rate, that scrambled for the choice dates. By the time they had finished carving up the calendar, not one could make money. As a result, the purses were miserable, the quality of racing poor and the public fed up. Taylor swooped down upon the tracks, killed off five, rebuilt two and erected a new Woodbine for $13 million.
April 2, 1962
One of the tracks that Taylor bought and rebuilt was Fort Erie, purchased from John Cella of St. Louis. "Taylor has an abnormally keen mind that gets right to the heart of things in seconds," Cella says. "He has an enormous amount of drive.
"I remember I was sitting at home on a Saturday night when the phone rang. It was Taylor calling from Toronto. He said, 'You don't know me, but I'd like to buy your racetrack at Fort Erie. How much do you want?' I named a figure, and he said, 'That's a little more than I anticipated, but I think we can meet it. Mr. Cella, have your lawyer in my office Monday morning.' The deal was made in three minutes over the phone. I never met the man until six months later."
Each of the three tracks now has a long and profitable season, patrons can watch in comfort and horsemen are delighted with the increased purses. Taylor expects the new Woodbine, which now attracts a peak crowd of 30,000, to pull in 75,000 to 100,000 in 10 or 15 years' time. As one knowing U.S. horseman recently remarked, Taylor is "the greatest single force in any country's racing since Admiral Rous." The admiral, it may be recalled, controlled the British Jockey Club for most of the 19th century and instituted the weight-for-age handicap scale used today.
Besides his interest in racing, Taylor is a major figure in developing the resort possibilities of the Bahamas. He bought a 4,000-acre chunk of New Providence island, and there he has built the largest private yacht harbor in the world for the residential colony of Lyford Cay, one of the most lavish vacation communities anywhere.
In every field Taylor operates in an unusual fashion. When at home in Toronto, he disdains a downtown office and works instead in the gatehouse of his 600-acre estate, Windfields Farm, where his horses are kept in training. After breakfast and a brisk horseback ride, he spends the morning receiving reports from five key aides assigned to look after his business interests, horses and Lyford Cay. A reticent man, he modestly uses the editorial "we" instead of "I" in conversation to play down his power and influence, and he does his best to avoid the press, most of which he privately detests because it has attacked him as a monopolist. "My friends say that the press doesn't 'get' me," Taylor recently remarked. "They're right. The press doesn't."
Taylor's knack of turning a dollar may derive from a formative teen-age year he spent living with his maternal grandfather, Charles Magee, a smalltime wheeler dealer who dabbled in Ottawa beer and real estate. During this period Taylor picked up the habit of studying the agate type in the financial pages each morning. After a year of schooling in England, where he accompanied his father, Colonel Plunket Taylor, during World War I, he enrolled at McGill University in Montreal to study mechanical engineering. He helped put himself through by inventing a toaster, but by the time he received his B.S. in 1922 he had decided to pass up engineering in favor of finance.
Though he had no money of his own, Taylor did have ideas. He returned to Ottawa, where he got backing for a metered-cab company, the first in the city, and a suburban bus line. When the going got tough, Taylor served as a relief driver. He sold out both interests at a profit and joined his father in working for a firm of investment bankers.
Taylor did so well that he skipped right over his father's head and into the main office in Toronto. There he prospered to such an extent that he became a partner at the age of 27. Taylor was then making at least $1,000 for each year of his life, fulfilling a pledge he had made to himself when he left McGill. Even so, he was restless. He was doing what a host of other successful men had done and he found it wasn't exciting. The impulse to do something creative, to engineer something new, as he had done in a small way with the toaster at McGill, won out. He took a leave of absence from the firm to oversee one of his grandfather's small holdings, Brading Breweries, Ltd.
This was hardly a great opportunity. The company was sinking fast in its own suds. Canada had scores of other small breweries, most of them on the way to bankruptcy; and among them all, they poured hundreds of brands into a shrinking market. No one could make a dime: prohibition in the U.S. and restrictive laws at home had all but made Canada dry. A believer in bigness, Taylor took the course he was later to pursue with Ontario's seven rickety racetracks: he began borrowing to buy up competitors. He merged the companies into a giant of his own creation, the Brewing Corp. of Canada, later changing the name to Canadian Breweries, Ltd. Ever sensitive to monopoly charges, Taylor thought the name had "more soul."
It was touch and go during the early years. Canadian bankers looked askance at Taylor's big but weak giant, and he had to get backing from abroad. The turning point came in 1934, when Ontario legalized taverns. Today Canadian Breweries is the largest beer company in the world, and Taylor's influence has spread south of the border with Car-ling's, a subsidiary he picked up in the Depression for a $600,000 mortgage. Carling's now ranks fifth in sales by U.S. breweries (behind Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, Pabst and Falstaff).
At present Taylor is trying to get a good grip on the British market. The brewing industry there is in the same chaotic state that existed in Canada during the '30s. Amalgamation, to use Taylor's favorite word, must come, and he wants to be the amalgamator. He stands a good chance, too, if only because the taste of British pubgoers is turning away from black, bitter ale to the light and brighter lager favored in the U.S. and Canada.
A segment of the British press has been hostile to Taylor. One reporter wrote that Taylor was "the big bad bogeyman of the brewing business" who lacked the sense and grace to "realize that you can do many things to an Englishman—raise his taxes, heft shop prices, even steal his wife—just so long as you don't interfere with his beer." Such a story only increases Taylor's contempt for what he calls the "gutter press." Curiously, Taylor doesn't seem to mind that his son, Charles, 27, is a free-lance journalist in London. In fact, he and his wife, Winifred, listen to an occasional morning broadcast Charles does from there for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "We can tell whether he has a cold," Taylor says, always the practical businessman.
During World War II, Taylor served as the dollar-a-year chief of the British purchasing mission in Washington. His career was uneventful save for a December torpedoing off Iceland early in the war while on the way to consult with Lord Beaverbrook, Churchill's Minister of Supply. Taylor survived the dunking by donning an Abercombie & Fitch duck-hunting suit that he had bought to meet just such an emergency and, except for the fact that the damn zipper snagged, he passed a comfortable 12 hours adrift in a lifeboat before being rescued by a passing freighter.
The war over, Taylor returned to Toronto, his mind on bigger things than beer. With three partners, he set up the Argus Corporation, Ltd., a holding company, and as part of his contribution tossed in Canadian Breweries. Besides the breweries, Argus has a major voice in the control of five of Canada's biggest companies. Last year those six did $1.6 billion worth of business, roughly 4% of Canada's gross national product.
With Argus launched, Taylor turned to racing, which he had entered in a minor way as an owner in the middle '30s. He bought 1,200 acres of land 20 minutes from downtown Toronto, set half of it aside for his home and training farm and peeled off the remainder gradually at prices up to a very profitable $25,000 an acre. Taylor modestly explains this tidy coup now by saying that he had foreseen that the suburbs would expand in the direction of his farm. The fact is, Taylor practically made Toronto grow in that direction by building Don Mills, a community of 25,000, between the city and the farm.
At the same time Taylor was acquiring land for a breeding farm in Oshawa. Some 35 miles from Toronto, Oshawa is a bit too far away to become a suburb. The farm now totals 1,700 acres and, despite the name (National Stud Farm), it belongs to Taylor, not to Canada. (Of course, there are those who argue Taylor owns Canada.) About half of the 175 head of horses at Oshawa are his; the rest belong to smaller breeders who lack adequate facilities.
"We can raise horses as good as any country in the world," says Gil Darlington, the manager of the farm and one of Taylor's key aides. "It's the raising of the horse that counts. You can breed a $10,000 stud to a good mare, and if you don't raise the foal right, you don't get a good racehorse. You can take a stud here that stands for only $1,000, breed him to the same mare, raise the foal properly and get a better racehorse." Even now, Victoria Park's sire, Chop Chop, stands for only $1,500.
The high point in Taylor's turf career thus far came in 1959 when he escorted Queen Elizabeth to Woodbine for the 100th running of the Plate. After the race, in which Taylor had entered New Providence, a 6-to-1 shot, he escorted the Queen across a red carpet to the infield, where he momentarily changed roles from president of The Jockey Club to the owner of the winner. New Providence had scored a 1½-length victory. After accepting the Queen's congratulations and the traditional leather purse containing 50 gold guineas, Taylor again became president of The Jockey Club and, to the cheers of the crowd, proudly escorted the Queen back to the royal box.
Taylor's Bahamian venture at Lyford Cay promises to be every bit as successful as his racing career. He first became interested while on vacation in Nassau in the early '50s. A group of local businessmen had their eyes on the area, and they wanted Taylor to come in with them. He was a logical partner: he was then well embarked in building Don Mills. Taylor demurred. "I told them I was in the Bahamas for a holiday," he says. "But as I spent more time there 1 realized the possibilities. I said I would do it if they would sell out to me. It was not suitable for partnership in view of the long-range development I had in mind. I had a five-year plan, and we started work in November of 1956."
The $2 million golf course and the $3 million golf clubhouse came first. Much of the land under both was marshy, rich black soil. Bulldozers scooped it out and stockpiled it near by. Engineers blasted out a huge section of a spiny coral ridge south of the proposed course and used that for fill. The marshy soil was then spread on top, and the result was beautiful fairways. The residential clubhouse, salmon-pink Bahamian Colonial, has 50 guest rooms, each with a view of the sea. The cuisine is French and is, Taylor's brochure boasts, "greatly praised by guests." In addition to both clubhouses and the golf course, Lyford Cay now has a servants' building where accommodations can be had for one's chauffeur, valet and/or personal maid. There is also a shopping center, a bank, an antique shop, a laundry, an elementary school, a shrub nursery growing all sorts of rare tropical flora, a skeet range, tennis courts, 70 windmills pumping water from 420 wells, 500 building lots, a company of private guards and a Church of England chapel donated by Taylor himself. The fishing is superb (there is no offseason in the Bahamas), and golden beaches gird the cay. For year-round residents, Lyford Cay also offers the allure of no income tax.
The 15-acre yacht harbor has been completed, and 50 yachts have visited there this season. Membership fees are low (the initiation fee is only $560), but the price of building lots is high, up to $70,000. Although a member is not required to buy a lot and build, many do. At present there are slightly more than 600 members. They include Henry Ford II, CBS Board Chairman William Paley, New York Yankee Owner Dan Topping and the Earl of Carnarvon.
Taylor, as usual, expects to turn a profit on the venture. When all the lots are sold, he will still own the utilities. Moreover, he has developed only 1,000 acres, and he has another 3,000 adjoining to play with. "I like everything I do," he says. "I don't do anything I don't like." Eddie Taylor has little reason to feel otherwise.