Old St. Andrews

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Richard Benedict Van Horne

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Benny, his wife Edith and his son William (or "Small William" as he was called by his grandparents) were frequent summer visitors. Benny had married Edith Molson, of the Montreal brewing family, in 1906. Even as a teenager, Benny saw the Island only on short vacations, as he was in school first in New York and later in Boston; later working first with the CPR and after that on Sir William's Cuban railroad project. Like his father and his Aunt Mary, Benny was handy with brush and pen. His letters home from Holbrook's Military School were frequently adorned with humorous pen and pencil sketches of school life, and by the time he was in his late teens they showed considerable ability. He was quite proud of this talent. He produced not only the "Covenhoven Follies," already mentioned, but also two similar but lesser quality works called "A Basketful of Pups" and "Getting an Earful." In 1928, when he was in his late forties, he paid the Todd Company over $1,200 for 200 reproductions of each of these three booklets.

Like Sir William, too, Benny loved to sail. Sir William bought the first "Uvira" for Benny in 1900, and for the first decade of the century the Beacon kept track of his various victories in races from Cape Breton to Saint John and Passamaquoddy Bay. In 1917 Benny ordered a larger yacht which he called "Uvira II" from the Camden Anchor-Rockland Machine Company in Camden, Maine. This was a combination sailboat and steamboat, custom made, and larger than the original "Uvira," being 79 feet in length and 16 feet across the beam. The captain of "Uvira II" was Daniel Irwin, the brother of Arthur Irwin, who had drowned while working on the "Covenhoven" in 1910. In 1917 Daniel Irwin himself drowned in a boating accident on Chamcook Lake. It's not certain what happened to the "Uvira" or "Uvira II," but in 1930 Benny purchased second-hand another steam yacht, this one called "Intrepid," which was then renamed "Uvira," perhaps to replace one that had been either sold or destroyed. It was insured for $60,000, and appears to have been even larger than the others.

Benny loved Minister's Island, even as a teenager, and was a regular summer visitor in later years but there is no mention of him as an active participant in local activities or charitable events. He is only mentioned a few times in the local papers, and there only in connection with his yachts and improvements on Minister's Island. In 1916 and 1917 for instance he was in charge of the installation of a steam heating system at Covenhoven, which added sixty radiators to the house. In 1917 a two-car stone garage was added to the property for the vehicles which he had purchased the preceding summer. A gasoline store house was built on the beach below the tower, the coachman's house was altered and enlarged, with a dining room added to it; the stables were repaired, and a new mechanic's workshop was erected. That season the tennis court was entirely remade, with an English expert employed for the purpose. Though a talented, wealthy and in his way successful man, Benny laboured in the shadow of his famous father. He was well educated but the jobs he secured afterwards, on Sir William's Cuba railway project and in the CPR, were all provided courtesy of his father's extensive business connections.

Certainly, Sir William would have been a hard act to follow under any circumstances, but Benny seems to have acquired a rather fatalistic attitude and unlike his father may not have had a great deal of self-esteem. He may be referring to himself in the third person in his prelude to "The Covenhoven Follies" where he recounts the brief story of the "hard working non-entity in a large corporation" who had gone as far up the ladder in that organization as he was capable, being "not endowed enough mentally to go further and he knew it." He also seems to forecast his own fate in this individual, who fell heir to a vast fortune and was able to realize diverse dreams of speed and daring but who was never really satisfied with his toys and settled down in a bungalow on a remote glacier. Addie, he writes ironically, was a model girl who worshipped her father, whose likes and dislikes were her likes and dislikes, and who considered his lightest word a law higher than the Unitarian Creed.

Benny may have been a more independently minded person than Addie, and perhaps a more entertaining conversationalist, but seems to have been an undisciplined and unsatisfied person. Sir William once said that he drank as much as he could, smoked as much as he could, ate as much as he could, and didn't give a damn about anything. There was some humorous bluster here, but in Benny the love of a good drink came strongly to the fore. John Gibson tells the story of an uncle who, as the new man in W. E. Mallory's livery stable and consequently lowest on the totem pole, was given the Benny Van Horne run. His job was to pick up Benny at Minister's Island, drop him off at the Algonquin bar and wait for him to come out. Unfortunately for the poor coachman, Benny was the first one in and last one out, and the coachman was required to wait there in every weather. To make matters worse, he was never spoken to either on the trip over or back.

One morning, says Gibson, the butler came over to the gardener's house to ask for help in getting Benny out of bed, assuming that Benny had really tied one on that night. But Benny was dead. The coroner's report for August 20, 1931, stated that Richard Benjamin Van Horne had died of cirrhosis of the liver. He was only 54. He was buried in the local cemetery, after a service which included many CPR notables. The next year, at Covenhoven, his widow married Randolph Bruce, the former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, now Canadian Ambassador to Japan.