Edward Plunket Taylor was a Canadian-born financier and thoroughbred horse breeder who orchestrated the powerful Argus Corporation empire.
Some may say that Edward Plunket Taylor's most notable accomplishment was the breeding of the famous racehorse Northern Dancer on his Windfields Farms, but Canadians know him best as the principal founder of Argus Corporation. E. P. Taylor's name became a caricature of Canadian capitalism for a quarter of a century after World War II. He was disparagingly referred to as "E (xcess) P (rofits) Taylor, " an image reinforced by his rotund figure decked out in the finest attire regularly paraded at gala racing events.
Taylor made his career through international connections garnered as a major wartime procurer. In 1940 he was appointed by top Ottawa politician, C. D. Howe, to the executive committee of the Department of Munitions and Supply and in the next year to the presidency of War Supplies Limited in Washington, and, finally, by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the presidency of the British Supply Council in North America. His contacts as a "dollara-year man" projected Taylor from a run-of-the-mill upper-class Canadian (who had parlayed his family's financial connections and Brading Breweries—of which he was a director at 22—into Canadian Breweries) onto the international financial stage.
Born January 29, 1901, in Ottawa, son of Lieutenant-Colonel Plunket Bourchier Taylor and Florence Gertrude (Magee), "Eddie" enjoyed a private school education at Ashbury College, then graduated from McGill University with a BS (mechanical engineering) in 1922. Following a few years with the investment house of McLeod Young and Weir, he became president of Canadian Breweries in 1930.
In putting together this company and taking over Carling Breweries, Taylor entered the domain of big business by forging the world's largest brewery. As a financier, he bought and closed down many smaller breweries. His means were ruthless: he threatened his competitors with price wars and cajoled them with lucrative buy-out schemes. Between 1930 and 1938 Canadian Breweries acquired 15 brewery plants, reducing the total number of plants to six and the number of labels from 50 to 27. To the distress of Canadian beer drinkers, by 1954 only four companies remained, marketing a mere eight labels.
To the financier Taylor companies were commodities; in 1968 he sold his controlling interest in Canadian Breweries to Rothmans of Pall Mall, a South African firm, for $28.8 million. By then he had acquired an empire around Argus Corporation with control over such giant enterprises as British Columbia Forest Products, Dominion Stores, Domtar Paper, and Massey-Ferguson. He created Argus (which in classical mythology means a giant guardian with a hundred eyes) in 1945 to hold the controlling shares of these operating companies. Later Argus acquisitions included Hollinger Mines and Standard Broadcasting. Taylor withdrew from active management of Argus in 1971 and eventually sold his shares to Paul Desmarais of Power Corporation during a take-over bid.
Throughout his career Taylor moved in the top international social circles, with private memberships in the exclusive Toronto, York, and Rideau clubs in Canada; the Metropolitan and The Jockey clubs in New York; the Buck's and Turf clubs in England; and the Lyford Cay (which he created himself) in the Bahamas. Following "retirement, " Taylor built the community of Lyford Cay in the Bahamas as a residential playground for the wealthy. Bitten by the building bug, he galloped ahead to become the world's largest housing contractor, with extensive operations throughout the Third World constructing prefabricated houses. He was chairman of New Providence Development Company in Nassau and remained active in his horse-racing ventures until his death in 1989.
Edward Plunket Taylor is listed in Canadian Who's Who and figures prominently in Debrett's Illustrated Guide to the Canadian Establishment (1983), as does his former racehorse, Northern Dancer. Richard Rohmer, E. P. Taylor: The Biography of Edward Plunket Taylor (1978), is a full-length celebration. □