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Canadian History
Sandford Fleming


Fleming, Sandford, C. E, C.M.G., LL.D, Halifax, the most prominent and original of Canadian engineers, was born at Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland, on the 7th January, 1827. [Jessie Newlands wrote in saying he was born on a farm (owned by his parents) called "Haughmill" - it is in or near to the village of Windygates in Fife. My father's forebears bought it after the Flemings gave it up!] He was a son of Andrew Greig Fleming, who possessed much mechanical skill, and Elizabeth Arnold. Young Fleming attended school in his native place, and he excelled always in mathematics. For this branch he is said when a lad to have had an inclination amounting almost to a passion. He left school at the age of fourteen, and was immediately articled as a student of surveying and engineering. He applied himself to his work with a diligence and a zeal that might be taken  as an earnest of the achievements that the future reserved for him. At the age of eighteen, fairly versed in the theoretical principles of engineering and survey, he set out for Canada, where he was resolved to seek his fortune. He was obliged, however, to: wait a long and weary period before any recognition was given to his ability. During this period he buoyed himself with "proud patience" and did whatever his hands found to do. He had taken up his residence in Toronto, and during the "dark days" associated himself with the Mechanics’ Institute, and in 1849 initiated and took a prominent part in originating and setting afloat the Canadian Institute, a body which has always, more or less unaided by the public, striven for the promotion of scientific knowledge and interests. However, some eyes that could see had observed young Fleming; and in 1852 he was appointed one of the engineering staff of the Northern Railway, then known as the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Road. He had no sooner obtained, the opportunity, than his dogged perseverance and engineering abilities began to reveal themselves; and old beads perceived in the young roan an "original," a "genius if ever there was one," in his profession. His capacity once known, his promotion was rapid, for this was the pioneering period of engineering in Canada, and those needed were men who could lead. Very soon, therefore, the young engineer found offers for his service, and a greater number than he could accept. In 1863 the inhabitants of Red River were desirous of having railroad communication with Canada, and to this end sought the intervention of the Imperial government. The man chosen to carry their case to England was Sandford Fleming. The Duke of Newcastle was then colonial secretary, and with him Mr Fleming had several interviews; but, in spite of the strength of his arguments, the project was allowed to stand for the time. Upon his return from England, political events pointed to the need for an Intercolonial railway. It was decided that a survey should be made by a commission of three engineers, to be appointed by old Canada, the Maritime provinces, and the Imperial government respectively. Canada nominated Mr. Fleming, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick accepted him as their representative. The imperial government did the same, and Fleming was appointed sole engineer. Upon the completion of the political union, the provinces tied by legislative bonds demanded to be united with links of steel. The enterprise was put in the hands of Fleming, as his opinions upon all subjects bearing upon railroads, as well as his engineering skill, were held now in the highest regard. The result was a triumph of engineering. When, under the bond with British Columbia, Canada bound herself to construct within ten years an iron road from ocean to ocean, through the dismal and difficult region north of Lake Superior, across the plains, over the stupendous Rocky Mountains, every eye was turned upon Sandford Fleming as the man to under-take so gigantic a project. Consequently, in 1871, in the height of construction of the Intercolonial, and. with the whole supervision of it pressing upon him, he was called on by the government to undertake an examination of the proposed route to the Pacific. When extensive surveys over half a continent had been made, and the construction of the C. P. R. was well advanced along six or eight hundred miles of some of the heaviest sections, political exigencies arose, and in 1880 he resigned. News of his resignation startled the country, and though he was not thereafter concerned in the construction of the work, no one has ever denied him supremacy in his profession; no one has sought to take away from him the reputation of the pioneer engineer of Canada, and the country’s benefactor. On his retirement in 1880 he was elected Chancellor of Queen’s University, and in 1883 he was unanimously re-elected. In 1882, he was presented with the freedom of the Kirkcaldy Burghs, and in 1884 received the honorary degree of LL.D from St. Andrew's University. In 1881, he went as delegate from the Canadian Institute and American Meteorological Society to the International Geographical Congress at Venice and in 1884 he was appointed delegate of Great Britain to represent the Dominion at the International Prime Meridian Conference at Washington, where he had the pleasure of finding the views, which he had been pressing on the public for years with regard to cosmic time and a prime meridian for all nations, accepted by the representatives of the civilized world. Mr. Fleming has been a contributor to the periodical and permanent literature of the country, and his writings have been characterized by the originality, the information and the breadth of view that might be expected from such a man. He has published reports of his engineering enterprises, and written on various matters, such as cosmic or universal time and a prime meridian for all nations, as well as upon subjects kindred to railroads. His latest literary production is his book "England and Canada", a work that will live in our literature. Fleming also designed the first Canadian postage stamp, issued in 1851, it cost three pennies and depicted the beaver, now the national animal of Canada. Fleming's contribution to the adoption of the present system of time zones earned him the title of "Father of Standard Time." Mr. Fleming married, in 1855, Anne Jean Hall, a daughter of the late Sheriff Hall of Peterboro’, and has issue; six children. He has taken up his abode in Halifax and Ottawa. We hope and believe that the country is to profit still more by his great abilities.


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