Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Sandford Fleming

Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915) was a prolific Canadian engineer and inventor, known for the introduction of Universal Standard Time, Canada's first postage stamp, a huge body of surveying and map making, engineering much of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and founding the Royal Canadian Institute, a science organization in Toronto.

Sandford Fleming was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, and in 1845, at the age of 17, he emigrated with his older brother David to Ontario (then the colony of Upper Canada). Their route took them through much of the Canadian colonies, Quebec City, Montreal and finally Kingston, Ontario, finally settling in Peterborough, Ontario with their cousins.

His inventive mind was at work almost immediately, and in 1847 he started testing what appears to be the first in-line roller skate. In 1849 he established the Royal Canadian Institute, which was formally incorporated on November 4, 1851. In 1851 he designed the Threepenny Beaver, the first Canadian postage stamp. Throughout this time he was fully employed as a surveyor, mostly for the Grand Trunk Railway. His work for them eventually gained him the position as Chief Engineer of the Northern Railway in 1855, where he tirelessly advocated the construction of iron bridges instead of wood for safety reasons.

In 1858 he first proposed a coast to coast railway line spanning all of British North America. The timing was not quite right, but a few years later he was appointed as the sole engineer to supervise the survey of the proposed Intercolonial Railway, linking the Maritime provinces with Quebec. He moved for a time to Halifax, Nova Scotia during construction, where he built a house on the seaward end of town. In 1872 the newly formed Canadian government decided to build the rail link to the Pacific Ocean, and naturally the job of surveying the route fell to Fleming. Over the next few years he supervised both the Intercolonial and the Canadian Pacific Railway, a job he completed in 1876. Fleming was present when Donald Smith drove in the "last spike" in Craigellachie, British Columbia in 1885, but was now a board member of the Canadian Pacific company.

After missing a train in 1878, he proposed Standard Time at a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute in 1879, promoting it until it was accepted worldwide in 1884. This system, with some modifications, remains the international standard today.

In 1880 he retired from the world of surveying, and took the position of Chancellor of Queen's University in Kingston, a position he held for his last 35 years. Not content to leave well enough alone, he tirelessly avocated the contruction of a submarine telegraph cable connecting all of the British Empire, which was completed in 1902. In his later years he retired to his house in Halifax, later deeding the house and the 95 acres to the city, which is Dingle Park today.

His accomplishments were well known world wide, and in 1897 he was knighted by Queen Victoria.