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Co-authored by the late Peter C. Coghlan, P.Eng., and Peter S. Chisholm, P.Eng.

This collection includes 37 biographies of individuals who contributed to the development of engineering in Ontario, if not Canada. Each individual, in a unique way, held the public trust, served the public interest, and protected the public interest. Beginning in 1728, more than half of the biographies end before 1922, the founding year for the Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of Ontario. An anonymous autobiography by an engineer who is still living concludes the collection.

From The Western Region, Professional Engineers Ontario

Most of the work described in the biographies took place in that part of Ontario bounded by Owen Sound in the north, Brampton in the east, Niagara Falls in the south and Sarnia in the west. This area contains the Western Region of Professional Engineers Ontario, under whose direction this collection came together.

Some Related Mile Stones

The time context for the collection resulted inadvertently from contributions to it, but in chronologic terms the collection provides a link between the growth of engineering and the growth of Canada. The earliest entries refer to engineering activities in New France during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). In 1763, under British rule, New France became the Province of Quebec according to the Royal Proclamation. After the War of American Independence (1775-1783), the Province of Quebec was divided into French Lower Canada and English Upper Canada by the Constitutional Act of 1791. These two parts of Canada, marked out by Canada’s first Surveyor General, Samuel Holland (1728-1801), provided refuge for the United Empire Loyalists.

Upper and Lower Canada were united politically in 1840 following the Durham Report and preceding local self-government. High immigration meant that these were busy times for land and water surveyors. After 1867, the growth of Canada was guided by Confederation, and life within Canada was transformed by the shift from hand tools to machines, as the Industrial Revolution took firm hold. After Confederation, new inventions contributed to the careers of many personalities in this collection. In 1875, Sir Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and in 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. In 1894, Marconi sent the first radio signal across a distance of three kilometres, and in 1906, Reginald Fessenden beat Marconi in the race to send wireless telephony (voice) across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright took flight in the first manned propeller-driven flying machine that was heavier than air.

The Centennial of Engineering in Canada, 1887-1987

In the midst of this political and technical creativity, the first professional engineering society in Canada, the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, was founded in 1887. This event is marked in the first chapter of Dr. Norman Ball’s book Mind, Heart, and Vision. Professional Engineering in Canada 1887 to 1987, where he observes:

“The formation in 1887 of Canada’s first national professional engineering society, The Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, was an important benchmark in Canadian engineering history. But it did not signal the beginning of great engineering achievement in Canada. On the contrary, Canadian engineers, decades earlier in surmounting the unprecedented challenges posed by the country’s geography, climate, and history, had already begun to create, through the construction of their remarkable dams, canals, and railways, a unique and valuable tradition which continues to influence engineering to this day (1).”

Have Heroes–Will Travel

Seven Canadians who contributed to “great engineering achievement in Canada” were acknowledged by the Association of Professional Engineers of the Province of Ontario (APEO) in its publication Have Heroes–Will Travel of 1986. These seven are Sir Casimir Gzowski (1813-1898), Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915), Joseph Burr Tyrrell (1858-1957), Professor Herbert Edward Terrick Haultain (1869-1961), The Right Honourable Clarence Decatur Howe (1886-1960), Elsie Gregory MacGill (1905-1980), and Dr. George B. Langford (1898-1977). Their biographical sketches in Have Heroes–Will Travel recall the following: “All but the 19th century knights, Gzowski and Fleming, were Professional Engineers in Ontario [P.Engs]; there were no P.Engs before the founding Act of 1922.” It is also noted that Langford, Tyrrell, Howe and MacGill were all recipients of the APEO’s Gold Medal, its highest honour, awarded annually for outstanding public efforts “in applying the forces of nature for the service of man.” Howe received the First Gold Medal in 1947.

The Guelph-Cambridge Chapter: Who Else?

Members of the executive of the Guelph-Cambridge Chapter, Western Region APEO, were confronted by several questions that developed during the celebration of the Centennial of Engineering in Canada. Among the questions: what engineering activities happened in the future turf of the Guelph-Cambridge Chapter APEO, before Sir Casimir Gzowski railroaded through that turf, and how come we did not know that he lived in Rockwood, Ontario? Joseph Hobson (1834-1917), born in Guelph, engineered the Saint Clair Tunnel under the Saint Clair River in the 1890s, and why did we not know about that? Before the founding act of 1922, were there other pioneers? Who were they and what kind of engineering work did they do? Would those pioneers be seen to be direct precursors of the P.Engs who were registered after 1922?

More generally, is there an untold local story that fits into the nation-wide story told by Norman Ball, and is there a general Canadian historical context to such a local story? During 1988, the Executive of the Guelph-Cambridge Chapter APEO submitted the following proposal to the Western Region Congress held in Sarnia:

“The APEO began in 1922, two to three generations after Confederation in 1867. There can be no doubt that many of the founding members of the APEO, their colleagues, antagonists, and ancestors did much to engineer our lives and profession. Their lives must hold many stories worth knowing and telling, but outside the family pale little would be known about them or their contributions to engineering.

This year, 1988, is the beginning of the Bi-Centennial of Engineering in Canada. To mark this event it is proposed that all Chapters of the Western Region participate in a special project. The objective of the project is to discover, explore, record and publish information about individual persons and their contribution to the development of engineering within the Western Region, and prior to 1922.”

With approval of the Western Region and APEO headquarters, the special project began in 1988. In 1993, the Guelph-Cambridge Chapter APEO was reorganized as part of the Grand River Chapter, one of 11 chapters of the Western Region, Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO). In the interim, 1988-1993, all chapters were invited to submit brief biographies of individuals known locally for their contributions to society. General guidelines for the biographies included the following:

  • “Focus: It is proposed that the focus highlights prior art and science in engineering without excluding acknowledged historic figures.
  • Image: It is proposed that the personal image to be projected for each candidate be developed in terms of social role rather than technical specialty. For example, a person who practised as a surveyor could be so described. Alternatively, the same person could be described according to the social role played, perhaps in transportation, commerce or land reclamation for human settlement. The emphasis wanted is on the social role.
  • Chronology: Engineering goings-on prior to 1922 are to be emphasized, but activity of an individual both leading up to and subsequent to 1922 would not be artificially separated.”

The invitation to participate produced a collection of 37 biographies of known contributors, and one anonymous autobiography. They present four different groupings that tell about a general move towards contemporary engineering practice.

Links To Have Heroes–Will Travel

Five biographies in this collection provide links to Have Heroes–Will Travel. The first in this group is Samuel Holland (1728-1801) who pre-dates Have Heroes–Will Travel. Thomas Ridout (1754-1829) fills the gap between Holland and Sir Casimir Gzowski (1813-1898): Gzowski connects this collection to Have Heroes–Will Travel. The last two of this group also appear in
Mind, Heart, and Vision: Thomas Coltrin Keefer (1821-1915) and Joseph Hobson (1834-1917). None of these five pioneers became a P.Eng., as they all died before the founding act of 1922.

Pre-Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, 1887

Seventeen biographies refer to individuals born before 1887, the founding year of the CSCE, but died before 1922. They are William Beatty Senior (1794-1881), Henry Wolsey Bayfield (1795-1885), Hugh Nixon Shaw (1812-1863), James Miller Williams (1818-1890), Charles Nelson Tripp (1823-1866), James H. Beatty (1826-1902), John Henry Fairbank (1831-1914), Henry Beatty (1834-1914), William Beatty Junior (1835-1889), Thomas C. Brainerd (1837-1910), John D. Beatty (1838-1912), William H. McGarvey (1843-1914), Thomas Doherty (1843-1916), Jacob Lewis Englehart (1847-1921), John Goodison (1849-1915), John C. Thede (1854-1943), and Adelaide Hoodless (1857-1910).

Public Health and Engineering

Just after 1887, there is a third group of two that merits special reference, due to the vital nature of the service provided: Dr. James Ferris MacLaren, P.Eng. (1892-1962) and Dr. Albert E. Berry, P.Eng. (1894-1984) pioneered public health engineering and environmental engineering locally, nationally and internationally. The Walkerton water contamination scandal is an unfortunate insult to their legacy.

Contemporaries of CSCE and APEO

The lives of 10 others coincided with the CSCE and the APEO, although not all of them had documented memberships in one or the other professional association. Each of their biographies provides insight into a diversity of technical and social relationships that affected their lives and the nature of their contributions. This group comprises Sir Adam Beck (1857-1925), Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932), William Henry Day (1870-1938), Tom Reid (1870-1958), Thomas Montgomery (1874-1964), Arthur F. Wells, P.Eng. (1880-1979), E.V. Buchanan, P.Eng. (1887-1987), William Cameron Blackwood (1879-1961), Dr. James A. Vance, P.Eng. (1892-1981), and Edward S. Rogers, Senior (1900-1939).

Three Special Ladies “In Black Gold Country”

Human settlement in the “Black Gold Country” of the Western Region was supported in unique ways by Elizabeth Adamson (1828-1886), known as the first female druggist, Anna L. Coghill (1836-1907), a recognized hymn composer, and Annie McFadden (1848-1935), a highly committed and effective nurse. Details of their contributions remain largely unheralded and are subjects for another story.

The last contribution is different from all the other biographies in the collection. It is an anonymous autobiography of a P.Eng. born in 1920, who now lives in retirement. As an epilogue, it is a brief note to the reader about the enduring example set by each person included in this collection. Each represents a unique contribution to the rich, diverse and valued tradition of Canadian engineering, the main revelation of this collection of biographical sketches.

A Word On Bibliographical References

The articles for this collection accumulated over a span of 18 years. In this time, guidelines for referencing bibliographical sources have changed frequently, and no predetermined template was given to the authors*. The editor followed the standard MLA citation guidelines whenever possible. However, since each contributor recorded bibliographical information differently, and missing publishing information could not always be obtained after so many years, inconsistencies and omissions could not always be avoided.

Copyediting by Maren Kasulke, Ph.D.

*Without a predetermined template, draft biographies originated in various forms. Dr. John R. Ogilvie, P.Eng., scanned the originals and when necessary converted them to Microsoft Standards. His patience and contribution are sincerely acknowledged.

Copyright © 2009 by Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario. All Rights Reserved.
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