This Week in Canadian History – November Week 4

Sandford Fleming supervised construction of th...
Sandford Fleming supervised construction of the Eastern Line of the NSR in 1867. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most remarkable men in Canadian history was Sir Sandford Fleming. His name is mentioned in connection with the good-will tour of the Maritimes which took place in 1864, before the Charlottetown meeting paved the way for Confederation (visit my post of August 2: Even on a Sunday! ).

Sandford Fleming left Scotland for Canada as a young man and first came into the limelight by rushing into the burning Parliament Building in Montreal in 1849, and rescuing a portrait of Queen Victoria.  The building had been set on fire by a mob protesting against the signing of the Rebellion Losses Bill (visit my post of April 25“The Last Governor of Canada”).  He was in the news again two years later, when he designed the first Canadian stamp, the famous three-penny “Beaver” issued on April 23, 1851.  

Fleming studied engineering and surveying in Toronto and became chief engineer of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway in 1857.  Then the Government engaged him to survey the route of the Intercolonial Railway from Rivière du Loup to Quebec.  This was a very important assignment because the agreement of the Maritimes to Confederation could only be won by a promise to build this railway.  Sandford Fleming was chief engineer during the construction.

When British Columbia came into confederation in 1871, one of the conditions was that a railway to the Pacific coast should be constructed.  Once again, the task of finding the best route was entrusted to Fleming.  Finding a way through the Rockies was most difficult problem, and with 800 men working under him, Fleming surveyed Yellowhead Pass, now used by the C.N.R., and Kicking Horse, Eagle, and Rogers Passes used by the C.P.R.

While all this was going on Fleming became an expert on time.  Canadians are accustomed to hearing radio and television programs advertised in terms of “standard time.”  Canada is divided into seven time zones, beginning with Newfoundland Standard Time in the east.  This is half an hour ahead of Atlantic Standard, and then the other zones are one hour apart: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific and Yukon.

Standard time was the invention of Sandford Fleming and was adopted by Canada on November 18, 1883.  The rest of the world adopted his system in 1884 at an international conference in Washington.

If you would like to read more about today’s post, I suggest the Atlas of Alberta Railways, and the Canadian Railway Museum for an interesting page called “Time Tamed“, and the Canadian Encyclopedia, as well as the Canada Free Press.


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