Sandford Fleming

Sandford Fleming (1827 - 1915)

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Sir Sandford Fleming
Born in Kircaldy, Fife, Scotlandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married in Peterborough, Ontario, Canadamap
Descendants descendants
Died in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canadamap
Profile last modified | Created 7 Sep 2014
This page has been accessed 884 times.

Categories: Persons of National Historic Significance | Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario.



Flag of Scotland
Sandford Fleming migrated from Scotland to Canada.
Flag of Canada

In 1827, Fleming was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland to Andrew and Elizabeth Fleming. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed as a surveyor and in 1845, at the age of 18, he emigrated with his older brother David to Ontario (then the western half of the Province of Canada, at that time called Canada West). Their route took them through many cities of the Canadian colonies, Quebec City, Montreal, and Kingston, Ontario, before settling in Peterborough, Ontario with their cousins two years later in 1847. He qualified as a surveyor in Canada in 1849.

Fleming c. 1855

In 1849 he established the Royal Canadian Institute with several friends, which was formally incorporated on November 4, 1851. Although initially intended as a professional institute for surveyors and engineers it became a more general scientific society. 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 of Canada in 1855, where he advocated the construction of iron bridges instead of wood for safety reasons.

Fleming served in the 10th Battalion Volunteer Rifles of Canada (later known as the Royal Regiment of Canada) and was appointed to the rank of Captain on January 1, 1862. He retired from the militia in 1865.

In 1862 he placed before the government a plan for a transcontinental railway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The first part, between Halifax and Quebec became an important part of the preconditions for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to join the Canadian Federation because of the uncertainties of travel through Maine because of the American Civil War. In 1867 he was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Intercolonial Railway which became a federal project and he continued in this post till 1876. His insistence on building the bridges of iron and stone instead of wood was controversial at the time, but was soon vindicated by their resistance to fire.

Intercolonial Railway workers. Fleming is at rear in top hat.

By 1871, the strategy of a railway connection was being used to bring British Columbia into federation and Fleming was offered the chief engineer post on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Although he hesitated because of the amount of work he had, in 1872 he set off with a small party to survey the route, particularly through the Rocky Mountains, finding a practicable route through the Yellowhead Pass. One of his companions, George Monro Grant wrote an account of the trip, which became a best-seller. By 1880, with 600 miles completed, a change of government brought a desire for a private company to own the whole project and Fleming was dismissed, with a $30,000 payoff. It was the hardest blow of Fleming's life, though he obtained a promise of monopoly, later revoked, on his next project, a trans-pacific telegraph cable. Nevertheless, in 1884 he became a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway and was present as the last spike was driven.

After missing a train in 1876 in Ireland because its printed schedule listed p.m. instead of a.m., he proposed a single 24-hour clock for the entire world, located at the centre of the Earth and not linked to any surface meridian.[8] At a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute on February 8, 1879 he linked it to the anti-meridian of Greenwich (now 180°). He suggested that standard time zones could be used locally, but they were subordinate to his single world time, which he called Cosmic Time. He continued to promote his system at major international conferences[9] including the International Meridian Conference of 1884.

Globe used by Fleming to illustrate principle of standard time
That conference accepted a different version of Universal Time, but refused to accept his zones, stating that they were a local issue outside its purview. Nevertheless, by 1929 all of the major countries of the world had accepted time zones.[1][2]

Sir Sandford Fleming, civil engineer (b at Kirkcaldy, Scot 7 Jan 1827; d at Halifax 22 July 1915). He was Canada's foremost railway surveyor and construction engineer of the 19th century and a distinguished inventor and scientist. He came to Canada in 1845 and, after studying science and engineering and serving a professional apprenticeship in Scotland, he joined the engineering staff of the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway, becoming engineer in chief of the successor Northern Railway in 1857. In 1863 the Canadian government appointed him chief surveyor of the first portion of a proposed railway from Québec City to Halifax and Saint John. Subsequently built as the Intercolonial Railway, Fleming was its chief engineer.

Fleming was an ardent advocate of an all-British railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts, and in 1863 presented to the Imperial authorities in London, England, a petition from the settlers at Red River, urging construction of a railway that would link that community with the BNA colonies further east (see Red River Colony). Nothing could be done immediately because Rupert's Land was then governed by the Hudson's Bay Co, but in 1871, very shortly after control of the western territories passed from the HBC to the newly established Canadian government, Fleming was appointed engineer of the proposed new Canadian railway from Montréal to the Pacific coast. He was in charge of the major surveys across the prairies and through the Rocky Mountains, reporting on numerous possible routes for the new railway. He recommended construction across the parklands of the northern prairies - referred to in some exploration reports as "the fertile belt" - and via the Yellowhead Pass across the Rockies and from there south to Burrard Inlet on the Pacific.

The Canadian Pacific Railway did not build along the route recommended by Fleming, who had, however, also surveyed alternative routes and was consulted when the railway was built through the Kicking Horse Pass, which had been discovered by Major A.B. Rogers. The 2 transcontinental railways built in the first 2 decades of the 20th century followed the route through the Yellowhead Pass recommended by Fleming, but the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was then built to the northern BC coastal harbour at Prince Rupert, while the Canadian Northern Railway followed the route across the interior of BC recommended by Fleming.

Fleming retired from the CPR when the Canadian government turned the project over to a private syndicate in 1880, but he continued to do consultative railway work. He was also, throughout his life, interested in numerous other projects. He became a strong advocate of a telecommunications cable from Canada to Australia, which he believed would become a vital communications link of the British Empire. The Pacific Cable was successfully laid in 1902.

Fleming also played a key role in the development of a satisfactory worldwide system of keeping time. The railway had made obsolete the old system where every major centre set its clocks according to local astronomical conditions. Fleming advocated the adoption of a standard or mean time and hourly variations from that according to established time zones. He was instrumental in convening an International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 at which the system of international standard time - still in use today - was adopted (see Time Zones and Legal Time). Fleming also designed the first Canadian postage stamp, the threepenny beaver, issued in 1851. He was created a Commander of the order of St Michael and St George in 1877 and a Knight Commander of that order in 1897.[3]

Engineer (1827–1915) Sandford Fleming was a civil engineer and scientist best known as the chief railway engineer of Canada in the 19th century.

Sandford Fleming was a civil engineer and scientist. He emigrated from Scotland in 1845 to Canada, and by 1857, was the foremost engineer for the Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Railways. In 1871, he became the engineer-in-chief of the Canadian Pacific Railway until his retirement in 1880. From 1880 to 1915, he served as chancellor of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Throughout these years, Fleming devoted himself to writing and scientific research, with contributions to the establishment of standard time zones and telegraph communication. In 1851, he deigned Canada's first postage stamp, the three penny beaver. He was knighted in 1897.[4]


Date: 1915
Place: Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Ontario[5]



  1. Wikipedia, entry for Sir Sandford Fleming.
  2. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, entry for Sir Sandford Fleming.
  3. Canadian Encyclopedia:
  5. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, entry for Sir Sandford Fleming.

More Genealogy Tools

Sponsored Search

Searching for someone else?
First: Last:

No known carriers of Sandford's Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

Have you taken a DNA test for genealogy? If so, login to add it. If not, see our friends at Ancestry DNA.

Images: 3
Portrait of Sandford Fleming by J.W.L. Forster
Portrait of Sandford Fleming by J.W.L. Forster

Sir Sandford Fleming in 1895
Sir Sandford Fleming in 1895

Sir Sandford Fleming and Grandchildren
Sir Sandford Fleming and Grandchildren

  • Login to edit this profile.
  • Private Messages: Contact the Profile Managers privately: Ross Henderson and Chris Mckinnon. (Best when privacy is an issue.)
  • Public Comments: Login to post. (Best for messages specifically directed to those editing this profile. Limit 20 per day.)
  • Public Q&A: These will appear above and in the Genealogist-to-Genealogist (G2G) Forum. (Best for anything directed to the wider genealogy community.)

Sandford is 31 degrees from Rosa Parks, 25 degrees from Anne Tichborne and 19 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

F  >  Fleming  >  Sandford Fleming