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Sandford Fleming: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Sandford Fleming John Wycliffe Lowes Forster

Sir Sandford Fleming pictured in a portrait by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster. (Wikipedia)

A missed train in Ireland led to the creation of the world’s time zones as we know them. Sir Sandford Fleming’s idea is celebrated by Google on January 7, his 190 birthday. The Scottish-born Canadian inventor and engineer first proposed the idea in February 1879 at a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute, the train incident occurred in 1876. In 1884, the idea was implemented by 25 leading nations. Around 25 years later, most of the world had adopted the revolutionary idea.

Fleming passed away in July 1915 at the age of 88. He’s credited as being the inventor of standard time. Prior to his innovation, regions relied upon solar time to help them set their clocks.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. When Fleming Designed Canada’s First Postage Stamp He Defied the Government by Putting a Beaver on it

In addition to his scientific work, Fleming was also a keen artist. He was charged with designing Canada’s first postage stamp in 1851. It became known as the “three-penny beaver.” The beaver was the central image of the stamp.

An online biography says that Fleming chose the animal to represent Canada’s industrious spirit. Officials, particularly Canada’s postmaster general, wanted Queen Victoria’s likeness on the stamp.

Coincidentally, it was Queen Victoria who knighted Fleming in 1897. At 18, Fleming left the United Kingdom for Canada along with his older brother. The pair had grown up in the town of Kirkcaldy, Scotland. A plaque celebrating Fleming’s achievements was unveiled in the town in September 1973.


2. He Was the Chief Engineer of the Railway that Linked Canada’s Atlantic & Pacific Coasts

After becoming based in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1852, Fleming became involved with the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Railroad. Ten years later, he presented a plan to build a Pacific railway. As a result, the Canadian government appointed him as the head engineer for the project.

A photo of Fleming driving the “last spike” of the railway at Craigellachie, British Columbia, became an iconic image. During his expeditions as chief engineer of the project, Fleming found time to establish the Alpine Club of Canada.

His adventures around this time helped to provide material for George M. Grant’s travel novel Ocean to Ocean. Grant had served as Fleming’s secretary.

The new railway would need travel through different time zones which required the creation of standardized time. Fleming proposed adopting a 24-hour clock. The center of the timezone would be in Greenwich, England.

As a testament to his ambitions, in 1879, Fleming began to float the idea of underwater telegraph cables that would link Canada to the world. In 1902, the cable was laid on the sea floor, connecting Canada to Australia and New Zealand.

Canadian historian Pierre Berton wrote that Fleming was a “dedicated amateur whose interests ran the gamu from early steamboats to colour-blindness.”


3. Fleming’s Wife Died Unexpectedly on a Family Trip to France

Sir Sandford Fleming

Fleming pictured with his grandchildren in 1893. (Wikipedia)

Fleming married Perth, Ontario, native Ann Jane “Jeannie” Hall in 1855. Her family had originally come from Fife in Scotland, the same region where Fleming was born. Pierre Berton writes that due to his color-blindness, Fleming unwittingly wore a pink suit to a date he had with Hall.

The couple had eight children together. During a family trip to France in 1888, Hall died suddenly.


4. At the Time of His Death, Fleming Was Still the Chancellor of Queen’s College in Ontario

Following his retirement from active engineering, Fleming became the chancellor of Queen’s College, in Kingston, Ontario. During his time there, Fleming changed the focus of the school, from a Presbyterian college to a scientific one. At the time of his July 1915 death, Fleming was still the chancellor of the school.

The website for Fleming College says that Fleming had honorary degrees from Queen’s, the University of Toronto and St. Andrew’s University in his native Scotland.


5. A Park Named for Fleming in Nova Scotia Has Become a Haven for Late Night Raves

The beautiful park named for Fleming in Nova Scotia has been beset by problems in recent years. CBC Nova Scotia reported in May 2016 that the park had become a hangout for late night raves.

The centerpiece of the park is the Dingle Tower which was built in 1912. One nearby resident of the park told CBC in May 2016, “Over the years, it is fairly common to have partying at the park and we generally have ignored that. But recently, over the last year in particular, it has gotten out of hand. The major concern that we have is that there’s been a lot of destructive activity. People are driving onto the grass, there’s a lot of alcohol being consumed and broken bottles being found up behind the Dingle Tower.”

In December 2011, CBC reported that repairs were underway at the park.

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1 comment

  1. Fleming was an absolute Canadian “hero” and an engineer of extraordinary proportions, but you have him performing feats on the construction of the CPR (1882-85) that he did not achieve, including driving the last spike, which was in fact performed by Sir Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona), the men looking eerily similar with their flowing white beards. Please check your facts before publishing these false parts because they diminish Fleming’s actual world class achievements.