Renowned Canadian engineer and inventor overcame adversity, and he always made time for God.
by Ed Hird
When Sir Sanford Fleming first came to Canada, he was told, “Go back to Scotland.”
The need for engineers was over. Some were convinced Canada would only need 16 miles of railway in Canada. Fortunately, Fleming loved a challenge. He was passionate about railways, once driving a bear off the railway tracks with nothing but an umbrella and a loud cry.
Fleming has since been described as the most outstanding Canadian of the 19th century. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald appointed him as chief surveyor and engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Fleming knew he needed to see the route firsthand. With the Rev. George Grant (who went on to become principal of Queen’s University), Fleming canoed and portaged across Canada in 1872, creating a best-selling travelogue, Ocean to Ocean.
The beauty and ruggedness of Canada’s wilderness spoke to the depths of his soul.
To complete the Canadian Pacific Railway in just 10 years was an astronomical task, but Fleming always made time for God. Fleming only missed attending church 12 times in his entire life. Sometimes “church” was simply kneeling by the Rocky Mountain railway tracks and giving thanks. On all his surveying trips, no work or travel was done on Sunday if he could help it. He even wrote a worship service that his busy construction crews could use.
After the frustration of missing an Irish train, Fleming went on to create Meridian Standard Time in 1878. Standard Time replaced the dangerous chaos of 144 different North American time zones. Every city had its own unique time, none of which agreed with any other city. Standard Time went a long way towards keeping locomotives from crashing into each other because of different clocks.
Fleming founded the Canadian Institute, which grew into the Royal Society of Canada. He published a dozen books, served for 35 years as chancellor of Queen’s University. He created Canada’s very first postage stamp—the three-cent beaver. Fleming was knighted in 1897 by Queen Victoria for building the world-circling sub-Pacific cable. For the first time in history, the world could communicate instantaneously around the globe. With membership in more than
70 international societies, he was Canada’s preeminent voice on the world stage. Everyone looked to Sir Sanford Fleming.
Fleming was often snubbed, sidelined, criticized but he never let the naysayers stop him from accomplishing his life-goals. Fleming knew that God had put him here on earth to make a difference, to help raise up the nation of Canada from sea to sea. Fleming’s strength came from a deep sense that God would never abandon his children.
The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon’s North Vancouver, Anglican Coalition in Canada.
The article above was featured in the November 2010 issue of SEVEN magazine.