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Born at Acton, Canada West, Mann studied as a Methodist minister but worked in lumber camps in Ontario and the American state of Michigan before moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba. During the 1880s he worked as a contractor under Chief Engineer James Ross, building sections of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairies and through the Rocky Mountains.
Partnering with William Mackenzie, Mann built railway lines in western Canada, Maine, Brazil, and China. In 1895, together with Mackenzie he began the process of purchasing and building the lines in western Canada which would later become the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR), a system which would stretch from Vancouver Island, British Columbia to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and form Canada's second transcontinental railway system.
Both Mann and Mackenzie were knighted in 1911 for their efforts in the Canadian railway industry; however, personal and company financial difficulties eventually resulted in the bankruptcy of the CNoR. It was nationalized by the federal government on September 6, 1918, and ultimately became part of the Canadian National Railway.
Mann turned to oil drilling. He leased land in the Township of Vaughn, near the village of Concord and in November 1922 sank a well. In the spring of 1928, instead of oil, he found mineral water. Under the name Ontario Mineral Waters Ltd. he bottled and sold it as a health tonic named "Raysol Radium Water" effective against a variety of ailments including diabetes, angina, tuberculosis and rheumatism. $1 a bottle or $3 a gallon. The venture failed ostensibly because the water was very salty.
Mann died in 1934 at the age of 81.
A park named for Sir Donald Mann is in Acton, Ontario. It is adjacent the railway, near the Beardmore Tannery once owned by Canada Packers (closed 1986) at Longfield Road and Moybray Place.
He was inducted into Ottawa's Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2002 along with partner Mackenzie.
- Manitoba Historical Society - Donald Mann (1853-1934)
- Sir Donald Mann - The Canadian Encyclopedia
- King's North Connection Pipeline Project. Various lots and concessions, City of Toronto and regional municipalities of York and Peel. Stage 1 Archaeological Assessment, Aug. 14, 2014. p. 19.
- Raysol: radium in solution, Ontario Mineral Waters, Ltd., Northern Ontario Building, Toronto, Canada. [Oct. 24, 1929].