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Sandford Fleming

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Sandford Fleming
Portrait of Sir Sandford Fleming by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster
Born(1827-01-07)January 7, 1827
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
DiedJuly 22, 1915(1915-07-22) (aged 88)
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Occupation(s)engineer and inventor
Military Service
Service/branchCanadian Militia
Years of service1862–1865
Unit10th Volunteer Battalion of Rifles
Known forInventing, most notably standard time

Sir Sandford Fleming FRSC KCMG (January 7, 1827 – July 22, 1915) was a Scottish Canadian engineer and inventor. Born and raised in Scotland, he emigrated to colonial Canada at the age of 18. He promoted worldwide standard time zones, a prime meridian, and use of the 24-hour clock as key elements to communicating the accurate time, all of which influenced the creation of Coordinated Universal Time.[1] He designed Canada's first postage stamp, produced a great deal of work in the fields of land surveying and map making, engineered much of the Intercolonial Railway and the first several hundred kilometers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada and founder of the Canadian Institute (a science organization in Toronto).

Early life[edit]

Sir Sandford Fleming House (1866–1871), Brunswick St., Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1827, Fleming was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland[2] to Andrew and Elizabeth Fleming. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed as a surveyor and in 1845,[3] at the age of 18, he emigrated with his older brother David to colonial Canada. Their route took them through many cities of the Canadian colonies: Quebec City, Montreal, and Kingston, before settling in Peterborough with their cousins two years later in 1847. He qualified as a surveyor in Canada in 1849.[4]

In 1849 he created 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, for the Province of Canada (today's southern portions of Ontario and Quebec). 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.[citation needed]


Fleming with his grandchildren in 1893

As soon as he arrived in Peterborough, Ontario in 1845, Fleming became friendly with the family of his future wife, the Halls, and was attracted to Ann Jane (Jeanie) Hall. However, it was not until a sleigh accident almost ten years later that the young people's love for each other was revealed. A year after this incident, in January 1855, Sandford married Ann Jane (Jean) Hall, daughter of Sheriff James Hall. They were to have nine children of whom two died young. The oldest son, Frank Andrew, accompanied Fleming in his great Western expedition of 1872. A family man, deeply attached to his wife and children, he also welcomed his father Andrew Greig Fleming, Andrew's wife and six of their other children who came to join him in Canada two years after his arrival. The Fleming and Hall families saw each other often.

After the death of his wife Jeanie in 1888, Fleming's niece Miss Elsie Smith, daughter of Alexander and Lily Smith, of Kingussie, Scotland, presided over his household at "Winterholme" 213 Chapel Street, Ottawa, Ontario.[5]

Railway engineer[edit]

His time at the Northern Railway was marked by conflict with the architect Frederick William Cumberland, with whom he started the Canadian Institute and who was general manager of the railway until 1855. Starting as assistant engineer in 1852, Fleming replaced Cumberland in 1855 but was in turn ousted by him in 1862. In 1863 he became the chief government surveyor of Nova Scotia charged with the construction of a line from Truro to Pictou. When he would not accept the tenders from contractors that he considered too high, he was asked to bid for the work himself and completed the line by 1867 with both savings for the government and profit for himself.[6]

Sandford Fleming (in tallest hat) at the ceremony of the "last spike" being driven on the Canadian Pacific Railway

In 1862 he placed before the government a plan for a transcontinental railway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.[7] 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 until 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.[8]

Between 1870–1875 Fleming supervised the building of several parts of the Intercolonial railway being built by Brown, Brooks & Ryan, a Toronto firm established by railway magnate Hugh Ryan.[9] These sections were particularly costly due to the difficult terrain and included two bridges over the Miramichi River and six miles of approaches.[10]

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.[11] In June 1880, Fleming was dismissed by Sir Charles Tupper, with a $30,000 payoff.[8][12] 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.[8] Nevertheless, in 1884 he became a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway and was present as the last spike was driven.

Inventor of worldwide standard time[edit]

The Toronto site where Fleming first proposed standard time is marked by a provincial plaque[13]

Fleming is credited with "the initial effort that led to the adoption of the present time meridians".[14] After missing a train while travelling in Ireland because a printed schedule listed p.m. instead of a.m.,[15]: 8  in 1876 he wrote a memoir "Terrestrial Time" where he proposed a single 24-hour clock for the entire world, conceptually located at the centre of the Earth and not linked to any surface meridian.[15]: 13  He later called this time "Cosmopolitan time" and later still "Cosmic Time".[16] He proposed 24 time zones, each an hour wide or 15 degrees of longitude. The zones were labelled A-Y, excluding J, and arbitrarily linked to the Greenwich meridian, which was designated G. All clocks within each zone would be set to the same time as the others, and between zones the alphabetic labels could be used as common notation. So for example cosmopolitan time G:45 would map to local time 14:45 in one zone and 15:45 in the next.[15][17]

In two papers "Time reckoning" and "Longitude and Time Reckoning" presented at a meeting of the Canadian Institute in Toronto on February 8, 1879, Fleming revised his system to link with the anti-meridian of Greenwich (the 180th meridian). He suggested that a prime meridian be chosen and analyzed shipping numbers to suggest Greenwich as the meridian.[18][19] Fleming's two papers were considered so important that in June 1879 the British Government forwarded copies to eighteen foreign countries and to various scientific bodies in England.[20]

Fleming went on to advocate his system at several major international conferences including the Geographical Congress at Venice in 1881, a meeting of the Geodetic Association at Rome in 1883, and the International Meridian Conference of 1884.[21] The International Meridian Conference accepted the Greenwich Meridian and a universal day of 24 hours beginning at Greenwich midnight. However, the conference's resolution specified that the universal day "shall not interfere with the use of local or standard time where desirable". The conference also refused to accept his zones, stating that they were a local issue outside its purview.[22]

Fleming authored the pamphlet "Time-Reckoning for the 20th Century",[23] published by the Smithsonian Institution in its annual report for 1886.[24]

By 1929, all major countries in the world had accepted time zones. In the present day, UTC offsets divide the world into zones, and military time zones assign letters to the 24 hourly zones, similarly to Fleming's system.[25]

Later life[edit]

When the railway privatization instituted by Tupper in 1880 forced him out of a job with government, he retired from the world of surveying, and took the position of Chancellor of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.[26] He held this position for his last 35 years, where his former Minister George Monro Grant was principal from 1877 until Grant's death in 1902. Not content to leave well enough alone, he tirelessly advocated the construction of a submarine telegraph cable connecting all of the British Empire, the All Red Line, which was completed in 1902.[27]

Being a man of ideas, in 1882 he authored a book on the land policy of the HBC.[28]

He also kept up with business ventures, becoming in 1882 one of the founding owners of the Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company in Halifax. He was a member of the North British Society.[29] He also helped found the Western Canada Cement and Coal Company, which spawned the company town of Exshaw, Alberta. In 1910, this business was captured in a hostile take-over by stock manipulators acting under the name Canada Cement Company, an action which Fleming took as a personal blow.[30]

In 1880 he served as the vice president of the Ottawa Horticultural Society.[31] In 1888, he became the first president of the Rideau Curling Club,[32][33] after leaving the Ottawa Curling Club in protest of its temperance policy.[34]

In early 1890s he turned his attention to electoral reform and the need for proportional representation. He authored two books on the subject "An Appeal to the Canadian Institute on the Rectification of Parliament" (1892) and "Essays on the Rectification of Parliament" (1893), which included an essay by Australian reformer Catherine Helen Spence.

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.[35] He authored the book "Canada and British Imperial Cables" in 1900.[36]

His accomplishments were well known worldwide, and in 1897 he was knighted by Queen Victoria. He was a freemason, having joined St Andrew's Lodge No 1 [Now No 16] in York [now Toronto].[37][38]

In 1883, while surveying the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway with George Monro Grant, he met Major A. B. Rogers near the summit of Rogers Pass (British Columbia) and co-founded the first "Alpine Club of Canada".[39] That early alpine club was short-lived, but in 1906 the modern Alpine Club of Canada was founded in Winnipeg, and the by then Sir Sandford Fleming became the club's first Patron and Honorary President.[40]

Fleming Cottage, the 1886 summer residence of Sandford Fleming and location of his death in 1915.

In his later years he split his time between Ottawa at his house named "Winterholme" and Halifax where he owned a mansion known as "Blenheim Cottage", but often called "The Lodge" at the corner of Oxford Street and South Street overlooking the Northwest Arm[41] as well as a summer estate across the Arm called "The Dingle" which included the Sandford Fleming Cottage, a small rustic residence he built in 1886. He later deeded the 95 acres (38 hectares) of "the Dingle" to the city, now known as Sir Sandford Fleming Park (Dingle Park). Fleming died at his Dingle summer Cottage[42] while being cared for by his daughter on July 22, 1915.[8] He was buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery.


This federal plaque at Ottawa's Dominion Observatory reflects Fleming's designation as a National Historic Person[43]
Ontario plaque to Fleming, "Inventor of Standard Time", at War Memorial Gardens, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland

Fleming was designated a National Historic Person in 1950, on the advice of the national Historic Sites and Monuments Board.[44] On January 7, 2017, Google celebrated Sandford Fleming's 190th birthday with a Google Doodle.[45]

Things named after Fleming[edit]

Geographical features[edit]

  • The town of Fleming, Saskatchewan (located on the Canadian Pacific Railway) was named in his honour in 1882.[46]
  • Mount Sir Sandford, which is the highest mountain in the Sir Sandford Range of the Selkirk Mountains, and the 12th highest peak in British Columbia, is named after him.[47]
  • Sandford Island and Fleming Island in Barkley Sound, British Columbia were named after him.[48]
  • Sir Sandford Fleming Park, a 38-hectare (94-acre) Canadian urban park in Halifax, also known as "The Dingle" (as shown above under "Later life").
  • Sandford Fleming Avenue, a street in Ottawa, home to the city's main post office.
  • Sir Sandford Fleming Drive, a street in Peterborough.
  • Sandford Fleming Drive, a street in Collingwood, Ontario.

Buildings and institutions[edit]

Postage stamps[edit]

Fleming has been honoured on two Canadian postage stamps: one from 1977 features his image and a railroad bridge of Fleming's design;[56] another in 2002 reflects his promotion of the Pacific Cable.[57] In addition, his design of the Three Penny Beaver, the first postage stamp for the Province of Canada (today's southern portions of Ontario and Quebec), has been used on seven stamp issues—in 1851, 1852, 1859, 1951, and 2001.[citation needed]


Coat of arms of Sandford Fleming
A goat's head erased Argent armed Or.
Gules a chevron within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Argent.
Let The Deed Shaw[58]

See also[edit]


There is a Sandford Fleming fonds at Library and Archives Canada.[59] Archival reference number is R7666.


  1. ^ Creet, Mario (1990). "Sandford Fleming and Universal Time". Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. 14 (1–2): 66–89. doi:10.7202/800302ar.
  2. ^ "Life at full speed: Artist, scientist and inventor". sandfordfleming.ca. Canadian Railway Museum. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  3. ^ "Life at full speed: The apprentice". sandfordfleming.ca. Canadian Railway Museum. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  4. ^ "Life at full speed: Finding a first job". sandfordfleming.ca. Canadian Railway Museum. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  5. ^ Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p. 320.
  6. ^ Grant, W. L. (2005) [2004]. "Fleming, Sandford". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33171. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1862), Suggestions on the Inter-colonial Railway, ISBN 9780665230196, archived from the original on April 21, 2016, retrieved January 25, 2013
  8. ^ a b c d Creet, Mario, FLEMING, Sir SANDFORD, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, archived from the original on May 19, 2013
  9. ^ Fleming, Sir Sandford (1876). "The Intercolonial Railway". The Chung Collection at The University of British Columbia. Montreal, Quebec: Dawson Bros. p. 312.
  10. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1862). Suggestions on the Inter-colonial railway and the construction of a highway and telegraph line between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans within the British territory: Respectfully submitted to the Government of Canada. W.C. Chewett & Co.
  11. ^ Grant, George Monro (1873), Ocean to Ocean, Toronto : Belford, hdl:2027/loc.ark:/13960/t0tq7358g, ISBN 9780665290138, archived from the original on March 11, 2016, retrieved January 25, 2013
  12. ^ Buckner, Phillip (1998). "TUPPER, Sir CHARLES". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean (eds.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. XIV (1911–1920) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. Retrieved September 17, 2015.
  13. ^ Brown, Alan L. (June 2010). "Birthplace of Standard Time Historical Plaque". Toronto's Historical Plaques. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  14. ^ "History & info – Standard time began with the railroads". www.webexhibits.org. Archived from the original on April 22, 2019. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c Fleming, Sandford (1876). Terrestrial time: a memoir. ISBN 9780665061127.
  16. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1885). Universal or cosmic time. Toronto : Council of the Canadian Institute. ISBN 978-0-665-61008-0.
  17. ^ Bartky, Ian (2007). One Time Fits All: The Campaigns for Global Uniformity. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 9780804756426.
  18. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1879). Papers on time-reckoning and the selection of a prime meridian to be common to all nations: transmitted to the British government by His Excellency the Governor-General of Canada. Toronto. ISBN 9780665031359.
  19. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1886). "Time-reckoning for the twentieth century". Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution (1): 345–366. Reprinted in 1889: Time-reckoning for the twentieth century at the Internet Archive.
  20. ^ Howse 1980, p. 132
  21. ^ William Henry Mahoney Christie (October 1886). "Universal Time". Popular Science Monthly. Vol. 29. p. 799. Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  22. ^ International conference held at Washington for the Purpose of Fixing a Prime Meridian and a Universal Day. October, 1884. Protocols of the proceedings., Washington, D. C.: Gibson bros., 1884, p. 201, retrieved July 23, 2018
  23. ^ Fleming, Sandford (1889). Time-reckoning for the twentieth century. Washington: Byson S. Adams.
  24. ^ Smithsonian Institution (1889). Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Government Printing Office. pp. 345–366.
  25. ^ Stromberg, Joseph (November 18, 2011). "Sandford Fleming Sets the World's Clock". Smithsonian Magazine.
  26. ^ "Descriptive records – National Archives of Canada". Archived from the original on August 24, 2013.
  27. ^ Pacific Cable National Historic Event. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  28. ^ Peel's Prairie Provinces (online), No. 1066
  29. ^ Macdonald, James S. (1905). Annals, North British Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia : with portraits and biographical notes, 1768–1903. Halifax, N.S: McAlpine. pp. 414.
  30. ^ The Western Canada Cement and Coal Company, 1910 (CIHM microfilm collection); Journal of Commerce, July 1930
  31. ^ Premium list of Valley of Ottawa Horticultural Society Archived February 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  32. ^ "Rideau Curling Club :: Club History". Archived from the original on December 18, 2018. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  33. ^ "Rideau Curling Club celebrates 125 years in Ottawa | CBC News".
  34. ^ "The Ottawa Curling Club : Club History". Archived from the original on December 18, 2018. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  35. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia
  36. ^ Encyclopedia.com
  37. ^ Trevor W. McKeown. "A few famous freemasons". Archived from the original on September 12, 2015.
  38. ^ "St. Andrew's No. 16".
  39. ^ Putnam, William Lowell (June 1982). "Chapter 8". The Great Glacier and Its House. American Alpine Club. ISBN 978-0930410131.
  40. ^ Cormie, David (December 3, 2014). "ACC Centennial Plaque Project". Alpine Club of Canada, Manitoba Section. Archived from the original on February 16, 2017. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  41. ^ John W. Regan, Sketches and Traditions of the Northwest Arm, Halifax, 3rd Edition, 1928, p. 98
  42. ^ a b "Sir Sandford Fleming Cottage", The Canadian Register of Historic Places
  43. ^ Sir Sandford Fleming 1827–1915 Archived January 8, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, historical marker from OntarioPlaques.com, 2009
  44. ^ Fleming, Sir Sandford National Historic Person. Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada.
  45. ^ "Sandford Fleming's 190th Birthday". Archived from the original on January 15, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  46. ^ Cory Toth – Encyclopedia Of Saskatchewan. "The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan – Details". Archived from the original on May 27, 2013.
  47. ^ "Mount Sir Sandford". BC Geographical Names.>
  48. ^ Akrigg, G.P.V & Helen (1997). British Columbia Place Names (3rd ed.). University of British Columbia Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-7748-0636-2.
  49. ^ "Fleming Hall". Queen's Encyclopedia. Queen's University. Archived from the original on July 26, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  50. ^ "Fleming 50th". Fleming College. Archived from the original on February 7, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  51. ^ "Sandford Fleming Building". University of Toronto. Archived from the original on July 9, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  52. ^ "South Vancouver High School – A memory in the community". Heritage Vancouver. Archived from the original on February 7, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  53. ^ "OISE :: CBC national great teachers docseries 110829 :: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto". February 15, 2024.
  54. ^ Sir Sandford FLeming House Shelter
  55. ^ "Fleming Mansion For Sale", CBC News, Sept. 6, 2013
  56. ^ Canadian Postal Archives Database Archived July 1, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Sandford Fleming stamp, National Library and Archives, no date
  57. ^ Canadian Postal Archives Database Archived July 1, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The Pacific Cable, Fleming, National Library and Archives, no date
  58. ^ Herbert George Todd (1915). Armory and lineages of Canada. p. 29.
  59. ^ "Finding aid to Sandford Fleming fonds, Library and Archives Canada". November 25, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of Queen's College/Queen's University
Succeeded by
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by President of the Royal Society of Canada
Succeeded by