THE FORGOTTEN WHIRLWIND WHO PUT THE WORLD ON TIME
A MACLEAN’S FLASHBACK
Sir Sandford Fleming had nothing to do with penicillin but he did (1) give the world standard time (2) plan most of Canada’s railways (3) champion the Pacific cable (4) design our first stamp. Perhaps his greatest achievement was vanishing overnight from the hall of fame
SANDFORD FLEMING was 44—the halfway point in his life—when in 1871 he was asked by Sir John A. Macdonald to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. He hesitated. That hesitation was one of the most astonishing things in a career as remarkable for self-confidence and audacity as it was for achievement.
Fleming hesitated because he was in the midst of building the Intercolonial Railway which, by connecting the existing terminals of Shediac, N.B., and Rivière du Loup, Que., would bind the new Dominion by a continuous rail line from Nova Scotia to Ontario. He was still chief engineer of the Newfoundland Railway. In his mind were taking shape the arguments for standard time which he was later to din into the world’s ears.
Any one of those tasks would have been considered by an ordinary man to have been enough in itself. Sir Sandford Fleming was not ordinary. His hesitation was brief. Within a day or two he was himself again, and he accepted Macdonald’s commission.
The following year he was crossing the prairies and probing the valleys of British Columbia on foot, by pack horse and canoe, selecting the territories to which he would assign his 600-man gang of surveyors and helpers.
Today the name Sandford Fleming is vaguely familiar to some Canadians as that of the man who agitated for standard time. It has been almost forgotten that he was also one of the greatest railway
builders of this or any other country; that he lithographed the first accurate large-scale surveyor’s maps in Canada (Peterborough, Cobourg, Toronto); that he designed our first postage stamp, thereby making the beaver a national emblem; produced the first usable chart of Torontö harbor, wrote a prayer book, was a co-founder and the life force of the Royal Canadian Institute, charted and fought for the Pacific cable between Vancouver Island and Australia and New Zealand and was chancellor of Queen’s University for thirty-five years.
Today you can go from Vancouver or Prince Rupert to Saint John by train, covering nearly eighty percent of the journey on roads first surveyed by Sir Sandford Fleming. When Fleming walked ashore from the Scottish immigrant ship Brilliant in 1845, his adopted country had only sixteen miles of railway.
And today our orderly system of time zoning is literally the gift of a man who gave more than twenty years, thousands of dollars and leadership to the cause of sensible time reckoning. When Fleming started his crusade for standard time in the early Seventies, there were almost as many time zones as there were communities. When the sun was directly overhead it was noon, no matter where you were.
Traveling from Halifax to Detroit a person had to reset his watch at Saint John, Quebec City, Montreal, Kingston, Belleville, Toronto, Hamilton, Brantford, London, Windsor and finally Detroit.
The railway tried to correct matters by establishing time zones to cover their areas of operations, but each railway based its time on a different meridian. In the Buffalo, N.Y., Union Station there were four clocks, giving the four times used by the lines serving the station. There was a similar muddle in Europe.
Fleming proposed a prime meridian from which all nations would measure time in twenty-four standard zones, each zone lying between two agreedupon meridians of longitude. Within each zone all clocks would be on the same time. His theory was printed in the Royal Canadian Institute’s Proceedings and reprints were sent to governments, engineers, the Press, railway and communications officials and educators everywhere in the world.
In 1881 Fleming was at the International Geographical Congress in Venice where he read yet another of his papers on the need for a prime meridian. His paper was recommended for adoption. But he wanted government action, by every nation in the world. The battle was sometimes almost too much for Fleming himself. Once when explaining his theory to a group of friends, as he used the words “prime meridian” he paused and cried, “Prime meridian . . . prime meridian; I’m sick of the sound of those two words.”
By 1883 all railways in North America went on a uniform standard time basis. The following year a convention was called in Washington. Twenty-five nations sent delegates. Canada did not have a seat, but Fleming selected the British, Russian and U. S. representatives as his targets for some strenuous lobbying, and gave them no peace. He never relaxed his campaign and by the turn of the century nearly all civilized countries were using the method of time reckoning first proposed by Fleming.
Canadians in April 1845 might have had some idea of what was heading their way if they could have seen a strong-jawed Scottish youth on board the Brilliant at the height of a violent storm in midAtlantic. The other passengers were engaged in prayer or had sunk into the stupor of hopelessness. The eighteen-year-old Fleming was nonchalantly writing a letter to his father back in Fifeshire. He described the storm, giving estimated wind velocity, height of waves, and other meteorological data. Then he added that their chance for survival was slight, gave his love, corked the letter in a bottle and threw it into the sea. It was found by a fisherman on the North Devon coast and forwarded to Fleming senior seven months after he had heard of his son’s safe arrival at Quebec.
When he disembarked Sandford Fleming was equipped with a grammar-school education, four years’ training as a land surveyor, and a belief that he should take a hand in whatever was happening around him. If nothing much was happening he was convinced he should get something started.
And that is the way it was for the next seventy years, to the everlasting benefit of Canada.
Fleming first looked for work in Peterborough
and later tried Toronto and Hamilton. In Hamilton he heard that a family his people had known in Scotland was living a few miles south of the city. When he paid these Scots a visit he found them living in a cabin without hearth or chimney. He took a stoneboat and hauled stones from a quarry two miles away to build a fireplace and chimney for them. It was his first engineering job in Canada.
He returned to Peterborough and found work as a surveyor’s draftsman. One of his first assignments was a map of the town of Peterborough, and Fleming spent his pay on a set of double harness. Presumably he was thinking of going logging with a team. The next year he made a map of Cobourg and the Newcastle district. This map is considered the first accurately surveyed large-scale rural map produced in Canada.
By 1849 Fleming had abandoned any logging plans. He made a trip to Montreal to be examined for his license as a provincial land surveyor. His license was granted on the day of the riots over the Rebellion Losses Bill, by which rebels as well as loyalists were to be compensated for property damage suffered in the rebellion of 1837. That evening he returned to the parliament building. The rioters had set it on fire. Fleming dashed inside to see if anything could be saved and noticed a large oil portrait of the Queen. He tried to pry it from the wall but it was too well secured.
He returned to the street and enlisted three helpers. The four of them, by putting their shoulders under the heavy frame, got it down from the wall. They carried it out, crouching to dodge the fiâmes, and handed it to a militia officer. The next day the Montreal Gazette said the Queen’s portrait was seen being carried off “by four scoundrels.” It found its way years later to the Senate Chamber in Ottawa.
That same year Fleming was a co-founder of the Canadian Institute in Toronto. It was formed by civil engineers, surveyors and architects to discuss their problems. It got off to a slow start and for the February 1850 meeting only two showed up. They were Fleming and a fellow surveyor, A. A. Passmore. They sat around in gloomy silence for a time and when it became clear that no one else would appear Fleming jumped to his feet and said, “I’ll be president, and you, Mr. Passmore, be secretary, and
we’ll draft a new constitution. It has reached the point where we must either make a spoon or spoil the horn.”
It was decided to open membership to all professions and sciences. Meetings would be held weekly, instead of monthly. Other changes were drafted into the constitution with more speed and unanimity than parliamentary correctness. The next day Fleming touched up the resolutions passed the night before and had five hundred copies printed. These he sent to all members and to everyone he could think of who was eligible for membership under the new rules. The next meeting was well attended and from then on the Canadian Institute grew rapidly.
It received a royal charter and became the Royal Canadian Institute. For more than one hundred years it has been a valuable factor in spreading popular scientific knowledge, and it still meets every Saturday night during the winter.
Late in 1850 the post office department announced that the first Canadian postage stamps would be issued by the following year. Fleming got busy right away on a design. He drew a beaver for the central figure; the industry and engineering skill of the beaver appealed to Fleming, and it had been used as an emblem in British North America for a hundred years, principally by the fur companies. A note in Fleming’s diary says, “Had breakfast with the postmaster general this morning and showed him my design.” It was later accepted and the first stamp, a three-penny brown, was sold in April 1851. Eight years later when the country adopted the decimal money system Fleming’s beaver was used for the five-cent stamp. Thus Fleming can be credited with popularizing the beaver as a Canadian emblem.
By now Fleming himself had become something of an emblem. He was well over six feet tall—rin an age when sixfooters were rare —and he wore his dark-brown hair very long, even for that period. By his middle twenties he had a beard that could have won prizes. His voice was loud, with a slight rasp. He enjoyed company and talk and although he was a seriousminded youth he liked to go on the town once in a while. He speaks in his diary of attending a wedding party until 3 a.m., then going on to another party until seven, sleeping until eleven, and continuing the merrymaking until late afternoon. Another entry tells of his having had nightmares from drinking too much raspberry wine. Again: “Drank too much last night, but was up before church time.” He liked good food, a good cigar and good wine. Some of his diary notes look like youthful boasting, but, whatever his indulgences may have been, his Presbyterian conscience usually pricked him into giving them up. He swore off meat, wine and smokes for a month in 1851.
He was a staunch, sincere and conservative member of the kirk. When he heard the psalms chanted in St. Andrew’s, Montreal, in 1867, he lamented, “Surely we are losing the extreme simplicity and piety of the good old church. What would my grandfather, yea, my father say to all this?”
It was at a party in 1852 that he met Jeanie Hall, his future wife. He writes briefly but ominously, “At Wm. Hutchison’s for the evening—Miss Hall.” Another entry two months later shows that even when in love he could view his prospective bride with the detachment of the scientist. He wrote: “An
intimacy has grown up with Miss Hall of Peterborough. How it may terminate I don’t know— an amiable, wellbred woman, with her peculiarities.”
By New Year’s 1854 he was driving Jeanie Hall from Toronto to her Peterborough home where he was to undergo the parental scrutiny for a few days. Near Uxbridge the sleigh struck a stump hidden in a drift; the horses panicked; the shaft broke and Fleming emerged from the wreck with an injured chest. They were given shelter by the McLeans, a pioneer family nearby, who summoned a Dr. Kellog from Uxbridge. The doctor took Fleming to his home and treated him there for a week, with Jeanie’s devoted assistance.
Fleming and Jeanie were married in Peterborough the following winter and started their honeymoon in a two-horse spring wagon. They drove to Uxbridge where Dr. Kellog was again their host for a week.
After leaving the doctor’s house they drew up to the stump of poignant memory. Fleming jumped off the wagon and started to saw the stump off at the ground. His startled bride looked on for a moment then said, “Sandford, why on earth are you wearing yourself out on that wretched stump?” “Be patient, Jeanie,” the great planner replied. “I’ll have a use for it, I expect.” After an hour’s work
he wrestled the stump into the wagon and they drove on. Years later he gave his wife a picture of their five children in a frame made from the stump.
Fleming started his railway career by answering an ad for a surveyor in the Toronto Globe’s help-wanted column. He was engaged by Frederick Cumberland, chief engineer of the Northern Railway then being built from Toronto to Barrie. When Cumberland retired from the job in 1855, Fleming succeeded him and pushed the line through to Gollingwood.
The year he joined Cumberland’s staff Fleming published his lithographed map of Toronto, which was accepted by the city’s tax department and used for many years. He also charted Toronto harbor and its approaches, spending all the time he could spare in a rowboat, dropping a lead line over the side every few feet. His chart could be found in every wheelhouse on the Great Lakes long afterwards.
Fleming’s appointment as chief engineer of the publicly owned Intercolonial Railway came in 1863. He started working east toward New Brunswick from Riviere du Loup at the beginning of winter. It was more like an Arctic exploration expedition than a survey job. The first two hundred miles were through unsettled forbidding country, crudely mapped. Dog teams hauled the gear. The men went on snowshoes and the main article of diet for both dogs and men was canned meat left over from the Crimean War.
Iron Bridges Don’t Burn
Late in 1864 Fleming had three main surveys completed and enough routes had been studied on each of the three to give him fifteen separate lines from which to choose. He recommended the Bay Chaleur route because it offered access to the sea for lumber shippers in the north, and it was as far away from the U. S. border as he could get. This latter consideration was one of defense, a factor in everyone’s thinking at that time. The Fenians were still making their border raids and there was a lot of wild talk about outright annexation by the U. S.
Building railways means trouble as well as toil. Fleming’s greatest fight was with the commissioners of the Intercolonial 1— “the battle of the bridges,” as it came to be known. The commissioners wanted wooden bridges because wood was cheap. Fleming wanted iron bridges because iron was durable and free from fire hazard.
The storm raged for nearly two years with Fleming having to leave the line repeatedly to appear at Ottawa, bringing his great fists down first on this desk and then that as he thundered for his iron bridges. Since neither commissioners nor governments could stand up under a Fleming barrage it was decided
that all bridges of more than sixty feet span should be iron. The indefatigable Fleming still wasn’t satisfied, and continued his protests without pause. A limp government finally passed an order in council specifying that all bridges except three short ones should be iron.
The Press joined heartily in the battle of the bridges. The Halifax Express was particularly hostile to Fleming and in addition to the commissioners’ stock arguments of economy found one of its own—safety. Iron, the Express pointed out, was brittle. Therefore it would crack under the weight of the first train it bore.
When most of the bridges were built Fleming gave a party for newspapermen near Shediac. He issued a personal invitation to the Halifax Express. From Shediac the party was taken by special train to the first iron bridge north of the town. There they detrained and found a sumptuous picnic had been prepared—right underneath one of the “brittle” iron bridges. A heavy construction train thundered back and forth overhead all afternoon. The Express representatives may have been glad they were being proved wrong, but there must have been moments when under the jibes of their colleagues they almost wished they could have been proved right.
However remarkable a man he was, Fleming was not able to be in more than one place at a time. All the same he entered a contract in 1865 to build the Truro-Pictou line for the Nova Scotia government at the same time the Intercolonial was well under way. The first job was barely completed when Fleming undertook the planning of the Newfoundland railway. His final report on that work was made in 1875, after he had been engaged on the CPR for four years. For several years he was working simultaneously on the Intercolonial, Newfoundland and Canadian Pacific railways and standard time.
The job of a railway chief engineer when building a new line is to assign his engineers and surveyors to the field, consider their reports and determine from them the line the road is to take. But Fleming was far more conscientious. There isn’t a mile of any railway he built, except some of the eastern stretches of the Newfoundland Railway, that he didn’t study in person and discuss with his engineers on the spot.
Spending so much time in the wilderness, and being a devoted family man when he did return to civilization, Fleming had little opportunity to form intimate friendships. But one such friendship was with Thomas D Arcy McGee, the Montreal parliamentarian and a Father of Confederation.
Tn the summer of 1864 Fleming and McGee were chatting about the unlikely prospects of Confederation. McGee was despondent and asked Fleming, “Why are matters moving so slowly?” The question may have been rhetorical, but Fleming took it up and replied, “Because the Canadians and the Maritimers don’t know each other; they’re too far apart to get acquainted.” Having given this opinion, Fleming decided to do something about it.
He asked McGee whether he would arrange for a group of members of the parliament of the provinces of Canada and newspaper representatives to await an invitation to make a good-will tour of the Maritime provinces. Fleming had no idea who would issue the invitation but he had no doubts about finding someone. “Let the Canadians see that the Maritimers aren’t covered with barnacles and let the Maritimers see that the Canadians don’t wear horns,” he advised. “It’s just silly notions like that which are holding up the union of British North America.”
McGee returned to Quebec City and Fleming went to Saint John and there talked officials of the Board of Trade into inviting the Canadians to New Brunswick. When the Halifax Board of Trade heard of this, it sent an invitation on behalf of Nova Scotia.
The success of the visit went beyond Fleming’s hopes. Twice the itinerary was revised to lengthen the tour. Canadian reporters flooded their papers with stories of Maritime hospitality, scenery, enterprise and everything else they could find to praise. Several Maritime papers which had been strongly anti-Confederation thawed noticeably. When delegates from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island met at Charlottetown in September that year to discuss Maritime union, delegations from other Canadian provinces (Canada West and Canada East) were welcomed to the convention, contrary to its original purpose. Although Confederation was not achieved at Charlottetown, the events of 1864 smoothed the way for it at Quebec City two years later.
Whisky to End a Fight
Fleming was a great arranger and no mean diplomat. Once when he was subpoenaed as an expert witness in a water-power case in Brockville, Ont., he was dismayed to find that although there were twenty-eight witnesses to be heard, the first day was taken up with the examination of only one. He might be stranded in Brockville for a month!
Fleming invited one of the litigants, named Coleman, to his hotel room that evening. When Coleman entered the room he found whisky and biscuits set out. Fleming excused himself for a moment and reappeared with the other litigant, Macdonald. While Coleman and Macdonald glared at each other, Fleming quickly locked the door and slipped the key into his pocket. Fleming was over six feet in his socks and weighed two hundred and twenty pounds. Coleman and Macdonald were not big men.
With some fast talking, Sandford Fleming persuaded the men that from his knowledge of the case they could reach an immediate and fair settlement, saving much time and expense.
When they brightened up at that, their host offered to write out a fair solution of the case, as he saw it, then and there. They agreed it might be worth a try. Fleming, who could always put pen to paper quicker than Micawber, started to write. When he read his solution aloud both men agreed that it was as satisfactory as could be expected. Coleman suggested that seals should be attached to make it legal. Even this couldn’t phase Fleming. He soaked biscuits in water and fashioned seals from the mixture. Coleman and
Macdonald impressed their signet rings in the dough and left the room arm in arm.
The next morning they told Fleming that they had shown the agreement to their lawyers and had been told it was not worth tuppence.
“Of course they would say that,” Fleming boomed. “They are afraid of being done out of their nice fat fees. Stand up in court and read it to the judge.” They did. The case was over before noon.
Fleming had taken his family from Toronto to Halifax in 1863 when he started work on the Intercolonial. Six years later he moved to Ottawa where he bought Winterholme, a huge house on Chapel Street. It was large enough to become a sixteen-family apartment building years later.
By now Fleming’s parents and brothers had all followed him to Canada, and by 1869 there was a good supply of nephews and nieces, and later of grandchildren, to keep the place jumping, the way the Flemings enjoyed it. Christmas always meant a particularly full house. One Christmas Eve there were fifty-two stockings strung on a clothesline across the drawing-room. After Fleming’s wife died in 1888 his two daughters were Winterholme’s hostesses and, after they were married, a succession of nieces took the job.
Fleming’s favorite relaxation was chess. He played chess in camp and once said he had spent nearly all his time at the chess board during fortynine Atlantic crossings.
His pet hate was housecleaning, with its mess and disarrangement. There were two carpets on the floor of his study. A timid housekeeper had one laid on the other rather than incur the master’s annoyance by removing the furniture while the old one was pulled up. Once when the household thought he would be leaving for a senate meeting at Queen’s the opportunity was taken to redecorate the dining room. As Fleming left by the front door, a brigade of decorators with their ladders, pails and brushes came in the back door. At the station Fleming was intercepted by a telegram saying the meeting had been postponed. A dismayed niece saw him returning to the house. As he ehtered, the decorators were bundled out the back door with all their gear.
An engineer of his eminence naturally attracted a lot of crackpots eager to promote everything from trans-Atlantic balloon flights to perpetual motion machines. Fleming would always lend a sympathetic ear, then skilfully ease them toward the door where the family would hear him saying, “Thank you for calling, sir. You have an interesting theory there—most interesting.”
He never voted. He felt that being engaged by governments of different political colors he should not have a part in their elections. But a diary entry of the Sixties reads: “To Chas
Tupper, Elctn Exps—$400.” (This was the year Tupper led the Conservatives to victory in the Nova Scotia elections.)
There was a strong religious strain in Fleming. In 1887 he put together an interdenominational prayer book, hymnal and psalter which he printed under the title Short Sunday Service for Traveling Parties. The title page said: “Examined and cordially approved by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and other Clergymen.”
Fleming distributed hundreds of his prayer books among the railway workers of his day and would frequently conduct a service from them, looking like a latter-day prophet with his heard and flowing brown hair as he stood in a mountain valley or on the unbroken prairie. He was usually clad in black.
Sandford Fleming made a lot of money but he did not die wealthy. He made substantial gifts to Queen’s University. It was his own money which was used for thousands of miles of travel in the promotion of standard time and the Pacific cable. In the early days of the Canadian Institute—when he was still a struggling surveyor—he took out an insurance policy for a thousand pounds, naming the institute as beneficiary. He continued to help the RCI financially in later years.
Like many men who have not had a university education his feeling for places of higher learning amounted to awe. Being chosen chancellor of Queen’s in 1880 was for Fleming even a higher honor than the knighthood he received during Queen Victoria’s jubilee year, 1897. Once, when somewhere in the wilds, he heard that the University of Ottawa had been destroyed by fire. He rushed to telegraph a donation to the rebuilding fund. When a friend reminded him that this was a Roman Catholic institution he was subsidizing Fleming turned on him with one of his rare losses of control and cried, “Roman Catholic! English Catholic! Scandinavian Catholic! What in blazes difference does it make? It’s a university !”
At Halifax Fleming had bought an eighty-acre estate on the wealt hy North West Arm. Soon the entire area became private land. But when the Flemings moved to Ottawa the estate was given to the public for a recreation ground, still enjoyed by thousands today.
The Easiest Way to B.C.
Fleming’s nine-year service to the Canadian Pacific Railway took him up the Ottawa Valley, along the tortuous north shore of Lake Superior, across the prairies and through Yellowhead Pass into the mountains. Ever thorough, he mapped eleven different routes through British Columbia, all leaving the Yellowhead and branching to tidewater at points as far north as Port Simpson and as far south as Port Moody.
By 1879 the line he finally recommended was from the Ottawa Valley westward by the north shore of Lake Nipissing to Sudbury, then northwest to the Superior shore and Fort William; from there it was west and north to Selkirk, northwest to Battleford, Edmonton, and the Yellowhead Pass, with a sharp swing southward to Kamloops and Burrard Inlet.
Until 1880 the CPR had been a government undertaking, first under Sir John A. Macdonald and then under Sir Alexander Mackenzie. When in 1880 the project was turned over to a private company, headed by Donald Smith and George Stephen, Fleming’s position with the road was terminated and his proposed route was radically changed. Fleming had again been influenced by defense considerations as much as anything and he favored Yellowhead Pass because it offered the lowest and easiest grades into British Columbia.
But, although much of his plan was rejected, the skill with which he had routed the line and, above all, his record of personal rectitude were above criticism. A royal commission which enquired into the affairs of the CPR in June 1880 emphasized in its report that “the chief engineer and his staff have shown ability, zeal, and the strictest integrity in the supervision of the work. They have fought inch by inch and day by day against what they thought to be
attempted encroachments or. ^ar. of the contractors’ engineers.”
Fleming, as usual, landed on his feet; He had always had faith in an all-land route to the Pacific and he invested heavily in the new company. And although Smith and Stephen had favored the Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary-Kicking Horse-Kamloops route over Fleming’s northern line, later roads, such as the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern followed nearly all Fleming’s surveys west of Red River.
The CPR was Fleming’s pet. Though it had refused much of his work he loved it and frequently spoke of it as “the Queen of All Railroads.” His position as major shareholder and director entitled him to a private car. He seldom used it; he was afraid of putting on airs. Once when he couldn’t open a balky window in an ordinary day coach he smashed out the glass with his cane. Presenting his card to the astonished conductor he said, “Have the divisional superintendent send me the billbut the Canadian Pacific coaches should have no such windows.”
Fleming was still with the CPR and was waging his greatest battles for standard time when he took on a third job, the Canada-Australia cable. He visualized an all-British governmentowned cable service eventually to encircle the earth. The fight he put up for twenty-three years to get his cable makes a similar story to that by which standard time was won. Official apathy had to be overcome, as well as the active hostility of the Eastern Telegraph Company, a British private concern that owned the cable then in operation from Britain to Australia and New Zealand via the Mediterranean and India. Messages between Canada and the Antipodes were routed by the Eastern’s line and by transAtlantic cable.
Fleming prepared two charts for the Pacific cable. When the cable was finally laid the staff of oceanographers and hydrographers who did the job found themselves following, with slight deviations, the route Fleming had worked out in his library at Winterholme. Between his estimates of the costand expected revenue and the discouraging figures suggested by Eastern there was a difference as wide as the Pacific itself. When the job was finished, Fleming’s costs figure was within seven percent of the actual amount and revenue from the first five years of operation was within three percent of his estimate.
The Pacific cable was completed in 1902. A monitoring wire was extended into his Ottawa mansion and Fleming listened while a message of loyalty was tapped out from a native Fijian prince to King Edward VII. Next was a warm message of congratulation to Fleming from the prime minister of New Zealand. Other messages were exchanged between viceregal personages. When the telegrapher’s key was finally silent everyone looked at Sir Sandford, perhaps expecting a stirring patriotic pronouncement to mark the big event. He beamed on everyone and said, “Isn’t it dandy? . . . Just dandy.”
Though in his middle seventies, Fleming continued to work for the completion of his all-British cable. But the fires were slowly dying. The outbreak of the First World War ended any chance for further cable laying and the following year, 1915, Fleming died.
Canadians can be thankful for his decision to ignore the advice given him by Bishop Straehan, a Toronto cleric and educator, when as an immigrant youth he visited the bishop in 1845. He was told: “Go back to Scotland, my
boy. There is no future here for the professional man. All the great works in this country are now completed.” if