'A truly great Canadian'

'A truly great Canadian'

July 24, 2015


Sir Sandford Fleming is best known for his work on standard time, the Canadian Pacific Railroad and surveying large swathes of the growing nation, but he is also indelibly linked to Queen’s University having served as chancellor from 1880 to 1915.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the death of this ‘Great Canadian’ the university is hosting an exhibit highlighting Fleming’s many accomplishments throughout his life as an engineer, innovator and Queen’s chancellor.

Curated by Pam Manders and Alvan Bregman, W.D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library, and Deirdre Bryden, Queen’s University Archives, the exhibition continues through to the end of August. All the items on display on the third floor of the Douglas Library come from collections at Queen’s.

From books and journals to medals and maps there is a wide array of material, which is fitting considering all that Fleming achieved in his lifetime.

And while much of his life is well documented the research team was continually excited by the breadth of information and “little jewels” they found.

“It was just a discovery process that as we went along there was something more that he was noted for, famous for,” says Ms. Manders.

Creator of the first Canadian stamp, the driving force for connecting the Commonwealth by underwater cable, railway inventor, founder of the Royal Canadian Institute and a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada, the list goes on and on.

“He is a Great Canadian, a truly Great Canadian,” says Dr. Bregman, adding that Fleming’s reach stretched beyond Canada’s borders. “He’s world famous. His influence is on a world stage with universal time and the cable.”

Fleming was a very influential figure at Queen’s as well, as Principal George Monro Grant – a long-time friend dating back to their time in Nova Scotia and work together on the CPR survey – brought him to the university as chancellor, a position he held for 35 years until his death.

 “We all started off with a general view of Sir Sandford Fleming and we found that it was really quite interesting to work on,” says Dr. Bregman. “He’s a great figure to be associated with Queen’s and Queen’s is partly great because it is associated with people like Fleming and Grant.”

“We have a new hero,” Ms. Manders adds.

For Deirdre Bryden of Queen’s University Archives, the most difficult part of the exercise was selecting what to display from his time as chancellor, as there is so much available.

One of her favourite pieces is a pin that Fleming designed for Annie Fowler and Eliza Fitzgerald, the first women graduates from Queen’s in 1884.

“I find that such an amazing thing that this man, who was a great man and did so many big things for Canada, took the time to design a pin and got it made by Tiffany’s, as he happened to be in New York, because he thought it was so important that these two women had graduated from Queen’s,” she says.

For Queen’s University Archives the exhibit is an opportunity to showcase the historic resources that are available at the university.

“Exhibits like the Sir Sandford Fleming one, allow those that see it to gain a much better understanding of the breadth, the depth, the variety, and the uniqueness of the holdings that constitute Queen’s University Archives; as well as providing a wonderful glimpse into the university’s storied past,” says Paul Banfield, Queen’s Archivist.