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Original title:  Photograph C. Esplin, Montreal, QC, 1880 Notman & Sandham 1880, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process 13.8 x 10 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. II-57492.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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ESPLIN, CHARLES, engineer and inventor; b. 1834 in Arbroath, Scotland, son of Charles Esplin; m. Elizabeth —, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 4 Dec. 1905 in Winnipeg.

Charles Esplin went to Lower Canada with the rest of his family in 1846. They settled in Montreal, where his father became a manufacturer. Esplin was educated at a private school in the city and then studied engineering at McGill College. He may have served briefly in the Royal Engineers. His first civil project was a subcontract on the Victoria Bridge in Montreal. Thereafter, he devoted his life to building and improving sawmills and grist-mills in many parts of Canada and the United States. Esplin’s early work was done in eastern Ontario, but in the late 1870s he followed the boom west, going to Winnipeg in 1878; he remained there until the boom broke in 1882. He then moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where he stayed for six years, working for the Pray Manufacturing Company. From there he went to Seattle, Wash., and Victoria.

Esplin returned to Winnipeg in 1897 to work for the Vulcan Iron Works, but soon left to become a consulting engineer. He is credited with having installed the first electrical lighting plant in Winnipeg as well as the first civic asphalt plant and the first water-softening plant; however, no information on these activities has been uncovered.

During his stay in Minneapolis, Esplin took out a number of patents, four in Canada and ten in the United States, several of them covering the same invention in both countries. Although most were for relatively minor improvements to grist-mills and circular sawmills, three patents taken out in the United States in 1886 and shared with the Pray Manufacturing Company made band-saws considerably easier to use. The improved saws were subsequently widely employed in the sawmills of Minnesota.

Charles Esplin appears to have been a competent engineer, going to places where expansion was occurring, and then moving on. By 1884–87 his experience was sufficiently extensive that he was able to make some useful, even significant, advances in his area of expertise. He is one of the many capable craftsmen who helped develop the west.

David R. Dyck

[Charles Esplin is supposed to have written articles for various Manitoba newspapers but none of them have been located despite extensive research. Neither the local newspapers nor the Winnipeg municipal council minutes contain any information about his activities in that city.  d.r.d.]

Manitoba Morning Free Press, 6 Dec. 1905. Winnipeg Tribune, 5 Dec. 1905. Directory, Winnipeg, 1906. List of Canadian patents, from the beginning of the Patent Office, June, 1824, to the 31st of August, 1872 (Ottawa, 1882). Pioneers of Man. (Money et al.). U.S., Patent Office, Annual report (Washington), 1884, 1886–87.

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Cite This Article

David R. Dyck, “ESPLIN, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/esplin_charles_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/esplin_charles_13E.html
Author of Article:   David R. Dyck
Title of Article:   ESPLIN, CHARLES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   May 29, 2023