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FLEMING, PETER, civil engineer and author; fl. 1815–52.

Peter Fleming was of British origin, according to comments made by Thomas Coltrin Keefer* while addressing the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers in 1888. He was the author of two pamphlets on surveying published in Glasgow in 1815 and in 1820. The first traces of his work as a civil engineer are found in 1829, the year in which he wrote from Albany, N.Y., to the governor of Lower Canada, Sir James Kempt, seeking preferment. Fleming had been employed on the construction of the Mohawk and Hudson Railway and was still committed to the railway company, but he preferred a post in the Canadas. The report he enclosed for the governor on a proposed canal and railway between Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and Chambly to carry goods and passengers past the rapids on the Rivière Richelieu contained detailed drawings which are still useful for information on wooden-track, metal-shod horse-railways. In the same year he recommended that the Richelieu be dredged so as to avoid the building of a lock and dam at Saint-Ours. He was appointed superintending and consulting engineer for the dredging, begun in 1830.

In 1829–30 Fleming made survey plans and estimates for the construction of the Chambly Canal. Work was begun in 1831, but not under Fleming’s supervision since he had had a falling out with Kempt and the commissioners responsible for the canal. In 1830 Fleming had also made a plan of the port of Montreal at the request of the commissioners appointed to execute improvements.

Fleming became consulting engineer on the Williamsburgh and Cornwall canals on the St Lawrence River in 1834. In that year he also made recommendations concerning the rapids at Chute-à-Blondeau on the Ottawa River downstream from Hawkesbury, Upper Canada. He designed a number of road bridges in the period immediately before the union of the Canadas: two near Coteau-du-Lac, one at Cap-Rouge, and one over the Rivière Saint-Maurice in 1839, as well as others at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade) and Bout-de-l’Île in 1840. In the latter year he designed improvements to the lock at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the Ottawa River and made a chart of the St Lawrence River between Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Saint-Paul (Île Des Sœurs). Fleming then designed improvements for the basin of the Lachine Canal at Montreal in 1841. Appointed superintending engineer in 1843 for the construction of bridges between Montreal and Quebec, some of which he had planned earlier, he appears to have done little work for the government after that date. In 1845 he petitioned the Legislative Council for professional employment in the government service. A few days later he petitioned the Legislative Assembly, complaining that he had been neglected by the government and the Board of Works, that his plans had been monopolized, and that he had in consequence suffered much financial loss. He asked for an investigation of his grievances. The matter was referred to a select committee and there it seems to have died. Fleming designed improvements to the harbour at Port Hope, Upper Canada, in 1846 but they were not implemented.

Fleming was an early promoter of a major railway line through the Canadas. In a letter published in the Quebec Mercury in December 1830 he had proposed the construction of a railway from Montreal to Lake Huron, arguing that railways were a less costly, faster, and more efficient means of transportation than canals. A map by Fleming dated 1851 illustrates a proposed trunk line joining Montreal, Bytown (Ottawa), and Kingston, with extensions to Georgian Bay, Goderich, and Windsor, anticipating the construction of major trunk lines in Canada which was beginning in the period.

Fleming had again turned his attention to writing. Author of a pamphlet on the St Lawrence canals in 1849, he was also interested in mathematics, publishing two works on the subject, in 1850 and in 1851. In 1852 Peter McGill presented a petition by Fleming to the Legislative Council for assistance to enable him to publish a work he had prepared on the mathematical sciences. After this, no further traces of him have been found.

Peter Fleming was one of many engineers who came to the Canadas in the 1830s. He worked for more than a decade, planning, designing, and supervising works in Upper and Lower Canada. After 1843 he seems to have fallen into disfavour and to have devoted his time to other activities.

Courtney C. J. Bond

Peter Fleming is the author of A system of land surveying and levelling; wherein is demonstrated the theory, with numerous practical examples, as applied to all operations, either relative to the land surveyor, or civil and military engineer (Glasgow, 1815); New method of finding the true length of a base line for trigonometrical surveys (Glasgow, 1822); Report to the president and directors of the Mohawk and Hudson Railway Company (New York, 1829); On the StLawrence Canals and gradual diminution of the discharge of the StLawrence (Montreal, 1849); Geometrical solutions of the quadrature of the circle (Montreal, 1850); and Geometrical solutions of the lengths and division of circular arcs, the quadrature of the circle, trisection of the angle, duplication of the cube, and quadrature of the hyperbola (Montreal, 1851).

PAC, National Map Coll., H1/312-1840; H2/300-1829; H3/300-1839; V1/440-1846; RG 4, A1, 216: 70–71; RG 8, I (C ser.), 58: 204; RG 11, A1, 56: 11/56-3. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1891, 10, no.9. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1844–45: 303, 313; Conseil législatif, Journaux, 1844–45: 108; 1852–53: 164. Quebec Mercury, 7 Dec. 1830. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 126. S. J. Gillis, The Chambly canal: a structural history of the locks (Can., National Hist. Parks and Sites Branch, Manuscript report, no.170, Ottawa, 1975). [T. C. Keefer], “President’s address,” Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans. (Montreal), 2 (1888): 9–44.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Courtney C. J. Bond, “FLEMING, PETER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fleming_peter_8E.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/fleming_peter_8E.html
Author of Article:   Courtney C. J. Bond
Title of Article:   FLEMING, PETER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   September 21, 2023