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d. 4 Oct. 1913 in Virden, Man.


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PRINGLE, THOMAS, millwright and consulting engineer; b. 3 Feb. 1830 in Huntingdon, Lower Canada, son of David Pringle, a farmer, and Janet Murray; m. 13 June 1862 Catherine Ross in Montreal, and they had two sons; d. there 7 May 1911.

Thomas Pringle’s father came from Scotland in 1827 to Huntingdon County, on the Quebec–New York boundary. This hilly area with many small streams produced numerous water-powered mills as well as a number of significant millwrights. Nothing is known of Pringle’s early years except that at age 20 he moved to Montreal. The city was rapidly industrializing, in part because of the availability of water power from the enlargement of the Lachine Canal in the 1840s. Most of the canal’s water power was developed between 1851 and 1856 at three sites. Pringle was involved in the building of important mills along the canal during this period.

Pringle also designed and built water-powered mills elsewhere. A bilingual business card from 1865 lists his major projects which, in addition to those on the Lachine Canal, included seven mills in various locations from Trois-Rivières to Hawkesbury, Upper Canada. His business address was the Caledonia Iron Works on the Lachine Canal. The works’ proprietor, John McDougall*, credited Pringle with much of the success he enjoyed as an engine founder. Pringle may have used part of the Caledonia Iron Works as a small shop for building and assembling shafting and other components.

By the 1880s the Lachine Canal, although one of the major industrial centres of Canada, was a serious problem for its owner, the federal Department of Railways and Canals. Far more water power was being used by the factories along the canal than had been authorized and the companies were still paying the same annual rent they had in the 1850s. A royal commission on the leasing of water power, Lachine Canal, was appointed in 1886 to investigate the situation and make recommendations. Pringle, because of his knowledge and integrity, was named one of the commissioners. From his own testimony before the commission, it is evident that he had installed two-thirds of the 76 turbines along the canal. Major clients included Peck, Benny and Company (rolling mills), A. W. Ogilvie and Company (flour mills), the Caledonia Iron Works, and many smaller companies. Although the commission recommended that new leases be signed at market rates, little changed.

Pringle’s services were also being used by the textile firms that were springing up in Quebec in the 1880s: the Montmorency Cotton Manufacturing Company, the Magog Textile and Print Company, the Hochelaga Cotton Manufacturing Company, and the Compagnie de Filature Sainte-Anne. He advised these mills on the use of water and steam power and on the layout of their machinery. He was also an agent for Hercules turbines and had installed this type of turbine in numerous mills, particularly textile ones, from Cornwall, Ont., to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and Coaticook, Que.

In the 1890s hydroelectricity came to be seen as an important source of power. Pringle produced a report on the Lachine rapids in 1891 and one on the Rivière Richelieu at Chambly the following year for the Royal Electric Company of Montreal. When it was decided to develop electricity at Chambly, Pringle and fellow engineer William McLea Walbank resolved to do further studies on the Lachine rapids. Their belief in the potential of the rapids became evident when, with the help of some Montreal businessmen, they formed the Lachine Rapids Hydraulic and Land Company in 1895. The firm grew rapidly and was an important producer of electricity, but Pringle soon withdrew. Walbank became sole manager and engineer in 1897.

Pringle took his son David Alexander into partnership, forming T. Pringle and Son in 1892. This was the basis of the oldest firm of consulting engineers in Canada. As consulting hydraulic and mechanical engineers, they were extremely busy developing the hydroelectric potential of Shawinigan falls and the falls on the Rivière Chaudière near Quebec City and at Mille Roches (Long Sault, Ont.).

Thomas Pringle retired in 1898 because of ill health, but continued to be asked for his opinion on questions of water power and on matters requiring arbitration. He died quietly in Montreal in May 1911. Pringle was a rarity: a millwright who became a professional engineer. In 1887 he had become a charter-member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, an affiliation that certified his professional status. He led the way from using water for direct mechanical power to using it for hydroelectricity.

Larry S. McNally

ANQ-M, CE1-30, 23 juin 1830; CE1-115, 13 juin 1862. NA, MG 28, I 277, 12; RG 12, 2808, file 4610-51-5. Tecsult Inc. Arch. (Montreal), T. Pringle and Son papers. Montreal Daily Star, 13 Feb., 25 May 1889; 8 May 1911. W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1534–1914 (3v., Montreal, 1914). Can., Royal commission on the leasing of water power, Lachine Canal, Report (Ottawa, 1887). Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans. (Montreal), 26 (1912): 33. Directory, Montreal, 1863–1900. Guide to the manufactures of Ontario and Quebec (Montreal, 1870). Montreal illustrated, 1894 . . . (Montreal, [1894]).

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Cite This Article

Larry S. McNally, “PRINGLE, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pringle_thomas_14E.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/pringle_thomas_14E.html
Author of Article:   Larry S. McNally
Title of Article:   PRINGLE, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   October 4, 2023