The Life of Marcus Smith

Marcus Smith, one of the earliest railway-engineers of Canada, died at Ottawa on the 14th August, 1904, in his ninetieth year.

Marcus Smith

Born on the 16th July, 1815, at Ford, Northumberland, he was educated at the village school, and commenced his engineering career in 1844 on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, under Mr. I. K. Brunel, Chief Engineer.

In the following year, the railway mania in this country having created a great demand for engineers, Mr. Smith engaged in independent practice, and became responsible for several lines, having an aggregate length of 230 miles, all of which were satisfactorily completed; but work falling off in the general reaction which followed, he accepted an engagement in 1848 with a firm of contractors who were about to construct a railway between Tours and Bordeaux. Accordingly, he went to Paris in August of that year, only to find that the Revolution had led to the abandonment of the project.

Returning to England, Mr. Smith took passage for New York in March, 1849, end on his arrival obtained employment on the Hudson River Railway.

In 1850 he removed to Canada, and was subsequently engaged as an assistant on the Great Western Railway, then under construction.

On completing this engagement, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Hamilton and Toronto Railway, and the line being opened for traffic in 1855, he next undertook the survey and location of the Niagara and Detroit Rivers Railway, but the enterprise was subsequently abandoned for lack of financial support.

In 1860 Mr. Smith returned to England, but shortly afterwards obtained an appointment on the Cape Town and Wellington Railway. These works were stopped in the following year and, Mr. Smith accepted the position of Chief Engineer of the Cape Town and Wynberg Railway, which he successfully completed at the end of 1864, and subsequently returned home.

After an interval spent in private practice in this country he again went out to America in 1868 and obtained employment on the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway, but resigned in September of that year to take up an appointmenent the Intercolonial Railway of Canada under Mr. (now Sir Sandford) Fleming, by whom he was placed in charge of the Restigouche division, 127 miles in length, comprising some heavy and important works.

In 1872 Mr. Fleming having been appointed Chief Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which was then to be definitely commenced, Mr. Smith became his Chief Assistant, acting as Engineer in charge of all the surveys for the Western division, about 1,000 miles in length, extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast. Between 1876 and 1878 he was appointed Acting Chief Engineer during Mr. Fleming’s absence in England. A thoroughly practical knowledge of pioneer engineering, combined with the resourcefulness, energy and dauntles spirit of the explorer, were the qualities needed for this work in a country such as Canada, and happily Mr. Smith possessed them in an eminent degree.

CPR No. 1 train, Countess of Dufferin

On the completion of the surveys, construction was commenced, the railway being transferred by the Government to a Company in 1881. Mr. Smith continued in the Government service, locating sections, superintending various minor works, and inspecting the work done by the Company.

Eagle Pass completion

In November, 1885, the tracks from east and west met near Eagle Pass, when Mr. Smith made his final estimate and report on the line from Savonas Ferry to this point, and returned to Ottawa. Here he was employed in general office-work and on the construction of a large wharf at Port Moody. This wharf, which was his last work in connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway, was completed in December, 1886, but Mr. Smith continued in the public service until 1893, when he retired.

Marcus Smith - early Railway engineer

It is characteristic of Mr. Smith that, in concluding the notes which he left for the preparation of this memoir, he said, “I do not desire any encomiums. I have simply tried to do my work faithfully and well.” How well he succeeded is best known to his colleagues and friends, who have lost in him a man of sterling character, ability and strict integrity, modest and unselfish in all relations of life.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 1st May, 1866, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 5th May, 1874.

Thank you to Marcus Smith 1905 Obituary in Grace’s Guide and 1905 Institution of Civil Engineers Obituaries

#railwaypioneer #CanadianPacificRailway #historicBritishColumbia


A few of the Marcus Smith lots offered in All Nations Auctions 2018

Marcus Smith 20 Sep 1861 3-sided Capetown Letter to his wife Anne, the daughter of a cousin of Sir Isaac Brock

Lot 101 in our Auction 21st July 2018

Marcus Smith 1861 4-sided letter w/ two addenda to his wife (3 pcs)

Marcus Smith 1861 Letter was Lot 88 in our Auction 7th July 2018 and sold for $220.

Lot 113 in our 9th June 2018 auction was Marcus Smith 20 Feb 1861 4-page letter to his wife from Cape of Good Hope, and realized $121.

The 1841/42 Somerset House Capt. Dawson/Marcus Smith Letter sold for $141 in our Auction 12th May 2018 lot 136.

The second copy sold for $142 for in our Auction 19th May lot 135

A few of the Marcus Smith lots offered in All Nations Auctions 2019

First page of Capetown 18 Oct 1860 Marcus Smith 4-page letter to his Canadian wife
Last page Capetown 18 Oct 1860 Marcus Smith 4-page letter to his Canadian wife

Capetown 18 Oct 1860 Marcus Smith 4-page letter to his Cdn wife
Lot 121 brought $242 in our  2nd February 2019 auction

Marcus Smith letter to wife page1

Marcus Smith letter to wife page2

Marcus Smith 14 Sep 1856 12 page letter written in Hamilton to his wife

See all of the pages from this letter 

Lot 26 in our Auction Saturday 9th February 2019


A few of the Marcus Smith lots offered in All Nations Auctions 2020

My Dear Annie

Soda Creek Fraser River, B.C. 2 Sep 1872 Marcus Smith Letter to wife
Lot 96 in our auction Saturday 18th April 2020

Page 2 of letter to Annie

“Except one visit (about half the distance that I went) made by a priest I am the first white man that has been through the country since..”