Fleming, Sandford Arnot

FLEMING, Sir Sandford Arnot (1827-1915), engineer, architect, artist, scientist, and surveyor, was born in Kirkaldy, Scotland on 7 January 1827, son of Andrew G. Fleming, a carpenter by trade. He became an indentured student to John Sang, a Scottish engineer and surveyor, then emigrated to Canada in 1845 with his brother and a cousin and settled in Peterborough, Ont. He was active in the following offices, either alone, or in partnership with others:

S.A. Fleming, Architect & C.E., Peterborough, 1846
Fleming & Leather, Toronto, Nov. 1850 to November 1851
S. A. Fleming, 1852-56
Fleming, Ridout & Schreiber, Toronto, Feb. 1857 to Dec. 31, 1857
Fleming & Schreiber, Toronto, Jan. 1858 to 1862

At the young age of 19 years, Fleming was living and working Peterbrough, Ont. where he advertised himself as “Architect & Civil Engineer”, offering to “…furnish plans and specifications for Public Buildings, Villas, Cottages, Farming Premises, etc. (Peterborough Gazette, 18 April 1846, 3, advert.) He had a natural talent for sketching and drawing, and he obtained his early architectural training in the offices of Kivas Tully and Frederick W. Cumberland where he prepared perspective drawings of projects which were designed by these architects. One of his written diaries, now held at the Ontario Archives in Toronto, confirms that in January 1848 he was assisting Kivas Tully with drawings for the proposed Town Hall in St. Catharines, Ont. (built 1848-49). In December 1850 he prepared a perspective drawing of the Welland County Court House for Kivas Tully, and in June 1851 he was hired by Frederick Cumberland to draw up a perspective view of the Model Schools in Toronto.

In November 1850 he formed a partnership in Toronto with William B. Leather, but their business lasted less than a year, and was dissolved in November 1851. Fleming then worked under his own name as a “Provincial & Engineering Surveyor” (British Colonist [Toronto], 27 April 1852, 3, advert.). In early 1857 he created a new partnership with Thomas Ridout and Collingwood Schreiber, working together as engineers and surveyors (The Leader [Toronto], 17 Feb. 1857, 3). When Ridout departed at the end of December in 1857, both Fleming & Schreiber continued to work together and won the competition for the most important architectural commission of their career, the vast Palace of Industry (or Crystal Palace) Exhibition Building (1858-60) in the west end of Toronto near the Provincial Lunatic Asylum. Measuring over 250 feet long, 140 feet wide, and 56 feet high, their design for this cast iron and glass pavilion was inspired by the famous Crystal Palace in London, England, designed by Joseph Paxton and completed just seven years before, in 1851. The Toronto Pavilion was considered a major engineering achievement in Canada, and it preceded a similar Crystal Palace completed later in Montreal in 1860 to the design of John W. Hopkins. The entire Toronto building was constructed in record time of 10 weeks, and opened on 29 September 1858. It was carefully dismantled in 1878 and re-assembled at the Toronto Exhibition Grounds, where it stood until it was destroyed by fire in October 1906.

After 1860, Fleming was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Intercolonial Railway and he surveyed the first cross-Canada railway route through the Rocky Mountains. In 1878 he introduced the concept of establishing a common time standard for the world, with Greenwich, England as the prime meridian point. His proposal for international standard time was accepted in 1884 and is still in use today. Fleming died in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 22 July 1915 and was later buried at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa (obituary and port. The Globe [Toronto], 23 July 1915, 1 and 6; Toronto World, 23 July 1915, 1 and 5; Toronto Daily News, 23 July 1915, 6, editorial; biog. G.M. Rose, Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography, 1886, Vol. 1, 389-90; biog. and port. In W. Cochrane, Canadian Album - Men of Canada, Vol. 4, 1895, 504; H. Morgan, Canadian Men & Women of the Time, 1912, 403-05; biog. and port. In The Canadian Who’s Who & Why, 1914, ii, 334).

The Ontario Archives in Toronto holds several diaries kept by Fleming from 1849 to 1865 (Acc. MU 1050, Envelope 34). A photographic portrait of Fleming is held in the John Ross Roberston Collection, Toronto Reference Library, Acc. 2748 and 2826. A lengthy biography of Fleming can be found in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. xiv, 1998, 359-362.


PETERBOROUGH, ONT., a spire for St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Hunter Street West, 1846 (J.M. Cole, Sandford Fleming: No Better Inheritance, Peterborough Historical Society Occasional Papers, No. 11, 1990)


(works in Toronto)

WELLINGTON STREET EAST, near Yonge Street, two wholesale buildings for Robert P. Crooks, “…adjoining the Western Hotel”, 1851 (OA, MU 1050, Fleming Diaries, entry for 23 June 1851; Weekly Leader [Toronto], 24 Nov. 1852, p. 2, col. 6-7 and p. 3, col. 1, description of the completed building, but lacking attribution to the architect)


PROVINCIAL EXHIBITION, The Crystal Palace, for the Agricultural Association, King Street West near Shaw Street, 1858; dismantled 1878 and re-erected on the Exhibition Grounds; burned October 1906 (Globe [Toronto], 11 May 1858, 2, descrip.; Daily Leader [Toronto], 16 July 1858, 2; Illustrated London News [London, England], xxxiii, 16 Oct. 1858, 363-64, illus. & descrip.; G.P. Ure, Handbook of Toronto, 1858, 189-204; John Ross Robertson, Landmarks of Toronto, 1896, Vol. 2, 1089, illus. & descrip.; Vol. 5, 501-04, illus. & descrip.; W. Dendy, Lost Toronto, 1978, 42-43, illus.)
J.A ALDWELL BREWERY CO., Simcoe Street at Dundas Street West, 1859 (Globe [Toronto], 8 March 1859, 3)
VICTORIA BREWERY, William Street, for J.A. Aldwell, 1859 (The Leader [Toronto], 28 May 1859, 2, descrip.)


THE QUADRUPLE ARCHWAY, York Street at King Street West, erected for the visit of The Prince of Wales, 1860 (Globe [Toronto], 8 Sept. 1860, 2, descrip.)
NORTHERN RAILWAY OFFICES, Brock Street, 1861 (dwgs. OA, Horwood Coll.)
RAILWAY QUAY & ESPLANADE SERVICES, c. 1861 (dwgs. OA, Horwood Coll.)


TORONTO, ONT., Knox Church, 1847. Fleming was one of six competitors for this early ecclesiastical project (British Colonist [Toronto], 27 July 1847, 2, list of entrants). The design by Fleming was set aside in favour of the winning scheme by William Thomas.
TORONTO, ONT., Waterworks System for the City of Toronto, 1854. Using the pseudonym “Ke-see-nah-zi-bing”, the firm of Fleming & Hind submitted an elaborate proposal for a new system of water distribution and sewage lines for the city (Globe [Toronto], 1 Dec. 1854, 2, descrip.). They received Second Prize for their effort, with the First Premium being awarded to George K. Radford.
TORONTO, ONT., The Palace of Industry (or Crystal Palace), King Street West near Shaw Street, 1858; dismantled 1878 and re-erected on the Exhibition Grounds; burned October 1906. There were 13 designs submitted in this important competition, and shrewdly, the Toronto firm of Fleming & Schreiber submitted two separate schemes. Surprisingly, both of their designs were selected; one received the First Prize of $120.00, and the other received Second Prize of $100.00. They were then asked to prepare a final plan embracing the advantages of both schemes (historical article in The Toronto Telegram, 6 Sept. 1894, 4)