1849: The Birth of a Railroad Entrepreneur in Present-Day Ontario

October 17, 1849

Railroad entrepreneur William Mackenzie was born near the settlement of Scott’s Plain (now the city of Peterborough) in what was then the British colony known as the Province of Canada. When Canada achieved its independence as a federal dominion in 1867, the area that had been the Province of Canada was divided into the provinces Ontario and Quebec; the one-time site of Scott’s Plain became part of Ontario.

Prior to embarking on a railroad career, Mackenzie was a teacher. In addition, he owned a sawmill and a gristmill. His rail-related experience began in earnest when he worked as a contractor under a civil engineer named James Ross. It was in this capacity between 1874 and 1891 that Mackenzie handled projects in Ontario, British Columbia, the North-West Territories (present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Maine. 

In partnership with Ross, Mackenzie became owner of the Toronto Street Railway — precursor to the Toronto Transit Commission — in 1891.  It was during this decade that Mackenzie also invested significantly in street railways and utilities in Brazil. 

Mackenzie likewise focused his sights and entrepreneurial ambitions on the Canadian prairies. In 1895, he and contractor Donald Mann began buying or building railroad lines in that part of the world. These lines would form the Canadian Northern Railway, a company stretching from coast to coast that became Canada’s second transcontinental railroad system. 

Both Mackenzie and Mann were knighted in 1911 for their efforts on behalf of the railroad industry.  (They would also each be posthumously inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2002.)  Mackenzie died in Toronto on December 5, 1923, at the age of 74.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on William Mackenzie, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mackenzie_(railway_entrepreneur)

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