Born in Kircaldy, Scotland, Sir Sandford Fleming began working for an engineer at age 14. It was at that time he learned to design and build harbours and waterworks, and surveyed for the railway.
In 1845, at the age of 18, Sir Sandford arrived in Canada. He spent his first summer in Canada at the home of a friend in Peterborough – Dr. John Hutchison.
Sir Sandford worked in Peterborough, surveying until 1849 when he became a fully qualified engineer. It was during this time he drew and printed the first map of Peterborough.
In 1863, Sir Sandford headed up plans for the Intercolonial Railway, connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Upper and Lower Canada. Much of the surveying was done by snowshoe and dogsled over rugged terrain.
Sir Sandford was also the first to survey and draw up plans for a rail line running from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He became director of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company when it was awarded the contract to build the rail line out west.
Creating a rail line to the Pacific coast was perhaps Sir Sandford's most challenging feat but he persevered, leading the construction of the railway through the perilous Rockies. In 1885, the last spike was driven in the line, which stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
That same year, Sir Sandford was appointed Chief Engineer of the Northern Railway, which ran from Toronto to Collingwood, Ontario.
Sir Sandford invented Universal Standard Time, which was adopted worldwide in 1885. It was his work on the railway timetables that led Sir Sandford to this invention. Through standard time, the Earth was divided into 24 time zones, each an hour from the next and all a fixed number of hours from the time in Greenwich, England (0 degrees longitude).
With the dream of one day linking communications between all nations within the British Empire, he saw this completed in 1902 when the last telegraph cable was laid across the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
Sir Sandford also designed Canada's first postage stamp – the Three Penny Beaver.
Sir Sandford Fleming was a founding member of the Royal Canadian Institute. He was Chancellor of Queen's University for 35 years and received honorary degrees from Queen's, the University of Toronto and St. Andrew's University in Scotland.
He was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1887 and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1897.