Sir SandFord Fleming

Virtual Museum Canada

The Great Voyage

This may appear strange, but I am on this ship because of steam.

Fleming, now an old man, seated near a tree. Youngsters are listening to him.

Yes, you heard correctly… Steam!

Fleming standing on a ship’s gangway.

The Industrial Era was born with the advent of steam.

A huge black cloud looms. In the black cloud one can see a steam engine, factories with huge chimneys, a train and a steamship.

This was the era of huge factories, coal mining and the invention of a phenomenal number of machines, including the train and the steamboat.


The year is 1845 and we were sailing to Canada.

Fleming, now an old man, seated near a tree. Youngsters are listening to him.

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was a Thursday and my brother David and I were boarding the Brilliant for a five-week voyage. At journey’s end, Dr. John Hutchison, my father’s cousin, awaited us.

Two young men board the ship berthed at the wharf.

He had boasted so much about Canada to my father…

Two men are talking to each other (Fleming’s uncle and father). The uncle is in the foreground and his hands are spread before him showing how big Canada is.

Leaving my native Scotland filled me with sorrow and joy. Sorrow at leaving family and friends, but joy at the thought of a country filled with promise.

Fleming, a young man, contemplating the sunset.

In Scotland, your future was uncertain and many viewed Canada as a land of great opportunity.

The ship sailing.

From the European point of view, America seemed full of promise for those with courage and a taste for adventure.


A terrible storm lasting several days lashed our ship about to the point that I feared for my life.

The ship sailing the seas and above it, clouds looming.

In desperation, I tossed a bottle into the sea containing a message explaining my apprehensions and expressing gratitude to my family. 

Fleming tosses a bottle into the sea.

I was sure we would die that night.

Fleming watches the bottle float away. In the picture, the bottle is in the foreground. 

The next day, things returned to normal and we continued our voyage to America.

Return to the ship at sunrise. All is quiet.

I wrote notes in my diary daily, sketching everything that captured my fancy so as not to lose my skill.

Fleming, now an old man, seated near a tree. Youngsters are listening to him. To change the scene, he might be shown holding a notebook.

I wondered what trade I would have in Canada. I had experience in surveying, because I had worked with John Sang, a reputed engineer at the time.

Fleming striding over a piece of land. He can also be seen calculating using a ruler and peering into telescope.

I worked ten hours a day, measuring land, calculating, dabbling in mechanics and even astronomy.  

Fleming calculating using a ruler (during the day).

And as if that was not enough, I worked evenings with my father making compasses and metal rulers.

Fleming calculating using a ruler (during the evening).

Also, I liked to draw and play chess.

Fleming poring over a game of chess.

We disembarked in Québec on May 18, 1845, the day after a terrible fire destroyed over half the city. 

Fleming and his brother disembarking, carrying their baggage.

Wide view of houses burning. Wide enough for a panoramic view.

Finally, on June 17, 1845, we arrived in Peterborough, where our father’s cousin awaited us.

The cousin with his arms in the air. Happy to see the two young men arriving with their baggage.

My first job was to draw city plans based on customer specifications.

Fleming drawing plans.

It was the start of a very long career in Canada.

Fleming, an old man, under a tree. He is talking to some children.

And yes! As fate would have it, my father finally received my bottle.

Fleming’s father receiving the bottle.

Luckily, I had already sent him a letter saying that we had arrived safe and sound.

Fleming, an old man, under a tree. He is talking to some children. Fleming applauding at the end.


Producer: Luc Bienvenue

Realization and Scenario: Pierre Hamon

Drawings: Annie Gosselin

Animation: Annie Gosselin and Luc Bienvenue

French Narration: François Bienvenue

English Narration: Randall Spear

Sound Studio: Kanu

Music and Sound Effects: Kanu

Musicians: Kanu and André Lachance

Editing and Audio Mixing: Pierre Hamon

Language Review: Julie Berthold

Translation: Janet Brownlee

A Production

© 2006 A realization of Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum