Sir SandFord Fleming

Virtual Museum Canada

A Country to Explore

Prime Minister John A. McDonald fervently wanted a railroad to cross Canada in its entirety. 

Parliament fading into a picture of Prime Minister John A. McDonald

There was already an Intercolonial Railway linking the Maritimes to Eastern Canada.

Map of the Intercolonial Railway

Now, the country needed a railway that would link the entire country to British Columbia.

Map of Canada to show the extent of work to be done.

He asked Sandford Fleming to survey the rest of Canada to find the best path to link the entire country from coast to coast, as he had with the Intercolonial.

The Prime Minister writing a letter to Sandford Fleming.

Send a telegram to Sandford Fleming!

The Prime Minister handing a letter to another personage.


A hand on the telegraph.

At the Fleming residence, Sandford Fleming was terribly busy.

The house seen from outdoors.

I am sorry to disturb you, Mr. Fleming, but a telegram has arrived for you.

A view of the house indoors and a room full of plans and specifications, etc.


A closed door and a hand knocking on the door. A man, seen from behind, holding a telegram.

Darn and darn again! It’s always when I’m terribly busy.

Sandford Fleming in the bath washing his back.


Sandford Fleming reading the telegram.

Hurry! To the Prime Minister’s office!

Sandford Fleming getting up.

Survey Canada… What an experience, he said to himself. But where to start? The country is so vast.

Fleming in a carriage. He is in deep thought. His eyes are closed. He is seeing the immense expanse of the country (map and countryside).

In the summer of 1872, Fleming left on a reconnaissance mission with his son, Frank Andrew, the reverend George Monro Grant, Doctor Moren, botanist John Macoun and Amerindian guides.

The group posing for a photographer with a flash. We see the resulting photo.

On foot, on horseback, by canoe, Fleming and his followers roamed the territory for three months

The map of Canada with traces of footsteps and the appearance of horses and canoes.

observing it to prepare the best proposals for the railway passage to link Ontario to British Columbia.

Panoramic view of the territory with Fleming deep in thought.

During their foray, they took note of everything: countryside, farming opportunities and settlement possibilities, wildlife and plant life indigenous to the different regions, natural resources that might stimulate economic development, etc.

Men taking notes.

More than 800 men divided into 21 teams were needed to take measurements and inventory the natural surroundings including rivers, mountains, plains, etc.

Map of Canada indicating rivers, mountains and prairies.

The work of the surveyor during this era was far from simple. Dozens of men were required per team, some attached to chains of specific lengths to calculate exact measurements. 

A man walking in the prairies with a chain around his ankle and a close-up of the chain.

Sandford Fleming submitted a territory inspection report and recommended using the Yellowhead Pass to cross the Rocky Mountains.

Sandford Fleming handing a document to the President of the Canadian Pacific seated behind his desk.

The Canadian Pacific Railway rejected his proposal.

A hand tossing the paper into a wastepaper basket.

In 1883, with construction languishing at the foot of the Selkirk Mountains, the Canadian Pacific Railway asked Fleming for a new route south of his original plan.

A hand on a map showing the direction to follow.

This time, the engineer recommended Kicking Horse Pass. In 1885, the last spike was driven at Craighellachie, British Columbia.

A personage driving in the last spike, accompanied by Sandford Fleming amid flashing flash bulbs.

Great! Now, what shall we do?

Close-up of Fleming scratching his head.


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