Charles, John L.

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Charles, John L.

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1892-1992

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Major John Leslie Charles was a Chief Engineer for Candian National Railway's (CN) Western Region and consulting engineer for CN. He was born in 1892 in Weybridge, Surrey, England and immigrated to Canada in 1910. His first railway job was on a location survey for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in the Rocky Mountains. He later became responsible for much of the engineering and construction in western Canada, northern Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories. In 1926, he was appointed as a transit man for a survey crew and surveyed the second section of the Hudson Bay Railway (Limestone- Fort Churchill). He collected photographs and slide shows of his work and travel throughout his career. Several of his photographs are included in the Western Canada Pictorial Index held at the University of Winnipeg Archives.

J. L. Charles was a veteran of two wars. He served overseas with the Canadian Railway Troops in the First World War and attained the rank of major. During the Second World War, he recruited the 20th Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers at Winnipeg and commanded that unit on the Pacific Coast. After the war he helped the US Army locate a military rail line between the Canadian Pacific Railway in BC and US Forces in Alaska. He also published studies of the Great Slave Lake Railway, the first railway to enter the Northwest Territories and the most northerly railway connected to the continental system.

Major J.L. Charles was a recipient of many awards and honours. He was awarded the greatest engineering honour in Manitoba, the Gold Medal Award, in 1981 for his sixty years as a member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Manitoba, including a term as president. In 1973 he received the Order of Canada. His autobiography, Westward Go Young Man, was published in 1978. Major J.L.Charles is author of many articles published in the Manitoba Professional Engineer, Engineering Journal and Canadian Geographical Journal.

He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Manitoba in 1973. Major J.L. Charles established the Canada Northlands Development Award in 1970 in memory of his son, John Hamilton Charles, who was killed in action in 1942 during the Second World War. The award is given to third year engineering students at the University of Manitoba. Although he retired at the age of 65 in 1957, Major J.L. Charles was still very active and worked on many engineering projects after his retirement. At the age of 73 he surveyed proposed railways in Zambia-Tanzania, Liberia. He traveled around the world at the age of 89 and kept a pictorial history of his journey as a continuation of his autobiography. Major J.L. Charles passed away on January 10, 1992. He was remembered as resilient and sincere man who was admired for his perseverance in building railway lines that had pushed back the northern frontiers.

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