Call Number: Mss 241, Pc 208, Mc 8 (A.03-29, A.05-84)
Title: John Leslie Charles fonds.
Extent: 0.6 m of textual records. -- 135 photographs.
-- 11 maps.
Biographical sketch: 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
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
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
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.
Custodial history: The fonds was donated to University
of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections by Eira "Babs"
Friesen (née Charles) in 2003 and 2005.
Scope and content: The fonds consists of Major
J.L. Charles' biographical info, correspondence, awards and honorary
degrees he received during his lifetime, his articles and reports
submitted to CNR, and photographs from his work and trips around
the world. The fonds also includes correspondence regarding the
Canada Northlands Development Award.
Restrictions: There are no restrictions on this
Accruals: No further accruals to this fonds are
Finding aid: Printed finding aids are available
in the Archives reading room and on-line finding aids are available
at the links below:
241, PC 208, MC 8 (A.03-29)
241, PC 208 (A.05-84).