Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Engineers

Edited by
Rod Millard


HOBSON, Joseph, b. 4 March 1834, Guelph, Upper Canada; d. 19 Dec. 1917, Hamilton, Ont.  Educated in Guelph,  he qualified as a provincial land surveyor (1855) after a seven-year apprenticeship in Toronto, and, later, became an assistant engineer on the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway between Toronto and Guelph.   In private practice from 1858 to 1866, he oversaw various township and railway surveys in Ontario, Ohio, Michigan and Nova Scotia.  He was resident engineer for the construction of the International Railway Bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie, and, in 1873 was appointed assistant chief engineer for the Great Western Railway. He was promoted to chief engineer (1875), a position he maintained following the 1882 GWR and GTR amalgamation.   He oversaw the construction of the St. Clair Tunnel (1890–1891) linking Sarnia with Port Huron, then the world’s longest subcutaneous tunnel.  He overcame the difficulties of tunnelling in quicksand using a hydraulic travelling shield in a compressed air environment.  Promoted to chief engineer of all Canadian GTR lines in 1896 (a post he held until his 1907 retirement),  in 1897, he replaced the Niagara Suspension Bridge with a steel arch bridge. Later, he enlarged the Victoria Jubilee Bridge, Montreal (1897–1899), without disturbing the bridge’s railway traffic.  He was a member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (renamed Engineering Institute of Canada, 1918), serving three years on its council. He was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain.  He belonged to the Hamilton Club,  and, in 1856, married Elizabeth Laidlaw of Guelph,  and they had two sons and four daughters.


Brian Zijlstra