Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Engineers

Edited by
Rod Millard

JOHNSON, Phelps , b. 23 Oct. 1849, Warwick N.Y.; d. 20 Feb. 1926, Montreal. Educated in public and private schools, he acquired iron work and bridge building experience in Massachusetts and Ohio before joining the Toronto Bridge Company at Toronto in 1882. In May the following year, when the Dominion Bridge Company was formed, he was appointed manager and engineer of the Toronto works. Five years later the Toronto operation closed. He moved to the head office near Lachine Que. as chief engineer and rose to company president (1913), retaining the chief engineership. He oversaw the construction of many important structures including the Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge over the St. Lawrence at Lachine (1886), and, in 1915, the two-hinged span-braced arch bridge over the Reversible Falls at Saint John, N.B. His greatest achievement was the rebuilding of the Quebec Bridge following its collapse on 29 Aug. 1907. The bridge was completed on 21 Aug. 1918 under the supervision of chief engineer G. H. Duggan using Johnson's innovative K-truss bracing system, but not without mishap. On 11 Sept. 1916 the centre span fell into the St. Lawrence killing 11 men. A member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, he served on the CSCE's council (1904-06, 1910-12) and was elected vice president (1907) and president in 1913. He opposed collective action to coerce employers and to restrict competition from alien engineers. A member of the St. James, Engineers' and Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club, Montreal, Johnson, a bachelor, devoted himself to business and engineering. In 1921, McGill University granted him an honorary LL.D. for his engineering work. As a management engineer, he helped make the Dominion Bridge Company profitable, while actively directing the construction of crucial rail and highway bridges that bound Canada together. He was recognized throughout North America for his original solutions to difficult steel construction problems.

Rod Millard