Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Engineers

Edited by
Rod Millard

KENNEDY, Sir John, b. 26 Sept. 1838, Spencerville Upper Canada; d. 25 Oct. 1921, Montreal. Educated at the Bytown Grammar School (Ottawa), by private tuition and at McGill College, he began his career under T. C. Keefer working on Montreal harbour and channel improvements, and the Montreal, Ottawa and Hamilton water works. From 1863 to 1871, he did municipal surveying in Montreal, managed an iron mining and smelting works in Ironside Que., before joining his family’s thriving iron foundry and machine shop at Owen Sound, Ont. Appointed division engineer of the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway branch of Canada’s largest railway system, the Great Western Railway, in 1871 he became chief engineer three years later, completing the Canada Air Line and Canada’s first double track railway between Glencoe and Windsor, Ont. In 1875 he accepted the newly-created post of chief engineer of the Montreal Harbour Commission. He held this position for nearly 33 years and made his professional reputation by creating the modern port of Montreal, and by deepening the St. Lawrence ship channel between Montreal and Quebec City, thereby fostering Montreal’s industrialization and making the city Canada’s principal transportation centre, and the world’s largest grain port by the 1920s. He also served on a number of royal commissions and acted as an arbitrator and consulting engineer. In 1899, his eyesight began to fail. He was totally blind by 1907 and resigned as chief engineer, but continued practising engineering, designing the world’s largest dipper dredge and Pier No. 2, Halifax. A member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain and the American Society of Civil Engineers, he was a charter member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (1887), elected president in 1922. Knighted in 1916, McGill conferred an LL.D. on him the following year; McMaster University honoured him with an D.C.L. in 1921. He was a member of the University Club, and a director of the YMCA and the Montreal Association for the Blind. He was also active in religious and social reform work through the Olivet Baptist Church, Montreal. When he died, the Engineering Institute of Canada described Kennedy as the “Dean of the engineering profession in Canada.”

Rod Millard