LIGHT, ALEXANDER LUDERS, engineer and office holder; b. probably 17 April 1822 in Durham, England, son of Alexander Whalley Light, army officer, and Jane Smart; m. 12 May 1866 Mary Jane Torrens in London; d. 2 July 1894 at Lac La Croix (Lac Garry), Que.
Alexander Luders Light came to Upper Canada with his family in the early 1830s and attended the Royal Grammar School at Kingston. From about 1842 he worked as an assistant engineer for the recently formed Board of Works of the Province of Canada under Hamilton Hartley Killaly* and Samuel Keefer*. In 1847 he became an assistant engineer for construction of the Great Western Rail-Road from Niagara Falls to Windsor. He was appointed two years later resident engineer on the Rochester, N.Y., extension of the Erie Canal; he also worked on the Brooklyn Dry Dock and the New York Central Railroad.
Light was engaged as assistant engineer on the Saint Andrews and Quebec Rail Road in New Brunswick in 1852, and, shortly after, he was promoted chief engineer. Construction of the line had begun in 1847, but only ten miles had been completed by 1851. During Light’s tenure an additional 24 miles were built and a 17-mile branch line constructed in Maine. Light also supervised the erection of several wooden bridges for the New Brunswick Board of Works. He was appointed chief engineer of government railways in New Brunswick in 1856 and supervised construc tion of the European and North American Railway between Saint John and Shediac. Work on it had commenced in 1853, but two years later the contractors had defaulted after completing only 27 miles, and the government took it over the following year. Under Light’s supervision the railway was relatively well built for the period.
Apparently the quality of Light’s work on the European and North American led the government of Nova Scotia under Joseph Howe* to ask him in 1860 to review the railway system of that colony. Railway construction had begun there in 1854, and four years later 60 miles were in operation, but they had been poorly built and were badly maintained and operated. In 1860, at his own expense, Light examined three possible routes for a proposed intercolonial railway from the Maritime colonies to Lower Canada. He was under the impression that he would be made chief engineer on the project, and in 1861–62 he was part of a delegation that presented the railway proposal to the imperial government as well as his remarks on routes, which were endorsed by the prominent English engineer James Brunlees. With the latter’s support, Light was admitted into the Institution of Civil Engineers in January 1862.
As a result of tensions raised between Britain and the United States by the Trent affair in 1861 [see Sir Charles Hastings Doyle*] Light was selected by the British War Office as an engineer to accompany troops from England to Halifax and then to Quebec City. This latter journey was made overland in February 1862. If war had broken out Light was apparently to have opened a military road from Halifax to the St Lawrence River. When immediate tensions subsided, however, the project was cancelled.
By the fall of 1862 Light was back in England to press for his employment on the proposed intercolonial railway. Cooperation between the Maritimes and Canada seemed assured, as did adequate funding, and a continuing American military threat added urgency to realization of the project. Light was finally appointed chief engineer, but almost simultaneously the agreement worked out between Canada and the Maritimes collapsed and the scheme went into abeyance. There being no immediate prospect for its revival, in late 1862 or early 1863 Light accepted an appointment, received through Brunlees, as chief engineer for the Santos and São Paulo Railway in Brazil. He was dismissed, apparently for political reasons, in 1863 or 1864, and he returned to England. Meanwhile, to his chagrin, a new agreement between Canada and the Maritimes had been achieved more quickly than anticipated, and in 1863 Sandford Fleming* had been appointed to undertake a survey for the Intercolonial Railway.
In England Light worked on a variety of civil engineering projects in association with Brunlees and others. In 1869 construction of the long-awaited Intercolonial began, and Light returned to New Brunswick as district engineer for the Miramichi section under Fleeting, the road’s chief engineer. Running from the Nepisiguit River to Moncton, a distance of 117 miles, the route presented few engineering challenges, the major work being construction of two bridges over the Miramichi River.
Light left the Intercolonial in 1874 to accept an appointment as chief engineer for Quebec government railways, a post he occupied for the next 18 years. He oversaw construction of the eastern section of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway, which ran from Quebec to Montreal. The 1870s and 1880s being a particularly active period of railway building in Quebec, Light claimed to have been involved in the construction of most of the colonization railways in the province. Among these was the Quebec and Lake St John, on the prospects of which he reported favourably to the federal government in 1882 and for which he acted as consulting engineer from 1884, when construction was continued from Saint-Raymond to Lac Saint-Jean.
Meanwhile, in the mid 1870s the government of Newfoundland had taken tentative steps towards construction of a railway. It had approached Fleeting for the survey of a route, but he was unavailable and arranged for Light to take the job. In May 1875, on temporary leave from the Quebec government, Light organized a survey party in conjunction with the geologist Alexander Murray* and then returned to Canada leaving Murray to oversee the logistics of the work. The route surveyed extended 360 miles from St John’s to St George’s, but the railway that was later constructed did not follow it.
In 1884 Light was named one of three arbitrators in a dispute between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the federal government over construction costs on a section of railway between Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ont.) and Kenora. They presented their report in early 1885. The previous year Light, in conjunction with Brunlees and T. Claxton Fidler, had submitted plans for a cantilever bridge over the St Lawrence at Quebec, but nothing came of the scheme. In 1885 Light was hired by the federal government as engineer in charge of surveys on the “Short Line,” a route that was to form part of the CPR from Montreal to Saint John. He became chief engineer on the Baie des Chaleurs Railway in the Gaspé in 1886 and worked on this project for three years. About 1888 he undertook another non-railway project in Canada when, at the request of its proprietors, he examined the economic capabilities of Anticosti Island; nothing came of his survey, however. Light died at Lac La Croix, north of Montreal, in July 1894.
Alexander Luders Light is the author of Halifax and Quebec Railway: report upon the surveys, routes, and estimates (n.p., 1861); Remarks by the government engineer of the eastern division of the Q.M.O. & O. Railway on the contractor’s “statement of facts” (Montreal, 1877); Short Line Railway: Mr. Light’s reports upon the survey of the northern or Quebec route for the shortest and most advantageous railway line from Montreal to Halifax and St. John, N.B., recommending a combination line (Quebec, 1885); and Specification for masonry (n.p., n.d.). A portrait of Light can be found in Canadian biog. dict.
NA, MG 29, B35; D61: 4946–56. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1880–81, no.70; 1884, no.31q; 1885: nos.25g, 25s. Sandford Fleming, The Intercolonial: a historical sketch of the inception, location, construction and completion of the line of railway uniting the inland and Atlantic provinces of the dominion (Montreal and London, 1876). S. P. Bell, A biographical index of British engineers in the 19th century (New York, 1975). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth). Rodolphe Gagnon, “Le chemin de fer de Québec au lac Saint-Jean (1854–1900)” (thèse de des, univ. Laval, Québec, 1967). Gervais, “L’expansion du réseau ferroviaire québécois.” W. K. Lamb, History of the Canadian Pacific Railway (New York and London, 1977). A. R. Penney, “The Newfoundland Railway: Newfoundland epic,” The book of Newfoundland, ed. J. R. Smallwood et al. (6v., St John’s, 1937–75), 3: 473–502. The Quebec Bridge over the St. Lawrence River near the city of Quebec on the line of the Canadian National Railways: report of the government board of engineers (2v., Ottawa, 1919). G. R. Stevens, Canadian National Railways (2v., Toronto and Vancouver, 1960–62). J. M. and Edward Trout, The railways of Canada for 1870–1 . . . (Toronto, 1871; repr. 1970). W. J. Wilgus, The railway interrelations of the United States and Canada (New Haven, Conn., 1937). B. J. Young, Promoters and politicians. J. H. Valiquette and T. B. Fraser, “The development of Anticosti Island,” Engineering Journal (Montreal), 11 (1928): 585–95.
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