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McGILLIVRAY, DONALD (Dan), engineer and contractor; b. 1857 in Strathroy, Upper Canada, son of Neil McGillivray and Christina McRae; m. 21 Nov. 1888 Sarah Douglas Parker in Victoria, B.C., and they had one son and three daughters; d. 22 May 1900 in Sault Ste Marie, Ont.

One of eight children, Donald McGillivray was educated in the village of Ripley, Ont. His father was involved in railway construction in the province and McGillivray followed in this work, apparently developing his engineering skills on the job rather than; through formal education. He moved to British Columbia apparently in the early 1880s and worked for Andrew Onderdonk*, the principal government contractor, on the construction of the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway between Port Moody and Eagle Pass. Under Onderdonk, McGillivray became superintendent of bridges, and he showed imagination and ability in the particularly difficult construction work in the Fraser Canyon.

After the completion of the CPR main line in 1885, McGillivray established his own contracting business in Vancouver and was involved, sometimes with partners, in the extension of the CPR system in British Columbia, usually with projects that included significant bridges. Sources on McGillivray are fragmentary, however, and it is often difficult to determine the extent of his own involvement in these contracting projects. His first major endeavour was in connection with a branch line of the CPR to New Westminster in 1886. He also worked on the construction of snow-sheds in the Selkirk Mountains. Without these sloping wooden structures covering large segments of track, the railway would have been virtually inoperative during the winter. Other projects included the Cambie and Granville street bridges in Vancouver; water pipelines to the city; the CPR bridge over the Fraser River at Mission City; the bridge over the Kootenay River on the Columbia and Kootenay Railway (1890–91); the electric intercity railway of the Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company (1891); the Fairview streetcar line of the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company (1891); the Nakusp and Slocan Railway (1894–95), for which project he served as president of the Inland Construction Company; and the branch line of the CPR from Revelstoke to Arrowhead (1896). McGillivray is credited with wharf construction for the CPR in Nelson and Vancouver and also with building the wharf at Chemainus on Vancouver Island. His last major project in British Columbia was a difficult 40-mile section of the CPR’s Crowsnest Pass line built in 1898 through the Rocky Mountains, where a station was named for him. The following year McGillivray went to Ontario to work for William Mackenzie* and Donald Mann* on the Ontario and Rainy River Railway.

Details of McGillivray’s life are few. He was a large man, over six feet in height. After his marriage in 1888 to the daughter of Samuel Parker, who operated a trading store at Fort Douglas, he and his wife made their home in Vancouver. A Liberal and a freemason, he was apparently well respected and financially successful. His brother-in-law Richard McBride* later became premier of British Columbia. In 1900 McGillivray contracted smallpox and died in Sault Ste Marie. He had been a man of influence, social position, and ability and, had he lived into the Canadian railway boom which preceded World War I, he might well have become a major figure.

Robert D. Turner

Canadian Pacific Railway Company, Report ([Montreal]), 1885–1900. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 22 Nov. 1888. Daily News-Advertiser (Vancouver), 23 May 1900. Kootenay Mail (Revelstoke, B.C.), 21 Sept. 1895. Miner (Nelson, B.C.), 21 June, 12 July, 4 Oct., 29 Nov. 1890. Vancouver Daily World, 22–23 May 1900. Pierre Berton, The last spike: the great railway, 1881–1885 (Toronto and Montreal, 1971). J. F. Due, The intercity electric railway industry in Canada (Toronto, 1966). O. [-S.-A.] Lavallée, Van Hornes road: an illustrated account of the construction and first years of the operation of the Canadian Pacific transcontinental railway (Montreal, 1974). T. D. Regher, The Canadian Northern Railway (Toronto, 1976), 102–6. E. O. S. Scholefield and F. W. Howay, British Columbia from the earliest times to the present (4v., Vancouver, 1914), 4.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert D. Turner, “McGILLIVRAY, DONALD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcgillivray_donald_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcgillivray_donald_12E.html
Author of Article: Robert D. Turner
Title of Article: McGILLIVRAY, DONALD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: October 1, 2014