JENNINGS, WILLIAM TYNDALE, engineer; b. 19 May 1846 in Toronto, son of John Jennings*, a Presbyterian minister, and Margaret Cumming; m. 22 Feb. 1876 Jeannie Eusebie McKay (d. 1887) in St Thomas, Ont., and they had a son; d. 24 Oct. 1906 in Lansing, Mich., and was buried in Toronto.
Educated in Toronto at the Model Grammar School and Upper Canada College, William Tyndale Jennings began his career in 1869 with the Ontario Department of Public Works. In 1870 he entered the service of the Great Western Railway and three years later he was appointed one of its resident engineers in southwest Ontario, under John Kennedy*. It was probably during this time that he met his future wife, a daughter of John McKay, registrar of Elgin County.
In 1875 Jennings became locating engineer, under Sandford Fleming*, on the British Columbia section of what would become the Canadian Pacific Railway; he surveyed the route through the Fraser Canyon and other difficult sections. Appointed a district engineer of the CPR in 1879, he had charge of heavy construction from Rat Portage (Kenora, Ont.) to Eagle Lake. He then returned to British Columbia, where from 1883 to 1885, as chief engineer of construction for Andrew Onderdonk’s company, he supervised the building of 350 miles of CPR line inland from the Pacific, one of the most difficult works in railway history. Settling in Toronto, Jennings next supervised construction for the CPR in Ontario: the lines from Woodstock to London and from London to Detroit, the Wingham extension, the Guelph Junction (as consulting engineer), and the eastern entrance to Toronto as well as the wharves west of Yonge Street there.
In 1890 and for part of 1891 Jennings was city engineer of Toronto. He reorganized the department and was responsible for the Sherbourne Street bridge, the Carlaw Avenue and King Street subways (the latter from the plans of his predecessor, Charles Sproatt), and the Toronto Island ferry slips. His specifications for street-railway franchises were reportedly accepted by many large American cities.
Jennings subsequently went into private practice as a consulting engineer, a move that would take him to projects throughout North America. He built two electric lines, the Niagara Falls Park and River Railway and the Galt, Preston and Hespeler Street Railway, and a railway connecting Tillsonburg and Port Burwell. From 1892 to 1895 he was chief engineer of the proposed Crowsnest Pass line of the CPR. In 1897, with a view to running an all-Canadian line to the Klondike gold-fields, the dominion government commissioned him to assess all the coastal passes leading to the Yukon interior. The following year he reported on the region between North Bay and James Bay for the Toronto and Hudson Bay Railway Commission. At some point he also examined the dry docks at Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C. During his last years he was consulting engineer to the Electrical Development Company and the Toronto and Niagara Power Company. He died of a stroke in 1906 while he was in Lansing inspecting the lines of the Michigan United Railways system. At that time he was also preparing a report for the federal government on the Louise Basin at Quebec.
W. T. Jennings was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Great Britain, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Imperial Institute, and the Engineers’ Club of Toronto. A charter-member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers in 1887, he became its president in 1899, serving for one year. He was an advocate of engineering education grounded in scientific principles, and in 1897 he was appointed examiner in engineering at the School of Practical Science, University of Toronto. He believed in high professional standards and supported licensing laws to raise the status of engineering. Upon his death, the authoritative Canadian Engineer described Jennings as the dean of civil engineers in Canada and noted that his remarkable career was practically the “history of Civil Engineering in the Dominion.”
[William Tyndale Jennings is the author of several publications prepared in connection with his professional activities. These include an 1890 report on Ashbridge’s Bay reclamation . . . issued in Toronto around 1892 with Edward Henry Keating’s report of that year, and Report on routes to the Yukon (Ottawa, 1898) (published in French as Exploration de routes vers le Yukon: rapport). Jennings’s address as president of the Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers appears in its Trans. (Montreal), 14 (1900): 26–31, and as an offprint released at around the same time; an address delivered at the University of Toronto’s engineering school in 1902 is reproduced in School of Practical Science, Engineering Soc., Trans. (Toronto), no.16 (1902–3): 20–21.
For a major figure in Canadian engineering history, there is comparatively little source material on Jennings. His membership application to the Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, for example, is missing from the papers of the Engineering Institute of Canada (Montreal). Brief obituaries and articles in engineering journals thus constitute the main source for this biography: Canadian Engineer (Toronto), 6 (1898–99): 289–90; 16 (1906): 417–18; Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans., 21 (1907): 14–15; Engineering Journal (Montreal), 20 (1937): 285; and Railway and Marine World (Toronto), November 1906: 657. Additional information is available in the obituaries of 25 Oct. 1906 in the Toronto Evening Telegram, p.13, the Globe, p.14, the Toronto Daily Star, p.2, and the Toronto World, p.1, as well as in the estate files of Jennings and his wife in AO, RG 22, ser.305, nos.19288 and 6732, respectively, and their marriage registration in AO, RG 80–5, no.1876-002275. j.r.m.]