BUCK, WALTER M., civil engineer and railway contractor; b. in December 1826 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland); he married and had eight children; d. 15 May 1881 in Fredericton, N.B.
Walter M. Buck received his training as a civil engineer in Ireland. Around 1855 he immigrated to St Andrews, N.B., and worked as an engineer for the Department of Public Works for a few months in 1856. He was then hired as chief engineer of the New Brunswick and Canada Railway and Land Company, which was to build a line from St Andrews northwest through Charlotte and York counties to Debec, Carleton County, near the Maine border. Buck’s duties were to survey the proposed route, estimate the cost of construction, and supervise the contractors engaged to do the work. The railway, the second in New Brunswick, was completed in 1862. In 1866 the company finished construction of a branch line running from the main line at Watt, Charlotte County, to St Stephen and in 1868 another branch from Debec to Woodstock in Carleton County. Buck apparently supervised the laying of the branch lines and as chief engineer also involved himself in the railway’s operation.
In 1867 Buck joined the controversy over the route the Intercolonial Railway was to take through New Brunswick to link Halifax with the Grand Trunk Railway at Rivière-du-Loup, Que. He rejected proposed routes through central New Brunswick or along the Baie des Chaleurs in favour of a “Frontier Route” which would run from Rivière-du-Loup along the Maine border to Woodstock, N.B., and then along the existing New Brunswick and Canada Railway to its intersection with the proposed Western Extension Railway from Bangor, Maine, to Saint John, N.B. From Saint John connection would be made by steamer across the Bay of Fundy to Digby County, N.S., and from there to Halifax over lines then under construction. Although the “North Shore” route was eventually chosen for strategic reasons, Buck argued that “the most suitable position for a railroad is along the line of defence, and not at an inaccessible distance to the rear of it.” He added that his “Frontier Route” was shorter, would cost $7,500,000 less to construct, and would serve not only prosperous western New Brunswick but growing Aroostook County in eastern Maine as well. His plan rejected, Buck in 1868 nevertheless joined the staff of the Intercolonial’s location survey directed by Sandford Fleming*. The following year Buck was appointed resident engineer for a 20-mile section of the line in Northumberland County. The section he supervised was built over rough terrain, necessitating heavy earthworks, but only one small river, the Bartibog, had to be bridged. His section was completed in December 1874 and in July 1876 the entire Intercolonial was opened from Halifax to Rivière-du-Loup.
Following his work on the Intercolonial, Buck began a new involvement in railways by himself becoming a contractor. In 1874 he and a partner were awarded the construction contract for the 44-mile Albert Railway, which was to run from Salisbury on the Saint John-Moncton line along the shores of Shepody Bay to the town of Albert. The line, completed in 1877, prospered in its first years of operation because significant quantities of gypsum mined near Hillsborough were transported over it. In addition to these major engineering and construction functions, Buck also worked in the early to mid 1870s on preliminary surveys of the Chatham Branch Railway, completed in 1876 between Chatham and Passmore on the Intercolonial line, and the “Miramichi Railway,” probably the Northern and Western Railway completed between Fredericton and Chatham only in 1887.
Buck, who had moved from St Andrews to Moncton, in 1878 joined the federal Department of Public Works, apparently as an engineer in the office of the chief engineer of government railways who in turn was subordinate to General Superintendent Charles John Brydges. In 1879 Buck became an employee in the newly organized Department of Railways and Canals. Much of his work appears to have involved the arbitration of claims that had arisen between contractors and the federal government during the construction of the Intercolonial in the early 1870s. While investigating one of these claims, Buck died suddenly in Fredericton in May 1881.
Can., Dept. of Railways and Canals, Annual report (Ottawa), 1879–81. Canadian National Railways, Hist. Research Branch (Montreal), “Synoptical history of organization, capital stock, funded debt and other general information as of December 31, 1960.” Daily Sun (Saint John, N.B.), 17 May 1881. Moncton Times, 18 May 1881. Statutory Hist. of railways (Dorman). G. R. Stevens, Canadian National Railways (2v., Toronto and Vancouver, 1960–62). M. L. Bladen, “Construction of railways in Canada to the year 1885,” Contributions to Canadian Economics (Toronto), 5 (1932): 43–60.