CASEY, WILLIAM REDMOND, engineer; b. c. 1805 or c. 1808, probably in Brooklyn, N.Y.; d. 6 Aug. 1846 in Montreal.
William Redmond Casey began his career in the early 1830s as a sub-assistant engineer for the construction of the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad. He later worked in the same capacity on the Croton Aqueduct in New York State and then served as assistant engineer during the construction of the Long Island Rail Road. In the spring of 1834 he came to Lower Canada as assistant engineer for the building of the Chambly Canal.
The Company of Proprietors of the Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad, established to link Dorchester (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) with La Prairie, on the St Lawrence, had been incorporated by statute in 1832. The legislation required the company to produce a plan of the line by December 1834. Two months before the deadline, with nothing having been done, Jason C. Pierce, a Dorchester merchant and one of the company’s incorporators, decided to proceed at his own expense. He applied to the commissioners of the Chambly Canal for permission to employ their chief engineer, W. R. Hopkins, to undertake the necessary survey. Instead, Casey was sent. Within a month he and a surveyor had produced a map of the proposed line. In late November the company was formally organized and Casey’s plan approved. By January 1835 the company had acquired the necessary financial support from subscribers such as Peter McGill* and George Simpson* and had hired Casey to superintend construction of the line. At Montreal during that winter Casey was “occupied in giving the information and specifications necessary to enable the Committee [of Management] to contract without loss of time, for the timber, iron, and materials for fencing.” In April 1835 the first ground was broken. By December Casey reported “the completion of the fencing, graduation, masonry, bridges, the large wharf at Laprairie, and the frames of the station houses.” All had been accomplished, he noted, “in a degree of order and harmony . . . seldom witnessed on public works.” This esprit de corps, the directors stated in their report, was due to Casey’s “tact and attention.” In a period of increasing ethnic tensions, Casey’s success is explained by his attitude. “The Canadians,” he wrote, “formed by far the greater portion of the laborers and maintained their character for behaving with a degree of order and good nature, when working together in numbers, unequalled by any other people.”
In the spring of 1836 work began on the final stage of construction, the laying of the track and superstructure. Capital was limited and Casey’s expenditures remained within the established limits. He used the American method of track-laying known as “the cheap principle,” which relied on the extensive use of wooden rails topped by half-inch iron straps. Such a line was less substantial than the British type which used solid iron rails; up to 1848, however, when the last of Casey’s original track was replaced, no serious accidents had occurred on the line because of track failure. The Champlain and St Lawrence served as Canada’s only public railway for nine years.
On 21 July 1836 the Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad was officially opened by the governor, Lord Gosford [Acheson]. At the ceremonies held in Dorchester, Casey was especially honoured. The directors praised his work; the labourers presented him with a gold medal in appreciation of his “gentlemanly conduct towards them”; and Gosford toasted Casey, “whose abilities had been extolled by his employers and whose conduct had been approved by those under his control.” In the Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser a few days later Thomas Storrow Brown* wrote: “We are in Canada so accustomed to see things done ill, that a work well done is a miracle.”
There were no other railways about to be built in the Canadas, and so Casey went back to New York. During the next decade, he made “numerous surveys . . . in various parts of Upper and Lower Canada,” but it was not until 1846 that he returned to construct a railway, the newly chartered Montreal and Lachine Rail-road. While at work on the project that summer in Montreal, he died of tuberculosis. He was buried by the Unitarian minister, John Cordner*, and rests in an unmarked grave on the mountainside in Montreal.
ANQ-M, CE1-132, 8 août 1846. PAC, RG 30, 281. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1842, app.Z. Montreal Gazette, 4 Dec. 1834, 25 Jan. 1845, 11 Aug. 1846, 24 Jan. 1848. Morning Courier (Montreal), 23 July 1836. Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser, 26 July 1836. 1836–1986, a tribute to Canada’s first railway on its sesquicentennial (Saint-Constant, Que., 1986). R. R. Brown, “The Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad,” Railway and Locomotive Hist. Soc., Bull. (Boston), 39 (April 1936): 6–61. E. A. Collard, “Of many things . . . ,” Gazette (Montreal), 30 May 1970: 6. J. B. Thompson, “William R. Casey, the forgotten engineer,” Engineering Journal (Montreal), 54 (1971), nos.1–2: 8–9.