FLEMING, JOHN ARNOT, surveyor, artist, draughtsman, and topographer; b. 5 Dec. 1835 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, youngest son of Andrew Greig Fleming and Elizabeth Arnot and brother of Sandford Fleming*; d. unmarried on 8 Jan. 1876 in Toronto, Ont.
John Arnot Fleming was educated in Kirkcaldy and came to Canada in 1847 with his parents. He attended the Toronto Academy under Thomas Henning. In 1861 he qualified as a provincial land surveyor and began his brief career in surveying.
Already, however, he had taken part in the events for which he is chiefly remembered. In 1857 he accompanied Henry Youle Hind* as his assistant on the expedition sent out to explore the routes to Red River. He was again Hind’s assistant the following year on the expedition to the Assiniboine and the Saskatchewan rivers to explore the agricultural and settlement possibilities of the prairies. In the course of this expedition Fleming led a small party down the Saskatchewan River from Fort-à-la-Corne to the Red River Settlement by way of the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan and of Lake Winnipeg, enduring much bad weather and near starvation. His account of the journey is printed in Hind’s report for 1859, and he also left sketches in pencil and water-colour.
Fleming was a cheerful and steady person. His work is distinguished by the clarity and accuracy of his pencil sketches, which have been described as “models of draughtsmanship,” and the limpid beauty of his water-colours of the falls between Lake Superior and Red River and the great valleys of the plains west of Red River. These charming relics are a moment of vision in Canadian history, last glimpses of the prairies before settlement.
His family believed that Fleming’s health never recovered from the hardships of the western expeditions. Between 1862 and 1870, however, he was engaged, under Sandford Fleming’s supervision, in surveys on the Northern Railway in Ontario, and on the reconnaissance survey of the Intercolonial Railway, 1863–1864. In 1865 he was draughtsman in the office of the city engineer of New York. In 1870 and 1871 he explored a route for the Canadian Pacific Railway along the north shore of Lake Superior, his last recorded employment.
Fifty-four sketches by John Arnot Fleming, 25 in water-colour and the rest in pencil, are in the John Ross Robertson Collection at the MTCL. His report on the journey he undertook in 1858 is printed in H. Y. Hind, North-West Territory: report of progress, together with a preliminary and general report on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expedition . . . (Toronto, 1859), 72–84.
PAC, RG 5, C1, 523. J. R. Harper, Early painters and engravers in Canada (Toronto, 1970). “John A. Fleming,” Ont. Land Surveyors Assoc., Ann. Report (Toronto), no.35 (1920), 121–23.