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LEGGE, CHARLES, civil engineer and patent solicitor; b. 29 Sept. 1829 at Silver Springs, near Gananoque, Upper Canada; d. 12 April 1881 in Toronto, Ont.

Charles Legge received his early education at the village academy in Gananoque. In 1846 he entered Queen’s College in Kingston, but he left soon after to study engineering under Samuel Keefer, chief engineer of the Department of Public Works for the Province of Canada, who was supervising the enlargement of the Welland Canal. Legge moved to the Montreal headquarters of the department in 1848; there he worked with Keefer for four more years before being appointed staff engineer on the Williamsburg Canals, a series of canals along the St Lawrence River between Prescott and Dickinson’s Landing, near Cornwall. In 1853 Legge’s duties concerned primarily the engineering of the Junction Canal (one of the Williamsburg Canals), then under construction.

When Keefer left the Department of Public Works to join the Grand Trunk Railway in 1853, Legge went with him. Working on the construction of the Montreal–Kingston line he surveyed the stretch between Kingston and Brockville and was involved in the construction of the Cornwall, Canada West, section. In 1856 Legge was appointed superintending engineer for the completion of the south end of the Victoria Bridge at Montreal, the Grand Trunk’s most ambitious project. A bridge across the St Lawrence of almost two miles in length was necessary to tie the Grand Trunk system together and, following plans drawn up by Thomas Coltrin Keefer*, Robert Stephenson, and Alexander McKenzie Ross, James Hodges* had begun construction from Pointe-Saint-Charles on Montreal Island in 1854. Legge directed the building of the weirs and coffer-dams for the piers and the erection of the tubular structure of the southern portion of the bridge; he was also in charge of the quarries at Pointe-Claire, Montreal Island, and at Lake Champlain, Vt. When the bridge was completed on 30 Nov. 1859 it was the world’s longest bridge, and to eulogize the engineers engaged on the project Legge wrote A glance at the Victoria Bridge, and the men who built it (1860), detailing the many tribulations encountered in its construction.

During the following decade Legge developed a civil engineering consulting business, specializing in harbour improvements and hydraulic power projects. In 1861 the chairman of the Montreal Harbour Commission, John Young*, engaged him to prepare a plan for enlarging Montreal’s harbour and exploiting the water-power of the Lachine Rapids. In short order Legge produced two pamphlets outlining a complete plan for massive docks and for an extensive hydraulic power system combined with an aqueduct from above the rapids. However, as a result of the economic and political problems surrounding the management of the harbour commission this project was never realized. In 1864 Legge published a scaled-down version of his plan, addressed to private interests, but was still unable to have the project carried through. In later years Legge acted as a consultant on water-power development in Chambly, Saint-Jérôme, and Richmond, Que., and in Gananoque, Ont. His reports, written in a readable style and clearly explaining the financial and technical details of the projects, described the topography and resources of each area, the possibilities for water-power as well as the strategy for its development, and the economic benefits that would accrue. Characteristic of his reports were the different financial and engineering options prepared for the consideration of investors.

During these years Legge was also active in the field of patents. In 1864 he opened a patent-soliciting office in Montreal under the name of Charles Legge and Company, securing Canadian patents for inventors and entrepreneurs. A pamphlet written by Legge in 1867 advocated changes in the 1849 patent laws, and with the passage of a new Patents of Invention Act in 1869 he prepared a second pamphlet outlining the procedure for obtaining patents in Canada and in foreign countries. Legge’s agency, the second largest in North America and the largest in Canada, apparently carried on an international business with representatives in the United States and Europe, and it operated successfully until 1878.

In 1869 Legge turned his attention to the Montreal Northern Colonization Railway, both as a founding member of the board of directors and as chief engineer. The railway was chartered by the provincial government to link Montreal with the Laurentians, and Legge surveyed a line to run from the harbour at Hochelaga through Mile End (both now part of Montreal) to Saint-Jérôme. Dominated by a group of Montreal capitalists led by Hugh Allan, who became president of the company in 1871, the proposed railway soon began to appear more as part of a transcontinental system than as a mere colonization railway. In 1871 Legge co-authored a Report on exploration of routes north and south sides of Ottawa River, for the Montreal Northern-Colonization Railway from Grenville to Ottawa city and by 1874 he had made surveys as far as Georgian Bay. However, although the line had the support of powerful commercial interests and generous land grants from the Quebec government, its construction was stymied by financial problems and the opposition of the Grand Trunk. Under these pressures Legge had suffered a mental breakdown in 1872; he was to endure a second in March 1875, before the railway finally collapsed a few months later. In November of that year the Quebec government announced that it was taking over the charter of the Montreal Northern Colonization, as part of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway.

In the early 1870s Legge surveyed a number of other railway lines in Quebec and Ontario and was engineer-in-chief on such projects as the Toronto, Simcoe and Muskoka Junction Railway, the Gananoque and Rideau Railway, the Montreal, Chambly and Sorel Railway, and the Yamaska Valley Railway. Two of the surveys he made at this time, one for the Montreal and City of Ottawa Junction Railway and the other for a line in Prince Edward County, Ont., were published. Unfortunately Legge had no more success with these lines than with the Montreal Northern Colonization, and all of the projects were either aborted or postponed.

Legge’s last major project was the Royal Albert Bridge, originally proposed by the Montreal Northern Colonization Railway to cross the St Lawrence in the east end of Montreal and provide an alternative to the Grand Trunk’s Victoria Bridge. The project was vigorously pushed by John Young in the face of strong opposition from other members of the Montreal Harbour Commission as well as from the Montreal Board of Trade, and in 1876 Legge was named engineer. The promoters of the project, however, withdrew their request for a federal charter in October 1876, and the bridge was never built.

Little is known of Legge after this last set-back. By 1880 he seems to have left Montreal and he died unnoticed in Toronto on 12 April 1881. The cause of his early death, at the age of 51, is not clear, but the mental and physical strain of his work had taken its toll as it did with other engineers of his time.

Although he helped engineer one of Canada’s greatest construction projects, the Victoria Bridge, Legge left few other engineering works. His importance as a consulting engineer and pamphleteer, with 23 published papers on water-power, railways, bridges, and patents, is, however, seen in the success of many of his projects after his death. Furthermore, he was recognized as a pioneer in the field of patent soliciting, having successfully established the second largest agency in North America.

Larry S. McNally

Charles Legge wrote 23 pamphlets between 1860 and 1874 including the following: A glance at the Victoria Bridge, and the men who built it (Montreal, 1860); Preliminary report and plans shewing the necessity of hydraulic docks at Montreal, with manufacturing facilities in connection with a city terminus, for the Grand Trunk Railway . . . (Montreal, 1861); Suggestions with reference to the proposed new act; respecting letters patent for inventions, in the Dominion of Canada (Montreal, 1867); Report on Montreal Northern Colonization Railway, Montreal to city of Ottawa, with branch line to StJerome (Montreal, 1872), translated into French as Rapport sur le chemin de fer de colonisation du Nord, Montréal à Ottawa avec embranchement à StJérôme (Montréal, 1872). For a more complete list of his writings see: Dionne, Inventaire chronologique des livres, brochures, journaux et revues publiés en langue française dans la province de Québec depuis l’établissement de l’imprimerie au Canada jusqu’à nos jours (4v. et supp., Québec, 1905–12; réimpr., 2v., New York, 1969); Philéas Gagnon, Essai de bibliographie canadienne . . . (2v., Québec et Montréal, 1895–1913; réimpr., Dubuque, Iowa, [1962]); as well as the Catalogue of pamphlets, journals and reports in the Public Archives of Canada, 1611–1867, with index, comp. Norman Fee (2nd ed., Ottawa, 1916), and the Catalogue of pamphlets in PAC (Casey), I.

PAC, RG 11, A1, 19, no.19767. Québec, Statutes, 1869, c.55. Canadian Illustrated News (Hamilton, Ont.), 16 Jan. 1864. Canadian Illustrated News (Montreal), 12 Feb., 1 April 1876. James Hodges, Construction of the great Victoria Bridge in Canada (2v., London, 1860). Dominion annual register, 1880–81: 415–16. Montreal directory, 1859–80. Michel Stewart, “Le Québec, Montréal et Occidental: une entreprise d’État” (thèse de phd en cours, Univ. Laval, Québec). B. J. Young, Promoters and politicians: the North-Shore railways in the history of Quebec, 1854–85 (Toronto, 1978).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Larry S. McNally, “LEGGE, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/legge_charles_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/legge_charles_11E.html
Author of Article:   Larry S. McNally
Title of Article:   LEGGE, CHARLES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 15, 2024