STEWART, DONALD ALEXANDER, civil engineer; b. 2 Nov. 1851 in West Bay, N.S., second son of the Reverend Murdoch Stewart, a Presbyterian minister, and Catherine —; d. unmarried 20 Oct. 1897 in Halifax.
Donald Alexander Stewart studied at the newly founded department of practical science of McGill College. After graduating with the degree of bachelor of applied science in 1873 he took a position as a surveyor’s assistant for the Canadian Pacific Railway north of Lake Superior. In August 1877 he was promoted section engineer at Nordland station in the district of Port Arthur (Thunder Bay, Ont.). Following his work in this area, he remained with the CPR, supervising the survey of the International Railway from Lac Mégantic, Que., to Greenville, Maine. In the spring of 1882 he returned to northern Ontario. Until Christmas 1884 he was the division engineer for the location and construction of the CPR’s main line from Nipigon east to Jackfish Bay.
The expansion of the CPR’s network of branch lines during the 1880s provided Stewart with experience as a supervising engineer. In 1886 he spent four months in eastern Canada preparing a survey for the Ontario and Quebec Railway. That May he travelled to Manitoba to take charge of the surveying and construction of the Manitoba South-Western Colonization Railway. The following years saw him working as a division engineer on the Great Northern Railroad in the United States in 1887, supervising surveys and line reconnaissances in southern British Columbia and the Crowsnest Pass in 1888–90, and laying out a survey for the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railroad in the summer of 1890.
In November 1889 Stewart had been elected a member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, an organization founded in 1887 and dedicated to the development of engineering as a professional discipline [see Alan Macdougall]. He contributed two articles to the society’s Transactions: “Building railways across peat bogs or swamps,” a reflection on the technical and economic difficulties facing construction and maintenance engineers in the rugged north, and “The Albion Mines Railway,” an historical piece on an early Nova Scotian line.
In September 1890 Stewart, by then living in Winnipeg, was promoted engineer by the CPR. In January 1893 he was appointed a senior engineer for the western division of the railway. He was now deemed capable of important engineering works and paid a salary of $200 per month. In the mid 1890s it appears that Stewart’s duties were reduced while he struggled with cancer. Despite a brief recovery in early 1897, he retired in July. He travelled to Halifax and was placed under the care of his brother Dr John Stewart. He died on 20 Oct. 1897 and was buried in Pictou.
Stewart was among the first generation of Canadian-trained professional engineers. The difficult work and wide-ranging impact of railway construction in Canada were reflected in his active and demanding career. His promotion to a senior position in the CPR was an indication of the development of technical capability leading to the organization of engineering as a profession in Canada.
Donald Alexander Stewart is the author of “Building railways across peat bogs or swamps” and “The Albion Mines Railway,” Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans. (Montreal), 8 (1894): 224–37 and 11 (1897): 157–62, respectively.
Canadian Pacific Arch. (Montreal), Salaried staff reg., 1890. NA, RG 12, A1, 2000, file 3562-11, pt.ii. PAM, MG 13, E1, ff.409/1, 8286/1; MG 14, C69. Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans., 3 (1889); 11. Evening Mail (Halifax), 21 Oct. 1897. Leader (Regina), 8 April, 18 June, 10 Sept. 1890. Manitoba Morning Free Press, 21 Oct. 1897. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 22 Oct. 1897. Pictou Advocate (Pictou, N.S.), 22 Oct. 1897. Man. and N.W.T. directory, 1892–98. Pioneers of Man. (Morley et al.). Winnipeg directory, 1882–85, 1889, 1896.