Wednesday, April 01, 2015

In search of William J. Fuller -- my great-grandfather

I've long known that my great-grandfather was a civil engineer. Family lore is that he started the trade in Toronto, moved to Sault Ste. Marie, and ended up in Port Arthur/Fort William, where he died. I think I've mentioned him before on these pages. I now own his books but I know very little about him.

A few months ago, my father found a copy of his obituary from an old trade magazine, specifically The Canadian Engineer (January 6, 1931). It mentions the importance of a speech he delivered to Engineers Club of Toronto about the Toronto harbor. It apparently was much bally-hooed and apparently was important for the formation of  the Toronto Harbor Commission. The obit states that it was cited in the local papers and was "published in fully by the Canadian Engineer." I had to find a copy.

Unfortunately, early copies of the Canadian Engineer aren't easy to find. More recent runs had been put on microfiche but the old ones were only available in paper and there was only one extant copy. It lives at the Toronto Reference Library. So I waited. Fortunately, our new Toronto office is at 888 Yonge St., the old Music Hall, practically across the street from the library. So, during my break from some meetings today, I made the trek over.

At first, there was some difficulty finding the things. Not surprisingly, the old copies aren't very popular. Then there was some concern about whether or not the books should be considered "rare". After a false start, the staff decided that they were indeed rare (even if the OPAC said they weren't) so I was relegated to the rare books/special collections. Then I got my hands on the bound volumes. I don't know when the address was published so I just got 1907 and 1908... and they were huge. It has incredibly humbling to see just how much engineering effort happened in Canada in these early years. It seems a travesty that there is no digital collection to facilitate access.

After attempting various search strategies, I found... nothing. I think I have to be a bit more informed before trying to track this stuff down again.

Google to the rescue. And crap, there it is. In her history of Leslieville -- a Toronto neighborhood -- she quotes from an article:

The outer sandbar, between Ashbridge’s Bay and Lake Ontario, was known to the first settlers as the Peninsula, but had been used for millennia by aboriginal peoples as a route to what we now call “Toronto Island”. Behind this sandbar, shallow warm water, enriched by nutrients from the Don River, nourised life, creating ideal habitat for frogs, turtles, salamanders, fish, birds and mammals such as muskrat. Deputy Surveyor General J. Collins, in 1788, wrote of Ashbridge’s Bay as a sandbank: …near two miles in length from the entrance to the isthmus between it and a large morass to the eastward. (Quoted in W.J. Fuller, “Toronto Harbour” in The Canadian Engineer, January 19, 1909.)

So, apparently, I'm looking for January 19, 1909. I was a year off.

And apparently the Canadian Engineer isn't completely off moldering in analog. The Internet Archive has some copies (via U of T). For example, volume 11 is 1904 so I'm probably looking for volume 16 or so.

There's volume 17... volumes 5-6... volume 7-8... but not what I'm looking for. 

But here's the whole reference from an old Engineering Index preserved by Google: Toronto Harbor. W.J. Fuller. Reviews some of the engineering problems which have arisen from time to time in regard to the harbor and the improvements undertaken. 8500 w. Can Engr - Jan. 29, 1909. No. 2168.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good afternoon!

I was SO excited to come across this blog! We, too, are looking for family related to Mr. Fuller. We are from Sault Ste. Marie, ON and have come across a rather large collection of photos, certificates etc. belonging to he and his family. Please, PLEASE let me know how we can get in contact!

27/8/15 13:06  
Blogger George Goodall said...

Fantastic. Feel free to drop me a line: george.goodall@gmail.com.

Cheers,
George

27/8/15 13:26  

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