Historical Plaque Properties


Charles James - Civil Engineer/Surveyor
60 Shrewsbury Street
Stratford, ON


Charles James arrived in New York in 1851 from his home country, Ireland, where he had studied civil engineering as a student of John William James, a Master Instructor in Civil Engineering and, possibly his brother, who also emigrated to North America and lived for a period of time in Stratford as well as the United States and India. In both these countries he was very involved with the development of railway systems.

In Ireland Charles had experience in Public Works and upon arrival in the US was engaged as an engineer with the Buffalo and New York Railway and the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railway until 1854 when he was appointed the County Engineer for Perth County. He returned to railway work in 1855 with the Buffalo and Lake Huron Railway and later as an engineer with the Intercolonial Railway of Canada which eventually became part of the Canadian National Railway.

He was in charge of an exploratory survey for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1871 -72 followed by involvement with a project for the enlargement of the Welland Canal and harbour work at Port Colborne. Among the chief engineers he worked with during his career was Sir Sandford Fleming who is credited with establishing Standard Time. Sir Sandford’s signature is among those supporting Charles’ proposal (the term used at the time in the UK) for associate membership in the UK Institution of Civil Engineers.   This organization was founded in 1818 in England by a group of young engineers with the aim of promoting civil engineering. To-day it has more than 80,000 members worldwide.

Here in Stratford he is identified on the 1882 Assessment Rolls as a Provincial Surveyor. An 1857 map of the town of Stratford which he is credited with compiling is included the book entitled ‘The Canada Company’ written by Thelma Coleman with James Anderson in 1978. The Stratford-Perth Archives has a copy of the map.

Charles and his wife, Agnus Reid, also Irish born, were married in England and the first of their 6 children, Mary Josephine, born in England spent her early years here in Stratford but, sadly, died at age 19. The first son, John William would follow his father into the Engineering profession. Charles Orr, the second son was a barber in Toronto at the time of his marriage in 1893 but by 1901 was a single father with a four year old son and employed as a civil servant, still in Toronto.

By 1901, Agnus, now a widow, was living in Vancouver, BC in the home of her son, Thomas James, a bank clerk. His brother Fredrick, a purser, their sister Mary Agnes (James) Smith and her teenage son and daughter also live there. She died at age 87 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery, in Vancouver.