John Leslie Charles fonds

An Inventory of His Papers at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections

Inventory prepared by Vladimira Zvonik
University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Finding aid encoded by Vladimira Zvonik (2007)
Finding aid written in English.

Collection Summary

University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

John Leslie Charles

John Leslie Charles

1908 - 2000

60 cm of textual records, 105 photographs and other material

MSS 241 (A.05-84)


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Biography of Major John Leslie Charles

Major John Leslie Charles was a Chief Engineer for CN's Western Region and consulting engineer for Canadian National Railway. He was born in 1892 in Weybridge, Surrey, England and immigrated to Canada in 1910. His first railway job was on a location survey for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in the Rockies, BC. Later on he became responsible for much of the engineering and construction in Western Canada, Northern Manitoba, and Northwest Territories. In 1926, appointed as a transit man for a survey crew, he surveyed second section of the Hudson Bay Railway (Limestone- Fort Churchill). From the beginning of his carrier, he collected photographs and slide shows of his work and travell. Many of the photographs are part of Western Canada Pictorial Index held at the University of Winnipeg.

J. L. Charles was a veteran of two wars. He served overseas with the Canadian Railway Troops in WWI and attained the rank of major. During the Second World War, he recruited the 20th Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers at Winnipeg and commanded that unit on the Pacific Coast.

After the war he helped US Army locate a military rail line between Canadian Pacific Railway, BC and US Forces in Alaska. He published the studies of Great Slave Lake Railway, the first railway to enter the Northwest Territories, the most northerly railway connected to continental system.

Major J.L. Charles was a recipient of many awards and honors. As a member of Professional Engineers of Manitoba since 1921 and a president of Manitoba Association of Professional engineers, he was awarded the highest enginering award "Gold Medal Reward' in 1981. In 1973 he received the highest Canadian honor "Order of Canada Medal". His autobiography "Westward Go Young Man" was published in 1978. The book details his life and work on the prairies and his experiences on the Hudson Bay Railway. The railway was fully integrated into the CN system in 1958. Major J.L.Charles is author of many articles published in "Manitoba Professional Engineer" journal, "Engineering Journal" and "Canadian Geographical Journal".

He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Manitoba in 1973. In Memory of his son John Hamilton Charles killed in action in WWII (1942), Major J.L. Charles established "Canada Northlands Development Award" (1970) intended for third year engineering students at the University of Manitoba. Although he retired at the age of 65 in 1957, Major J.L. Charles was still very active and worked on many engineering projects after his retirement. At the age of 73 he surveyed proposed railways in Zambia-Tanzania, Liberia. He made his trip around the world at the age of 89 and kept pictorial history of his journey as a continuation of his autobiography "Westward Go Young Man". Major J.L Charles passed away on January 10, 1992; he was remembered as resilient sincere man, who was admired for his perseverance in building railway lines that had pushed back the northern frontiers.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The fonds consists of Major J.L. Charles' biographical info; correspondence; awards and honorary degrees he received during his lifetime; his articles and reports submitted to CNR; and photographs from his work and trips around the world. There is also correpondence regarding the Canada Northlands Development Award, established at the University of Manitoba in 1970.

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Arrangement of the Papers

This collection is arranged into seven series

  • 1. Biographical info
  • 2. Correspondence
  • 3. Awards, Honorary Degrees
  • 4. Diaries, Journals
  • 5. Articles, Speeches
  • 6. Canadian Railway Construction: Reports, Correspondence, Articles, Maps
  • 7. Artifacts

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Restrictions on Access

No restrictions on access

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Custodial History

The fonds was donated to the University of Manitoba by Eira "Babs" Friesen (nee Charles) in 2005.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

Biographical info []
11 Biographical info done by W. Chislett Associates Ltd., Public Relations July, 1975
2 Newspaper clippings, 1945-1998
3 Birth, Marriage Certificates, ID's cards, Passports, 1916-1986

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Correspondence 1961- 1992
14 Correspondence - General, 1961-1992
5 Correspondence with CANAC re: "Go West Young Man Go West", 1975-1978
6 Correspondence re: "Westward Go Young Man", 1979

("Westward Go Young Man" - reminiscences of J.L. Charles)

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Awards, Honorary Degrees 1908 - 1992
17 Order of Canada - Biography, Correspondence, 1973
8 Order of Canada - Correspondence, 1974-1989
2 - tube container Order of Canada, Government House, Ottawa, [ 1974 ]

List of recipients of the Order of Canada as of January 15, 1974

Order of Canada - document, medal

19 Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree - University of Manitoba, 1973

(includes correspondence, newspaper clippings)

31 Canadian Engineers' Gold Medal, 1981

(includes newspaper clippings, correspondence)

2 Military service and honors, 1908 - 1943
3 Millitary service - Correspondence, Newspaper clippings, 1919-1993
4 Queen's Silver Jubilee, 1975
5 Doctor of Engineering, Honoris Causa, Technical University of Nova Scotia, 1987

(includes correspondence, newspaper clippings)

6 Julian C. Smith Award, Engineering Institute of Canada - newspaper clippings, correspondence, 1968
7 Canada Northlands Development Award - Agreement between J.L. Charles (donor) and the University of Manitoba, 1970

Correspondence, 1970-2000,

8 Station Charles (1983), Merit Award (1976)
4 - Oversize Association of Professional Engineers - memberships, 1919 - 1983

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Diaries, Journals 1945-1961, 1974

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J.Charles' Articles, Speeches, 1926 - 1992
61 Notes of Talk Given before C.N.R. Luncheon Club, Winnipeg, January 15, 1951
2 Manitoba Railway History by Jack Countryman, 1973

(includes J.L. Charles's reminiscences of the Hudson Bay Railway)

3 Hudson Bay Maintenance and Operation transcripted by J.L. Charles, 1934-39
4 Articles, 1926-1969

  • Along the Hudson Bay Railway, April, 1937
  • Railway Freight Highballs, 1969
  • Hudson Bay Railway Revived, 1926
  • Great Slave Lake Raiway, 1965
  • Railways March Northward, 1961

5 Articles, 1954-1968

  • CN's line to Churchill
  • Northward the Trunk of Steel,
  • Zambia Rail Situation, 1967
  • Zambia-East Africa Railway Location, 1968
  • Proposed Zambia-East Africa Rail Link British-Canadian Survey 1966
  • Hudson Bay Railway - Maintenance and Operation: Return to the North
  • Sherridon to Lynn Lake, 1954

6 Articles 1959-1969

  • Railway Freight Highballs, 1969
  • Permafrost Aspects of Hudson Bay Railroad, 1960
  • Permafrost Aspects of Hudson Bay Railroad, 1959
  • Great Slave Lake Railway, 1965

7 Professional Engineers Publications, 1968-1992

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Canadian Railway Construction: Reports, Correspondence, Articles, Maps
7 - Oversize Reports,Correspondence, Articles, Maps, 1945-1982
  • Reports to H.A. Dixon, Chief Engineer C.N.R. by P.C. Andrews, Thomas Tumbull, and W. Burns, 1931.
  • Hudson Bay Railway Revived, 1926
  • Hudson Bay Railway by J.W. Porter, 1931 (Journal of the Western Society of Engineers, v. 36,1931, no.6)
  • Correspondence, 1943-66
  • Rails toward the Arctic by P. C. Newman, 1955
  • Lynn Lake Line by R. John, 1951
  • 70th Anniversary and Homecoming, The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), 1913-1982
  • Canadian National Railways ticket, ca 1950
  • Map of Tete Jaune-Valemount Connection (Mount Robson-Albreda, Alberta), 1979
  • CN RAIL Tete Jeune connection, Robson subdivision, Mountain Region - station Charles, 1983
  • Map of Proposed Road Connection from Prince George to Alcan Highway, British Columbia by J.L. Charles, 1943
  • Map - Manitoba Division: Thompson-Pipe-Soab Railway Projected Location, designed by J.L. Charles, 1967.
  • Map - From east bank du Cap-Chat to Ste. Annes des Monts (St. Lawrence River), annotated by J.L. Charles
  • Map - Oswagan Lake, annotated by J.L. Charles
  • Map - Canada: Railway's march Northward by J.L. Charles, October 1960, revised June 1975
  • Certificate of membership - The Grand Lodge of Manitoba, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, 1940
8 - oversize Report on Preliminary Reconnaissance Survey for the Location of a Proposed Railway Bomi Hills to Mano River, Liberia, Africa, 1959

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  • Railroad spike (unusual letter knife) in a wooden box
  • Railroad spike - CN Rail Mountain Region souvenir
  • Nickle medallion commemorating First Nickel Production, Inco-Thompson Development, 1961
  • Railroad spike - a pen holder given to J.L. Charles in 1977

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PC 208 (A.05-84) 1910-1990's
11 Major John Leslie Charles Photographs

(24 photos)

2 Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Manitoba, 1973

(3 photos)

3 "Northern Traditions" - Engineering and the Development of Northern Manitoba, 1987

(1 photo)

includes correspondence

4 Order of Canada, 1973-77

(3 photos)

5 Council of Professional Engineers, Gold Medal, 1981, 1959-1974

(30 photos)

includes family, friends photographs (Marion and Murray Robb)

6 Association of Professional Engineers, 1950-58

(5 photos)

7 Engineering Camp Prairies, 1910-1915

(18 photos)

8 Hudson Bay Railway, Engineering Camps, 1915-1983

(14 photos, 1 negative)

9 Military Service, Honors, 1918 - 1988

(7 photos)

10 Military Post Cards, 1914-1916

(12 cards)

11 Liberia - Postcards, 1959

(9 cards)

21 Old Man Travels Afar: A Selection of Photographs by J.L. Charles to Fulfil the Ending of "Westward Go Young Man" , 1975-76

(Around the World)

2 [ 1979 ]
3 [ 1980 ]
4 [ 1982 ]

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