John Leslie Charles:

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

Inventory prepared by Leah Morton
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 fonds


60 cm of textual records, 135 photographs and other material

MSS 241, PC 208, MC 8 (A.03-29)


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Biography of John Leslie Charles

Major John Leslie (Les) Charles was born December 15, 1892 in Weybridge, Surrey, England and moved to Winnipeg, Canada in 1910. He began working for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway survey party in their Mountain division. Except during WW1, Charles worked on the Hudson Bay Railroad until its completion at Churchill in 1930. He then worked for the Canadian National Railway for fifty-five years, progressing to the position of Chief Engineer, Western Region.

Major Charles served in both World Wars. During World War I, he was promoted to the rank of Major and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In WWII, he recruited and commanded the 20th field company of the Royal Canadian Engineers. He also served with the American Army, surveying for a military railway connecting Alaska and Canada.

After fifty-five years of service with the CNR, Charles retired. However, the company kept him on for eight more years as a special consultant. He also continued to participate in extensive surveys of the Canadian North. In 1957, he surveyed the Great Slave Lake area and in 1962, he surveyed 5000 miles of tundra from the Great Slave Railway to Coppermine in anticipation of a railway extension. In 1965 Major Charles was commissioned to conduct a survey of a railway in Zambia, Africa and in 1975, at the age 85, he charted a 600 mile railway in the Amazon Valley of Brazil.

Throughout his lifetime, Major Charles received a number of awards. In 1973, an Honourary Doctor of Laws was conferred upon him by the University of Manitoba and the next year, he was named as an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1968, he received the Julian Smith Award from the Engineering Institute of Canada and in 1981 was presented with the Canadian Council of Professional Engineer’s Gold Medal, their most prestigious award.

Major Charles’ wife was named Helena. He had a son, John Hamilton Charles, who died in 1942 during WWII. His daughter, Eira Friesen donated the records to the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections in 2003.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The fonds consists of material created throughout the course of Major Charles’ career as a surveyor and engineer for the Canadian National Railway. Included are several maps, reports and articles, both published and unpublished, on surveys conducted regarding the feasibility of constructing railways in the Canadian North. The fonds were created from 1908 to 1989, with the prominent dates of creation being 1959 to 1983.

Fonds consists of four main series. The first series, Personal, consists of various biographical sketches and newspaper clippings of Major Charles, itineraries of railway inspection tours, two compilations of retirement messages from Charles’ co-workers as well as his diploma from Cambridge. A copy of the memoirs of Mr. William Chandler, a friend of Charles’ is also included.

The second series consists of correspondence. It spans the years 1941-1987. It is a mix of both personal and work-related correspondence. The majority of the correspondence is to Major Charles, but here are some copies of letters from him as well.

The third series consists of articles, both published and unpublished, written by Major Charles. Most of the articles were written in the 1960s and were published in journals such as the Canadian Geographical Journal and The Engineering Journal.

The fourth series consists of railway reports. The majority of the reports deal with the feasibility of constructing railways in the Canadian North. Three of them deal with the railway in Zambia that Major Charles surveyed. There is also a photographic collection (PC 208) which consists of 30 photographs. A map collection (MC 8) is also part of the fonds. It consists of several maps that were not attached to any of the railway reports.

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Arrangement of the Papers

This collection is arranged into four series, map and photograph collections:

  • 1. Personal
  • 2. Correspondence
  • 3. Articles
  • 4. Railway Reports
  • MC 8
  • PC 208

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Restrictions on Access

No restrictions on access.

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Restrictions on Use

No restrictions on use.

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Custodial History

The fonds was donated to the Archives by Major Charles’ daughter Eira Friesen in 2003.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

11 Newspaper Clippings, 1941-1979
2 Messages from co-workers re: Major Charles'retirement, 1965
3 Retirement messages continued, 1965

"Book of Memories" from Western Region District engineers

4 CN Railway Inspection Tour Booklets, 1980-83

  • 1. Biggar - Thornton, 1980
  • 2. Vancouver - Edmonton, 1980
  • 3. Vancouver - Edmonton, 1983

5 Copy of the Memoirs of William a. Chandler, 1967
6 Misc. diplomas and certificates
6 Various biographical sketches of Major Charles

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17 General Correspondence, 1941-1968
8 Correspondence related to a U.S. Army project Major Charles was involved in, 1942-1945
9 General Correspondence, 1973-1987
10 Correspondence between Charles and Seymour Hamilton, 1972-1978
11 Correspondence re: the Canadian engineering Heritage Record (C.E.H.R.), 1974-1976

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Articles (Published and Unpublished)
21 Notes on the building of the Canadian Northern Railway, 1931
1 Canadian Railway Engineers Surmount Challenges at Home and Abroad
2 Charles, J.L. " Railways March Northward", Canadian Geographical Journal, 62 (1) January, 1961, p.2-21
2 Charles, J.L. "Foundation for Progress", Keeping Track, 8 (6) July-August, 1965, p.12-14
3 Charles, J.L. "The Great Slave Railway", Engineering Journal, 48 (5) May, 1965, p.15-19
3 Charles, J.L. "Zambia rail Situation", Canadian Geographical Journal, 75 (6), December 1967, p.206-17
4 Charles, J.L. "Zambia-East Africa Railway Location", Engineering Journal, 51 (3), March, 1968, p.21-29
4 Charles, J.L. "Railway Freight Highballs:, Canadian Geographical Journal, 79 (4) October, 1969
4 Typed rough draft of "Railway Freight Highballs"
5 Speech on the terrain of Manitoba, ca. 1960
5 "Railway Intrude to Amazonia", ca. 1970
5 Draft of talk to Mid-Western Rail, 1978

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Railway Reports
26 Great Slave Lake Report, ca. 1930
6 Extract from a report entitled "Various Proposed Railway Routes from a Western Outlet to the Pacific from the Peace River District by a Joint Board of Engineers of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways, dated Montreal, February 26, 1925"
7 Proposed Railway in Northern British Columbia for Minshall and Smith Engineering, Ltd., 1959
7 Report on the Preliminary Reconnaissance of Feasible Railway Route - Northern, B.C.
8 Report on the Preliminary Design of a Railway Spur, 1960
8 Maps 1 and 2 of the Report on the Preliminary Design of a Railway Spur
9 Maps 3-6 of the Report on the Preliminary Design of a Railway Spur, 1960
10 Projected Location for Proposed Railway Matone to Ste. Anne-des-Monts, Quebec (with 1 map), 1962
11 Yukon Iron Ore: Preliminary Study of the Feasibility to Construct and Operate a Railway to Transport Iron Ore from Iron Creek Mine to a Tide-Water, 1963-5
12 5 Maps from the Yukon Iron Ore Study, 1965

  • 1. Projected Railway Reports
  • 2. Route "A" Diagram of Principal Rise and Fall
  • 3. Railway Requirement Preliminary Projection Route "A"
  • 4. Railway Requirement Preliminary Requirement Alternative Route "X"
  • 5. Alternative Route "X" Diagram of Principal Rise and Fall

13 Granduc Mines Limited, British Columbia: Preliminary Projection for a Railway Location, via Unuk River Valley to Burroughs Bay, Alaska, (includes 3 maps), 1963
14 Railway to the Arctic Reconnaissance and Right of Way Construction, 1973
15 Zambia Rail Situation (2 copies), 1967
16 Proposed Zambia - East Africa Rail Link, British-Canadian Survey, 1967
16 East African Rail Location, 1967

(includes background information compiled by Major Charles)

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MC 8 (A.03-29), 1960-1970
1 Maps

  • 1."Canada Northwest" depicting existing and projected future railway lines, 1969
  • 2. Geographical Location of Great Slave Lake Railway, ca. 1950
  • 3. CN Land Bridge, Vancouver to Halifax (2 copies), 1969
  • 4. Canada: Railway's March Northward (2 copies), 1960
  • 5. Yukon Territory Projected Route "A", ca. 1960
  • 6. Partial Map of B.C. and alberta with Railway Lines, 1975
  • 7. Tete Jaune Cutoff, 1980
  • 8. Topographical Map of a Portion of the B.C. Alberta border, ca.1970
  • 9. Alberta Resources Railway, Ca. 1970
  • 10. Profile of Projected Railway Location from Mile 182.3 Prepared for the Quebec Cartier Mining Company, 1960
  • 11. Map referring to Thompson and Soab Mines (untitled)

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PC 208 (A.03-29)
1 Photographs

  • 1. 6 photographs from the November 1981 CCPE Awards where charles was awarded their Highest Honour, the Gold Medal Award
  • 2. 3 photographs from the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa, November 11, 1981
  • 3. 4 photographs of Charles and others on a CN Railway Inspection Tour, ca. 1980
  • 4. photo of a train
  • 5. 2 misc. photos
  • 6. black and white formal head shot of Major Charles

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