Friday, 9 March 2012

Joseph Whitehead (NZ615160)

One of Canada’s greatest railway pioneers, Joseph Whitehead was born in Guisborough in 1814. He began his engineering career very young, reportedly serving as a fireman on Stephenson’s famous Locomotion in the 1820s, before progressing to railway construction – most notably having a hand in the Caledonian Railway in Scotland.

He made the bold move to Canada in the late 1840s, dragging his young family with him, where he helped build sections of the Great Western and Grand Trunk Railways and many more besides. Whitehead also dabbled in politics, becoming mayor for Clinton, Ontario, and serving as a Liberal MP in the 1st Canadian Parliament during 1867-72.

He was an entrepreneur, too, building a sawmill, among other things. Sensationally, in 1877, he brought the very first steam locomotive to the Canadian prairie provinces when he bought the Countess of Dufferin and transported it to its new home by boat up the Red River to Winnipeg. The train is today a museum piece in the city.

Whitehead eventually retired to Clinton, Ontario, and died there in 1894 – aged 80 and a very long way from his native parish. His daughter, Charlotte, became a pioneer female doctor; and his gt-gt-granddaughter, Val Meredith, served as a Canadian MP as recently as 1993-2004.

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