Fonds MG H 53 - Henry George Clopper Ketchum

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Henry George Clopper Ketchum

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  • Textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents.
  • Variations in title: Formerly known as the Ketchum papers.

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  • 1825 - 1916, predominant 1862 - [189-?] (Creation)
    Ketchum, Henry George Clopper

Physical description

74.5 cm of textual records and other material

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Biographical history

Civil engineer Henry George Clopper Ketchum, son of George and Mary Ann (Phillips) Ketchum, was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, on 26 February 1839 of loyalist descent. Educated at Fredericton Collegiate School, in 1854 he attended a series of lectures on engineering, surveying and levelling given by English engineer McMahon Cregan at King's College, Fredericton. In 1862 Ketchum was awarded the first diploma in civil engineering from the University of New Brunswick, the successor to King's.

While a student, Ketchum was employed by the European and North American Railway during the summers from 1856 to 1860, first as telegrapher, then as a surveyor and later, under chief engineer Alexander Luders Light, as assistant construction engineer. In 1860 he relocated to Brazil where he acted as agent and district engineer for James Fox and Sons, the firm contracted to construct the Santos and São Paulo Railway.

Returning to New Brunswick in 1865, he was hired as resident engineer for International Contracting Company, being charged with building the Eastern Extension of the European and North American Railway from Moncton to Amherst. When the company went bankrupt, construction was taken over by Clark, Punchard and Company, and Ketchum was hired as sub-contractor, a position which he held until 1868. In 1869 he was named chief engineer of construction of the New Brunswick Railway from Fredericton to Edmundston, and he was also named engineer of a section of the Quebec and New Brunswick Railway. As well, by 21 August 1866, he had married Sarah E. Milner of Sackville, N. B.

During the mid-1870s Ketchum became interested in the scheme for which he is best known. The Chignecto Marine Transport Railway Company was formed in 1882 to construct a ship railway for transporting vessels across the Isthmus of Chignecto, thereby facilitating shipping between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Ketchum acted as managing director of the project, which was partially financed by the Canadian Parliament in the form of an annual subsidy, if the line was completed in seven years and kept in good repair.

Construction began in October 1888, but the Chignecto Ship Railway soon faced serious financial difficulties. The 1890 collapse of Baring Brothers and Company, the London bank backing the project, signalled the death of Ketchum's dream, which was assured in 1892 when Parliament refused to grant the company a second extension. Soon after, on 8 September 1896, Ketchum died unexpectedly in Amherst, Nova Scotia. He was buried at Tidnish within view of the ship railway terminus.

Sources: "Henry George Clopper Ketchum", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. XII, pp. 484-485.

Custodial history

Deposited with the archives of the Bonar Law-Bennett Library, University of New Brunswick by Mrs. John Stephens in 1945.

Scope and content

This fonds documents the professional career of civil engineer Henry George Clopper Ketchum, particularly with respect to the building of railway lines in Canada and Brazil and the construction of the Chignecto Ship Railway. It also contains biographical information about him as well as business records pertaining to a general store presumably operated by members of the Ketchum family at Fredericton.

It includes incoming and outgoing correspondence, reports, minutes, specifications, estimates, contracts, schedules, maps, surveys, plans, blueprints, photographs and negatives. It also includes papers on engineering subjects, engineering notes, diagrams, essays, and articles and newspaper clippings about the Chignecto Ship Railway.

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Immediate source of acquisition


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  • English

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No restrictions

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A detailed list of documents is available.

Associated materials

Other material belonging to Ketchum can be found in the Chignecto Marine Transport Railway fonds at the Cumberland County Museum Archives in Nova Scotia and H. G. C. Ketchum account book (MC837) at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

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Physical description

Fonds includes 74.5 cm of textual records, 108 photographs, 2 drawings, 1 print, 13 maps, 3 profiles, 2 architectural drawings, 10 technical drawings, and 3 Artifacts

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