Joseph Hobson
Died1917 (aged 82–83)
OccupationLand surveyor, civil engineer

Joseph Hobson (1834–1917) was a Canadian land surveyor and railway design engineer. Early in his career he apprenticed under various professionals and became a provincial land surveyor when he was 21 years old. He did layout work for towns and counties in Ontario.

Hobson became an assistant engineer for the Grand Trunk Railway railroad company and did railway surveys. Advancing in his career he became the chief engineer for the Great Western Railway. Hobson was the resident engineer during the construction of the International Railway Bridge between the United States and Canada in the 1870s. He designed the first St. Clair railway tunnel. This was the first underwater railway tunnel between Canada and the United States. When it opened in 1891 it was the first undersea tunnel linking two distinct countries and the longest undersea tunnel then constructed.

Hobson, who was married in 1856, had six children. He retired in 1907, and worked as a consultant until his death in 1917.

Early life and education

Hobson was born in 1834 in Guelph Township in Wellington County, Ontario.[1] He had a brother, John, who was born in 1835. Hobson's parents were Joseph and Margaret Hobson. He attended log schoolhouses in Guelph for his primary schooling. In 1855 he went to Berlin, Canada.[2]



He apprenticed with John Tully as a land surveyor. During this time he did layout plans for the Ontario towns of Kitchener and Guelph. Later he apprenticed under M. C. Schofield[3] and passed his final exam as provincial land surveyor.[2]

Civil engineering

In 1856, Hobson joined the firm of Gzowski and McPherson in Toronto.[4] He returned to Kitchener in 1858 from Toronto to work for the county of Waterloo as their engineer on a part-time basis. Besides being the county engineer he also did private surveying. One of his contracts was the surveying of the township of Bidwell on Manitoulin Island. Hobson was later an assistant engineer on the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway from St. Marys to Sarnia. He was also engaged in railway surveys in Nova Scotia and also in the United States. Hobson lived in Guelph from the mid 1860s to the mid 1870s. From the summer of 1869 to the spring of 1870 he was an engineer to George Lowe Reid, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. He assisted in the building of the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway from Guelph to Southampton.[1]

Niagara River International Bridge  between Canada and New York state
Niagara River International Bridge
between Canada and New York state

Hobson in 1870 became chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. When it merged with the Grand Trunk Railway he was then the chief engineer of the Grand Trunk West of Toronto.[5] He was the onsite engineer for the construction of the International Railway Bridge from 1870 to 1873.[6] It crossed the Niagara River between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York. The half-mile long (0.80 km) bridge was contracted for $1 million when construction started in 1870. On its completion at the end of 1873 Hobson was promoted to assistant engineer of the Great Western Railway.[7] He was further promoted to chief engineer in 1875.[8] He moved to Hamilton, Canada soon thereafter but traveled often to Buffalo.[9] Hobson became chief engineer in 1882 of the Grand Trunk Railway west of Toronto.[1][10][11]

Hobson was appointed chief engineer to design and build the St. Clair Tunnel in 1886 between Sarnia in Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan.[12][13] The tunnel was constructed within a year at a cost of $2,700,000.[14][15] The first trains ran through on September 20, 1891.[16] It was then the first undersea tunnel linking two distinct countries, and the longest then constructed, at 6,025 feet (1,836 m) portal to portal.[17] Total length of the tunnel counting the approaches was 11,500 feet (3,500 m). After this project Hobson became chief engineer for the entire Grand Trunk Railway in 1896.[18][19][20] The tunnel was converted to run electric trains in 1908.[17]

Hobson was a member of the Canadian and American Societies of Civil Engineers and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of London, England.[21] He was a railway administrator that approved bidding contracts submitted to railroad companies for sub-contracting.[22]

Personal life

Hobson married Elizabeth Laidlaw of Guelph in 1856.[2] They had two sons and four daughters. He retired from the railway industry in 1907, but continued as a railway consultant until his death in 1917 at the age of 84.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Chilton 1918, p. 236.
  2. ^ a b c d "Waterloo Region Generations /Joseph Hobson". Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  3. ^ "Personal and Pertinent". The Ottawa Journal. Ottawa, Canada. July 8, 1897. p. 4 – via open access.
  4. ^ Ball 1988, p. 24.
  5. ^ "The Tunnel at Port Huron". The Evening Republican. Meadville, Pennsylvania. December 17, 1890. p. 7 – via open access.
  6. ^ "The St. Clair Tunnel". The Inter Ocean. Chicago, Illinois. February 22, 1891. p. 25 – via open access.
  7. ^ "A Great Engineer". The Englewood Chief. Englewood, Kansas. May 18, 1892. p. 4 – via open access.
  8. ^ Joseph Hobson, chief engineer of the St Clair tunnel – Opening of the St Clair River Tunnel, XXXV, no.1815, Harper's Weekly, October 3, 1891, pp. 758–760
  9. ^ "The Railroads / Notes". Buffalo Morning Express. Buffalo, New York. July 30, 1881. p. 4 – via open access.
  10. ^ "A Trip of Inspection". The Gazette. Montreal, Canada. July 20, 1886. p. 1 – via open access.
  11. ^ "Civil Engineers". The Gazette. Montreal, Canada. January 10, 1899. p. 8 – via open access.
  12. ^ "A Great Tunnel Project". St. Albans Daily Messenger. Saint Albans, Vermont. October 18, 1886. p. 2 – via open access.
  13. ^ "The St. Clair Tunnel". The Weekly Republican. Newton, Kansas. March 20, 1891. p. 4 – via open access.
  14. ^ "Joseph Hobson made dream of river tunnel come true". The Times Herald. Port Huron, Michigan. June 22, 1949. p. 92 – via open access.
  15. ^ "Connected with Canada by a Tunnel". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. September 25, 1891. p. 2 – via open access.
  16. ^ "A hole into Canada". The Topeka State Journal. Topeka, Kansas. September 20, 1891. p. 1 – via open access.
  17. ^ a b Kane 1997, p. 232.
  18. ^ Middleton 2007, p. 526.
  19. ^ "Dominion of Canada". Ottawa Daily Citizen. Ottawa, Canada. January 31, 1896. p. 2 – via open access.
  20. ^ "Despatches in brief". The Ottawa Journal. Ottawa, Canada. January 31, 1896. p. 3 – via open access.
  21. ^ "Josheph Hobson". Scientific American. 1891. p. 197. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  22. ^ "Grand Trunk Railway". The Gazette. Montreal, Canada. July 9, 1892. p. 28 – via open access.