Thomas Fogg 1824 – 1897

Thomas Fogg in 1886. The photo was in the cornerstone of Winnipeg’s City Hall


On September 15 1830, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened. It was the first railway in Britain to rely exclusively on steam power, the first to be double tracked, to implement a signaling system, to be fully timetabled, and to carry passengers and mail. It was also very important for transporting textile raw materials and finished goods between the Port of Liverpool and mills in Manchester and the surrounding towns.

L and R railway Cheshire


A lithograph of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway crossing the Bridgewater canal at Patricroft by A. B. Clayton



passenger train L and R RailwayThe first passenger carriage in Europe 1830 George Stephenson’s steam locomotive, Liverpool and Manchester Railway




With industrialization progressing at a rapid pace in the 1800’s, this railway would have offered many a young man employment opportunities. It is highly likely that Thomas Fogg found work in this industry and learned his lifelong trade.

The early life of Thomas Fogg remains a mystery. He was born circa 1824 possibly in Birkenhead Cheshire where his wife Frances (Fanny) Lewis was born in 1833. There is a Thomas Fogg, age 16, on the 1841 census in Birkenhead but it is unclear whether he is the same person.

By 1854, the couple were living in Upper Canada, most likely in Brantford, where their first son, Walter Thomas, was born, followed by William Henry in 1856, Samuel George in 1858, and their first daughter, Jane Frances in 1862. (Jane lived to be 110 years old).    In 1864, their fourth son, Charles Robert, was born in Quebec as was Frederick Joseph in 1868.

By 1869, the family was back in Ontario when Annie Elizabeth was born, probably in St. Mary’s where they were listed in the 1871 census.  St. Mary’s was a railway hub for the Grand Trunk Railway who employed Thomas as a roadmaster between St. Mary’s and Detroit. This railway was exGTR mappanding from Quebec to southern Ontario and down to Detroit at the time and this would explain the family’s movements.  The map is a portion of a larger map from 1885 showing the Grand Trunk rail lines.

Thomas is quite literally an inventive man. His first invention, as described in the Journal of the Board of Arts and Manufactures for Upper Canada of 1862, is an improved ballasting car. It was designed to equalize and distribute the gravel inside and outside the railway track and to do away entirely with the gang of men that was necessary to do the job previously. Only 2 brakemen and a conductor were needed to unload a train of 10 cars in 5-8 minutes.  (see video of modern day ballast car here )

In 1864, one of his inventions is listed in the Canadian Almanac and Directory for 1865 for an improved gadget to prevent nuts and bolts used to tie iron rails from coming loose. In 1867, while living in Detroit, Thomas files for a US patent for his invention of a train switch that would prevent accidents if a switchman failed to readjust the switch after moving it out of line with the main track.

In 1869 Thomas filed for a Canadian patent for his invention called ‘improvement in railway switches’.  It was known as the Fogg Switch.  This was a major innovation for the railways. It allowed a locomotive to pull a train and switch it from one gauge track to another gauge track in less than five minutes. Prior to this, it would take a gang of 8-10 men to lift each car separately from one track to another and the whole operation would take about 30 minutes per car. In 1871 he also got a US patent for this invention.

But his inventiveness didn’t stop there. In 1872, he filed another patent in the US patent office for a convertible freight car. The idea was to construct a freight car so that it may be readily converted from an ordinary freight or box car to a car for transporting grain in bulk, and to be provided with a spout or chute for discharging the grain.

By this time, Canada’s west was also expanding and this had a lot of allure for many people including Thomas. He moves to Winnipeg, the “Gateway to the Golden West”, in 1879 and is appointed by the Hudson’s Bay Company as the inspector of works in charge of all their buildings according to the London Times of Ontario. He is involved with the construction of the Hudson’s Bay Store on Main St. There is a beautiful description of the exterior and interior of the building in the local newspaper of the time. He is also involved with the building of the Louise Bridge over the Red River and he is appointed as clerk of the works for the building of the General Hospital.

Wpg City Hall post card

Winnipeg City Hall circa 1955

As a result, in 1883, after creating an excellent reputation for himself, he is appointed by Winnipeg city council as the city’s building inspector. Unfortunately by 1884, he becomes embroiled in a huge controversy over the construction of the old city hall. The contention starts immediately with a letter to the editor of the newspaper, signed only with the initials of the writer, trying to discredit Thomas by saying that his only previous experience was as a farmer and gardener and was therefore unfit for the job. It all worsens when the architect insists on constructing the building over an underground stream and refuses to move the site back about 14 feet and to sink piles to a proper depth as Thomas knew was required. Added to all this are inferior building materials supplied by the contractor. Thomas claimed that the materials were not strong enough to carry the weight load required by the building. Later, a bank manager claims he has been swindled because the estimates given by the architect were unreliable. Thomas is not a man to give in when he believes he is right. The fighting goes on for a year, being reported regularly in the Winnipeg Daily Times in quite some detail. But alas, in the end, Thomas is dismissed even though he had the support of th e mayor and council and the  newspaper. The so-called gingerbread style of building was eventually constructed but in 1958, it was condemned as unsafe and destroyed much to the chagrin of many Winnipeg residents.

Subsequently, Thomas returns to St. Mary’s Ontario and becomes the yardmaster for the Grand Trunk Railway.249 widder st Marys His home was built for him in 1879 in St. Mary’s at 249 Widder St. East. It is made of red brick veneer, (now painted white) one layer thick over frame construction. The pedimented window headers on the 2nd floor are metal factory made units that snap on and off. The door is genuine walnut, made for Thomas in the Grand Trunk Railway’s Sarnia carpentry shops.

In 1897, Thomas suffers a stroke on a return trip from Detroit and dies after 3 weeks in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor at the age of 74. His wife Fanny returns to Winnipeg to join 2 of her sons, William and Frederick, and daughter Jane.

Photo of Thomas Fogg – City of Winnipeg Archives ref: F0001-0083-A569-6