Casimir Gzowski


Casimir Gzowski

Sir Kazimierz Stanislaus Gzowski, KCMG (March 5, 1813 – August 24, 1898), was an engineer who served as acting Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1896 to 1897.

Gzowski was born in Saint Petersburg to a noble Polish father who served with the Russian military.

He emigrated with his family to the United States after the Polish revolt against Russia in 1830. He knew no English, but began to study law and was admitted to practice. His father was an engineer, and as this became his primary interest, Kazimierz became involved in railway construction in the United States. Eventually he was hired as an engineer to help in the construction of the New York and Erie Railway.

In 1841 he moved to Canada to work on the Welland Canal, and also helped finish the building of Yonge Street and other projects, for the Department of Public Works in southern Ontario, he settled in London.

In 1849 Gzowski was hired as a railway contractor by the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway. The new president of this reorganized company, Alexander Tilloch Galt and other directors were dissatisfied with the work of the Montreal contractors. Accepting Galt's offer as Chief Engineer, in charge of construction, Gzowski moved his family to Sherbrooke.

The purpose of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway, along with its American partner, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway, was to provide a route for the traffic of the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa River at the port of Montreal, with the ice-free Atlantic port of Portland, Maine. By 1850, however, promoters of this project learned of plans by Boston interests to build a railway from Lake Champlain, to Ogdensburg, opposite Prescott, on the route of the projected Bytown & Prescott Railway.

In 1850, Galt, along with Luther Hamilton Holton, David Lewis Macpherson and other directors of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic, formed a committee which took steps to secure a charter for the building of a railway between Montreal and Kingston. Several possible routes were considered. At a public meeting held in Montreal, to discuss this project, the committee delegated Gzowski to make a detailed survey of two routes. One along Ottawa River valley through and the other, about 15 miles inland from the St, Lawrence River.

In 1851 the Montreal and Kingston Railway Committee commissioned another well known Canadian engineer and future associate of Gzowski, Walter Shanly, to make another survey of the Montreal-Kingston route. He decided in favour of the line closely paralleling the shore of the St. Lawrence River and running through Cornwall and Prescott. This was the route adopted by the Grand Trunk Railway between Montreal, Kingston and Toronto.

The idea of a Main Line of railway through the Province of Canada had been on the minds of Canadians for some time, the government proposed to build a line from Montreal to Windsor or to Sarnia. For that part of the route east of Montreal, Premier Francis Hincks turned the first sod on Quebec Richmond Railway, January 7, 1852. The government intended to close the gap between Richmond and Montreal, by using the St Lawrence and Atlantic Railway. Galt and his associates from Montreal obtained a charter for their Montreal and Kingston Railway, August 30, 1851.

Francis Hincks turned the plans for the railway scheme, over to private interests in 1852, awarding contracts for the Kingston to Toronto section and Montreal to Kingston Railway, to the British contracting firm Peto, Brassey Jackson and Betts, a move that led to the formation of the Grand Trunk Railway. While Galt had intended to secure the funds to build the Montreal and Kingston Railway, he did not have the resources to compete with Peto, Brassey Jackson and Betts.

Galt and his partners saw great possibilities in the construction of a railway west of Toronto. In 1852 through some skillful financial manipulation they managed to get control of most of the stock in the Toronto and Guelph Railway, chartered in 1851. As the contractors of this railway, Gzowski & Co. was made up mostly with Casimer Gzowski and David Lewis Macpherson. The Toronto and Guelph Railway was taken over by Grand Trunk, though Gzowski & Co. continued as the contractors of the line between Guelph and Sarnia as well as other sections of the GTR in Ontario and Michigan.

In 1856 Gzowski & Co. was granted the right to cut timber in berths on the Moon River in Muskoka, likely as a source of materials for railway construction. In 1858 Gzowski was granted timber licenses on the Whitefish River and on the South River in Northeastern Ontario, some of these license records show Gzowski and Macpherson, in partnership with another Muskoka lumberman, Walter Moberly. These licenses were not reinstated after that year, by that time Moberly was on his way to make his mark in Canadian Railway History.

As president of the Toronto Turf Club, in 1859 Gzowski was a prime factor in the creation of the Queen's Plate, the first organized thoroughbred horse race in North America. Sir Casimir was instrumental in organizing the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, where he served as its president from 1889 until 1891, and founded Canada's first rifle association. He was also the first Commissioner of the Niagara Parks Commission.

He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1890, and, as a personal friend of Sir John A. Macdonald, was linked to the Conservative Party, even acting as an interim Lieutenant Governor before Oliver Mowat took office in 1897. As a prominent Polish-Canadian, Gzowski was President of the Canadian Polish Congress, overseeing over 240 other Polish organizations of an educational nature, cultural nature, and professional nature. He died in 1898 in Toronto.

A monument to his achievements exists in Casimir Gzowski Park, on the Lake Ontario waterfront, in Toronto, to the east of the Humber River.

Casimir Gzowski was the great-grandfather of CBC radio personality Peter Gzowski.

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