Over his lifespan of 100 years, Edward Victor Buchanan (known as “E.V.” to his friends and associates) did much to improve the lifestyle and well being of Londoners and Canadians in general. From his basic training and work as an electrical engineer he not only applied and continually updated his skills, but stressed innovation, overall planning and co-operation with other disciplines and needs. He expanded his skills to include business, railroad, park and recreation, finance, waterworks and urban planning expertise, while ably managing the much-admired London Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Throughout his engineering career, he contributed significantly to local and international engineering organizations and the needs of his community in health care and hospital facilities and service organizations with wit and wisdom. Among his many honours, he was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Western Ontario (LL.D., 1957) and the University of Strathclyde (D.Sc., 1983).
“E.V.” was born in Hamilton, Scotland, on May 7, 1887, one of three children to Mary Kelly and Gavil Miller Buchanan. His ancestors were merchants and industrialists. His father owned a lending library and bookstore, while his mother ran the home. He grew up in a loving environment with an emphasis on the value of hard work and “not wasting.” It was the exciting peak time of the great British Empire.
E.V. spent the first 22 years of his life in Hamilton, Scotland, which he saw change from a pleasant country town to the centre of a new coal mining industry. In the prevailing class system and the absence of labour unions, he witnessed the gross exploitation of the miners. His house was lighted by artificial gas and heated by coal fires, motor cars were a novelty and slums were common. The telegraph had been invented by Morse in 1832 and the telephone by Bell in 1876, which he was thrilled to hear when his father installed one 13 years later. He was a keen photographer, developed his own photographs and built his own workshop, where he created a variety of mechanical and electrical devices.
When he arrived in Canada in April 1910, there was a great demand for engineers to meet the rapidly expanding needs for heat, light, power and communication systems, railways, infrastructure, etc.
Education and Training
Buchanan attended private day school, and it was in his last year at Hamilton Academy that he decided to become an electrical engineer, confirmed by a trip to the recently developed hydroelectric plant of the British Aluminum Company at Kirlochleven, one of the first in the U.K. After winning a scholarship, he completed his final two years at Allan Glen’s School in Glasgow, where there was more emphasis on technical subjects, and obtained his Senior Learning Certificate (equivalent to Ontario’s grade 13).
In 1904, he enrolled in the Technical College, Glasgow (now University of Strathclyde), where he took an active part in extracurricular activities and graduated in 1908. On April 15, 1983, he was honoured by the award of the honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Strathclyde. In the summer, he worked at Marshall, Fleming and Sach, a manufacturer of steam and electric cranes in Motherwell, working 10 hours per day, six days per week and earning four shillings (one dollar) a week.
Career in Scotland
In 1908, there was a depression and jobs were scarce, but E.V. progressed through a variety of employment situations. These include:
- The Glasgow Electricity Department laboratories, testing meters and coal for its calorific value.
- Sayers and Coldwell, consultants in electrification of coal mines (dangerous work) and buildings, including Glasgow Western Infirmary.
- Evening teaching job at Clydebank Technical School.
Career in Canada
Excited by publicity of the engineering opportunities in Canada, E.V. emigrated on the Casandra on April 4, 1910 to an illustrious career, including the following activities:
- worked for Ontario Hydro: two months in augmentation of London’s water supply by drilling artesian wells for Sir Adam Beck and two weeks as junior operator/night shift at Toronto Power Company, Niagara Falls;
- moved to London, Ontario, as resident engineer ($60 per month) on the combined Hydro substation and Beck water plant, where he worked closely and with mutual respect with Adam Beck. This developed into a close relationship: he became known as Beck’s “man Friday”;
- joined the Board of Water Commissioners (Public Utilities Commission), London, in 1911 as chief electrical engineer;
- taught evening classes at Alexander School for N.B. Beal/commissioned in Royal Canadian Engineers Militia, 1912;
- was appointed general manager in May 1915 (at age 27), when he advanced electrification by the commission entering the retail business through the Hydro Shop, which promoted the use and sale of household appliances, including his innovative water heater and car engine heater (the first); was appointed fuel controller for the city during the winter of 1917/18, when there was a serious fuel shortage; promoted underground mining; learned the intricacies of labour management relations, business and finance.
In 1916, he married Anna Clark, who died of influenza seven months later. In 1920, he married Faith Turnbull and enjoyed 52 years of happy marriage. They had two children.
Buchanan made major contributions in other areas, including Parks and Recreation and the London and Port Stanley Railway (L&PS). The commissioner had acquired much land (Springbank/Ridout, etc.) in the city for waterworks purposes, which they operated as parks. In 1912, City Council gave responsibility for all parks (and later also playgrounds) to the commission and, typically, E.V. did the research and homework to ensure that he ran them for maximum benefit to the public. This role emphasized to him the importance of city and regional planning in all his activities. In 1924, he opened the first public golf course, Thames Valley (paid by members’ fees) and continually solicited (very successfully) the donation of lands by the private to the public sector. Today this course bears his name.
In 1935, the L&PS Railway was added to the PUC and E.V. became the general manager, acquiring another area of expertise. However, despite the support of Adam Beck, which was outweighed by the increase in vehicle transport, the L&PS was sold to the CN in 1977.
Throughout this time, Buchanan was active in professional affairs (president of both the Engineering Institute of Canada and APEO). He sat on many public boards providing health care and hospital facilities, including Beck Sanatorium, the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, and University and Victoria Hospitals, and he was instrumental in the creation of a faculty of engineering at Western, among others.
After 40 years of service, E.V. reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 and retired in December 1951. He had played a key role in the growth of London from 46,000 to 300,000 people: his PUC was regarded as a model in the field. He was feted by both his employers and friends and the Employees Union, reflecting the high regard in which he was held by all parties.
Buchanan received many job opportunities and expended his prodigious energy for Isotope Products Limited (five years), a new company using radioactive isotopes to make measurements and locate flaws in material; on a mobile electrical generating station for General Motors; for Ivan Chapman Limited on large water-tube boilers, etc.; on labour automation for a porcelain company in Hamilton, Ontario, HEPC and the L&PS Railway.
His professional and community work continued unabated through his 90s, and his many honours included honorary degrees awarded by the University of Western Ontario (LL.D., 1957) and his alma mater, the University of Strathclyde (D.Sc., 1983). Little known fact, his daughter is Jennifer Mossop.