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Memorable Manitobans: John William Astley (1848-1931)

Civil engineer, municipal official.

Born at Barrie, Ontario on 26 June 1848, he was working as an engineer by 1870. He moved to Prince Albert, North West Territories (now Saskatchewan) in 1878 and worked for the lumber firm of Moore and MacDonald, later working at construction projects for the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railways. He took part in the 1885 North West Rebellion, was taken prisoner by Metis forces at the battle of Duck Lake and was confined in a cellar for 20 days. During the Battle of Batoche, he was chosen to carry a truce flag to General Middleton. He was later a primary witness at the trial of Louis Riel.

In 1890, he moved to Winnipeg as Assistant City Engineer under Colonel H. N. Ruttan, working until 1898 when he joined the rush to the Klondike gold fields. There, he worked as a consulting engineer at Dawson and was manager for the Klondike Mines Railway (1906). He later returned to Winnipeg and was Engineer of Construction (1908-1915) for the City Water Department before being elected to the Winnipeg Board of Control (1916). He served on the Works and Property Standing Committee, the Fire, Water, Light, and Power Standing Committee, and was a city representative on the Good Roads Association. He was also involved with sewer construction and street paving. After the Board of Control was disbanded, he joined Thomas Kelly & Sons as a Superintendent, tasked with building the water line from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg.

On 2 November 1895, he married Ada Bestwick (c1876-?) at Winnipeg and they had three daughters: Muriel Astley (1896-?, wife of Blencowe Brigg), Francis Astley (c1897-?), and Adalaide Astley (c1903-?). The family resided at 43 Adelaide (1895), 103 Selkirk (1900), 142 Spence (1908), 608 Broadway (1910), 38 Langside (1915), and 80 Furby (1919), before moving to Victoria, British Columbia around 1921.

He died at Victoria on 28 February 1931.


Birth and marriage registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Canada,” The Huron Expositor, 11 December 1885, page 5.

“Weddings,” Manitoba Morning Free Press, 4 November 1895, page 7.

Clark endeavors to bulldoze commission,” The Yukon Sun, 21 August 1903, page 4.

Astley has narrow escape,” Dawson Daily News, 19 May 1906, page 2.

Time card review,” Dawson Daily News, 5 November 1906, page 4.

1901 and 1916 Canada censes, Library and Archives Canada.

“The capture of Batoche,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 May 1910, page 14.

“John Wm. Astley,” Manitoba Free Press, 2 October 1915, page 9.

“Birthday congratulations to,” Manitoba Free Press, 26 June 1918, page 11.

“Social and Personal,” Manitoba Free Press, 30 July 1919, page 6.

“John Astley, Civil Engineer, expires,” Manitoba Free Press, 23 March 1931, page 5.

Death registrations, British Columbia Vital Statistics.

Henderson’s Winnipeg Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

Land files, Library and Archives Canada.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 16 March 2014

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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