Lt. Col. Ripley

Lieutenant Colonel Blair Ripley
1st Canadian Railway Troops


“Whatever do you want to write about me for?” asked a tall man with benign expression, his kind eyes glinting humorously behind glasses. “I’m retired.”

(Interview with Gwen Cash, Time Colonist, 22 Jan 1950)

Blair Ripley was a Canadian Pacific Railway civil engineer born in Oxford, Nova Scotia on 28 August 1880. He worked on railways across the west and designed the Lethbridge Viaduct. By the outbreak of the war he was completing the North Toronto Grade Separation. In June 1916, he was assigned to take his railway and bridge building expertise to the front when appointed to raise No. 1 Construction Battalion.

Ripley had initially balked at the original designation of the unit as No. 1 Labour Battalion before it was renamed to something he felt better suited the class of his recruits. On the formation of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, Ripley complained again that his men were unhappy to share this designation with a unit made up of Black volunteers. The militia adjunct-general reminded the colonel that African and West Indian troops served in both the British and French armies, and encouraged Ripley “to inspire your men with correct ideas on the subject.”

After arriving to France in fall 1916, the unit was nonetheless re-designated 1st Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops by early 1917. A sergeant recalled of Ripley as a leader:

A silent man, but a reservoir of warmth and kindliness to those who sought him in time of trouble. He had no patience with malingerers, but the punishment always fitted the crime. An officer and a gentleman, one ‘who never turned his back but walked straight forward,’ through the dark grey war days, he is held in high esteem by the old members of his battalion.

He ended the war with a D.S.O. and C.B.E. He retired to British Columbia in the late 1940s and died in 1958.


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