Born in Sutherland, Scotland on February 28, 1828; married Anne Middleton of Toronto in June 1858. His early years indicate an adventurous and anti-establishment spirit: law studies in Edinburgh, which he abandoned in favour of joining the rebels of Don Carlos in Spain; participation in the Mexican-American War of 1848; and an expedition to the goldfields of California a year later. He returned to Scotland for five years before journeying to Canada in 1855. He arrived in Toronto during a wave of prosperity and obtained a position as wheat buyer in the firm of Gooderham and Worts, grain merchants and distillers. By 1865, despite seven years of economic instability, he had established his own forwarding firm. It was through the grain trade that Laidlaw became familiar with the shortcomings of the Ontario inland transport system. While trees were being burned in remote corners of the province, Toronto residents were victims of monopolistic rates for firewood. Time and time again Laidlaw urged that new railway charters should prohibit excessive charges for the transport of firewood. In 1867 Laidlaw advocated cheaper railway lines, built to the narrow gauge of 3′ 6″, compared with the provincial gauge of 5′ 6″, and proposed construction by means of a system of small contracts let to local residents, each for the grading and laying of a few miles of track. He further visualized using indentured immigrant labourers, who would pay for their passage from overseas and for grants of land by building the railways. He predicted that a narrow gauge railway, built and fully equipped for 60 per cent of current railway construction costs, would serve for 50 years. Influential businessmen, including George Gooderham, James Gooderham Worts, and John Gordon, endorsed Laidlaw’s proposals. Until he broke with the Grits he had a close ally in George Brown; the Globe called Laidlaw a prophet. During 1867 and 1868 Laidlaw stumped untiringly on behalf of the companies and in 1868 statutes creating the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway Company and the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company were passed by the Ontario legislature. Both charters provided for the carriage of firewood at low, fixed rates, and stipulated that no foreign traffic could be charged less than traffic in the corresponding local product. He died on August 6, 1889.