Dominion Land Surveys: Part Four
Each twelve-man crew of the Dominion Land Survey was headed by the chief surveyor. And, as historian Merrily Aubrey points out, each man under his supervision had a very specific job to carry out.
The assistant, or transit man, was often an engineer in training, and was responsible for the use of the transit - the surveying instrument for measuring horizontal angles. And he acted as the assistant to the chief surveyor.
The chainmen were in charge of chaining. That meant measuring the distance with a surveying chain that was 66 feet in length.
Now the front chainman kept the pickets, and the picketman gave the line for the transit man, as well as establishing the point on the ground for the transit man to place the transit.
Mounders would dig pits, built mounds, and place the monuments that marked the boundaries of the units being surveyed.
The axemen were used to cut survey lines through forest and bush. And, of course, where there was prairie, there's really not much use for an axeman.
The cook, who was considered a very important person of the crew, sometimes had a helper called the "cookie."
Teamsters looked after the horses and wagon.
Chains and monuments were important artifacts of the Dominion Land Survey.
For those who are arithmetically minded, there are 80 chains to a mile. Now, if you want to get it down to a further point here, a chain can be divided into 100 links, each being 7.92 inches long.
At first, monuments were made of wood, but they soon showed their impracticability - they either rotted, or were seen as a convenient source of firewood for the plains people.
They soon changed to iron posts and, in some cases, stone markers. And I think, in some cases, those iron posts are still around if you go out into the country.
Each survey season lasted eight or nine months. Muskeg was surveyed during winter, when the ground was frozen. And keeping the men working in harmony was a constant challenge.
A surveyor in 1911 - and his name was F.H. Kitto - he gave a talk to the Association of Dominion Land Surveyors at their sixth annual meeting in Ottawa.
He said, "How often do we see confusion and discontent abounding in a surveying camp, leading at once to loss of time and interest in the work, and detracting from the good result desired?"
Mr. Kitto's recipe to keep the men in good spirits and out of mischief included a little hunting and fishing, or pitching horseshoes on loan from the teamster.
On the Heritage Trail,
I'm Cheryl Croucher.