Mapping British Columbia: A History of the Province’s Land Surveying

May 4th, 2018

The history of British Columbia’s land surveying stretches back to the 1700s.

The charting of the province first began at sea, when, in 1741, the Danish navigator Vitus Bering sailed the coast. Early surveyors had to work with rudimentary tools such as the staff compass, Gunters chains, and open plate transits.


British Columbia’s charting began in earnest when, in 1778, Captain James Cook charted much of the Nootka Sound. In 1792, Captain George Vancouver charted large portions of the Georgia Strait and Puget sound in collaboration with a group of Spanish explorers.


Later, much of the province’s land would be mapped by Alexander Mackenzie, in 1793, and David Thompson, in 1800. These were early days in Canadian land surveying: Thompson was taught by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first official surveyor.


Throughout the 1800s, a number of other land-surveying projects had put more of British Columbia on the map, and in 1858, the Gold Rush contributed to the mapping of Vancouver. In this year, Sir James Douglas, British Columbia’s first governor, had royal engineers sent over from England to undertake projects on the Fraser River. While they were there, a number of these men made extensive maps of the area.


With the assistance of modern technology, present-day land surveyors now have, perhaps, less strenuous work to do. While much of British Columbia was put on the map by surveyors using early (yet surprisingly effective) technology, current surveyors thankfully have the aid of tools such as GPS.


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