Winter Survey of the NW Territories-Saskatchewan Boundary

In the winter of 1956/1957 I was fortunate to be able to participate in the winter survey of a portion of the NW Territories-Saskatchewan provincial boundary under William V. (Bill) Blackie DLS. Bill had come to Canada not so long before this survey from his native country of South Africa and had had to take charge of this project the year before, because his predecessor had lost a finger in a helicopter accident. Bill later went on  to become Surveyor-General of Canada Lands.

My duties in the survey party of some 30 plus people was to be in charge of the chaining crew of four. Later on it was our task to place the final boundary monuments. This was in the days before there were any electronic measuring devices. In fact, the first model of the Geodimeter was brought out the next season to check some of our distances. We measured with two steel tapes, one 300 feet long and the other 400 links, in order to obtain two independent measurements, which had to agree with each other by a margin of 1:15,000. The tapes were kept at a tension of 20 lb. by means of spring balances and  were supported near  the centre, to minimise sag corrections, which had to applied in the evening to the measurements, plus those for temperature and slope. Slope angles were determined using a WILD T1 theodolite, and the remote point to be measured to was a tripod.

By law, the northerly boundary of the Province of Saskatchewan is the 60th parallel of latitude, as defined by a series of chords with length of one township in the Dominion (Canada) land survey system. The survey proceeded by first running a trial line between points determined previously by precise astronomical observations for latitude and longitude, and later running the final line to meet those fixes. Double lines of levels were also run between final boundary monuments.

The portion of boundary surveyed during that season consisted of the third portion (out of a total of four, proceeding easterly) with a length of about 120 km and extending from Scott Lake to Selwyn Lake. Numerous lakes and rivers, which crossed the boundary almost at right angles, were traversed on the ice. It was up and down, and up and down all the time.

This was a particularly cold winter, with temperatures often down to minus 50 degrees Celsius, and for prolonged periods not even rising above minus 35 degrees Celsius. Work never stopped because of low temperatures, but was sometimes delayed because of blowing snow on the lakes, or because camp had to be moved .Freezing of cheeks and noses was a constant danger. Early on daylight was also severely limited, we often had to walk kilometres in the dark from and to camp. Living in tents, which were heated with wood stoves, was not easy, but we made do. I was even able to successfully study for my Grade 13 high school examinations after doing chainage reductions for well over one hour each night after the field work. We developed the ability to estimate the temperature to within 2 degrees Celsius, just by listening to the intensity of the crackling sound when our washing water hit the ground as we threw it out in the  morning. Camp moves were accomplished by dog team, and using a contraption which represented a prototype of the now familiar Skidoo snowmobile. However, our supply aircraft, a DeHavilland Norseman, had to be pressed in service from time to time also.

I made the first aeroplane flight in my life in that Norseman.After having it stuffed full with sleeping bags, tents etc. there was a small indentation left next to the door, into which I had to crawl, and the door was slammed behind me. But it had not closed, and when the plane banked to the right on take-off, the door opened under me, and I frantically hung on to what I could get hold of. Only later did I notice, that the door would open only so much because of the slip stream, but I had a few scary moments.

There was no recreation other than reading books or doing some curling on the ice with home-made "stones" (slabs of birch logs) on Sundays.There was no electricity, except a hand-operated generator for the radio transceiver, no TV or video, no alcohol. We were, however, in contact with the outside world by shortwave transceiver. I can remember, after several months among men, with wonder the different sound of the female voice of the radio operator at the other end. Each night around midnight we were treated to the wolf packs howling in the surrounding hills, and to the most spectacular Northern Lights.


Home, sweet home ! On the left "D.K."              Curling in the raw. In front: Ivan
McDonald, now NSLS., CLS., OLS.,                McDonald,  now CLS., rear
in private practice in Halifax NS.                         (l. to r.):Bill Blackie,  unidentified,
                                                                          D.K., unidentified