Ken Allred's love of topography knows no bounds, and his enthusiasm, for a study that appears to newbies as a mathematical equation, is contagious.
The retired St. Albert MLA doesn't think twice about pointing out the power surveyors have once they hammer their simple landmarks into the ground. Still hundreds of years later, these milestones are considered lifetime markers. Topographic monuments define national and international boundaries, but at a smaller level, they define the property boundaries of every parcel owner. Its importance dates back to the first time that people stood on a piece of land and began to argue about who owned each rock.
«Work on The importance of surveyors It can be found in the Bible, in the Old Testament book Deuteronomy, in which the property of the land is considered. Canadian explorers like Samuel de Champlain or Jacques Cartier were really surveyors who created maps of the coastlines. In modern municipalities, the definitive boundaries of a property, where you define who owns the land and anything on it, are determined by the topography, ”says Allred.
His fascination with Topography began 50 years ago with a vacation job, during the summer, while studying engineering at the University of Alberta.
“It was a prerequisite course for engineering students. I was with a team of surveyors working on the northern boundary of Waterton National Park. I saw a surveyor from Ottawa come and find the trail of a wooden landmark that served as a boundary marker; I was delighted by this fact, because I understood that to be a surveyor you have to be a detective in part, ”Allred tells us.
Although most St. Albert residents remember Allred for his political comments as City Councilor and Alberta Legislature, after that summer in Waterton, Allred became a government surveyor and that was his first Occupation.
His interest in the subject became so absorbing that, as a hobby, he conducted a study on the history of topography. Allred spent many of his free hours looking for famous landmarks such as the 300-year-old monument of the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States or the Stelae boundary that still remains near the Aswan Dam on the Nile River, despite that it was cut into a rock by the ancient Egyptians.
"Many of those old markers are works of art," says Allred as he shows us photographs of ancient monuments, including a copy of a Babylonian monument.
The Babylonian stone from the Kassite period in 1700 AC is highlighted by an ancient inscription that explains who was the owner of the land and that this object was the solution to a border dispute, says Allred.
"This demonstrates the role that topographers have and the importance of setting boundaries to resolve neighbors' claims against their peers," he says.
The monument sends
The general rule of thumb for surveying is that the monument is the boss. This rule is the one that remains firm in all boundary disputes.
Expressed orders or even written documents do not have the same power as the surveyor's landmark. Even an actual verdict does not establish the true line on the ground that indicates where one’s property begins and the other’s ends.
In the case of the Mason-Dixon Line, for example, the rationale for the 1700s was that the King of England had established ownership of William Penn's land based on the 40th parallel. However, the original survey performed did not was located on that one.
However, when the boundary decision ran all the way to the court, the marks established in the original uprising were maintained. This meant in essence that, based on the line defined in Mason-Dixon's topographical survey, Philadelphia was located in Pennsylvania rather than Maryland.
"The same principle remains valid for international limits such as that of the 49 parallel," says Allred. "The Canadian - North American limit is not exactly on the 49 parallel."
Near his home, in 1861, the priest Albert Lacombe gave here, to the first settlers of the land in St. Albert, a marking system on a set of areas attached to a river based on the Québec methodology. Each colonizer obtained a narrow strip of land washed by the River Sturgeon.
In 1869, a surveyor named Major Webb was sent by the Government of Canada to survey the riparian areas located in the Red River settlement in Manitoba, using the polygonal area method of land measurement. Louis Riel reviewed Major Webb's survey process and stopped it.
Allred commissioned the artist Lewis Lavoie of St. Albert to paint a painting illustrating this historic moment.
"When Riel stopped that sequence of the surveying process, it changed the geography of western Canada," says Allred.
The procedure used in the survey in Manitoba was a marketing ruse. Webb had been called in to raise 800-acre parcels of land in an attempt to attract settlers north of the US border. Americans built their communities on an area of 600 acres.
"They tried to attract colonists by offering them more ground than the Americans offered," Allred says.
The riparian parcel system also became a problem in St. Albert. In 1877, five surveyors, led by Chief Inspector M. Deane, were sent from Edmonton to St. Albert.
"Mestizo settlers opposed the work of the survey team because the federal government wanted to divide the terrain into sections," said Jean Leebody, exhibit coordinator at the now retired Heritage Museum who has researched the topographical problem in St. Albert.
“Part of the problem was that the mestizos did not have officially granted reserves. They only had documents without official value. In St. Albert, the mestizo settlers threatened to stop the work if the riverside parceling method was modified, this forced the Oblates and Father Leduc to intervene. "
The mestizo settlers watched Deane and his team measure St. Albert in order to create a probable land distribution system for the city and began to panic because they feared losing the right to the land. If this was remeasured, the colonists argued, at least seven families would own the same section of land. Some settlers would lose their access to the river that was so necessary for agriculture and fishing. All the roads, which ran parallel to it, would have to be changed.
“The government did not learn its lesson. He didn't learn from what happened in Manitoba and it caused problems here and at Batoche in Saskatchewan, ”says Allred.
At the same time, the mestizo settlers of St. Albert welcomed the official surveying system because the informal land distribution system of the Oblate Fathers brought many disagreements.
According to the local history book Black Robe's Vision, land claims were a matter of every day. The new settlers simply put a stake at each end of their property.
The appearance of government surveyors brought the issue to the forefront and a public meeting was convened in St. Albert attended by people from other riparian communities including Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton. The foundations were lifted and Father Leduc and Daniel Maloney, a resident of St. Albert, were sent to Ottawa to appeal the case by maintaining the system of river parceling at St. Albert. They were successful, and as a result the existing parcel system remained.
«As the city grew, the nuns sold their land and it was subdivided. As the city expanded, those who owned the river lots sold their possessions; these were sold as the square lots we now have in St. Albert, ”said Leebody.
The old landmarks placed by surveyors have become definitive landmarks but are not easy to find.
When the waters rise or fall, as in the case of Big Lake, the boundaries still need to be established. And if the vegetation grows on the landmarks, these can be equally difficult to find.
«The most valuable tool of a surveyor is the shovel. Sometimes the surveyors are digging and looking for a rusty circle where the milestone has disintegrated but the existence of the mold left by that one is enough, ”says Allred.
To illustrate the difficulty of finding milestones, Allred showed one that served as a mark in the survey of a road and was labeled R-4; It is located in the middle of the White Spruce forest near the large lake.
"This was originally, probably a marker belonging to a river plot," he said.
The marker is currently a stake that has a red plastic surveyor's tape attached to the top. When Allred cleared away the leaves and debris, he found the original iron marker. In the surrounding area, he also found a shallow depression in the ground.
“I can only find a depression now, but for a coastal roadside division there should have been four depressions of 12 inches deep and with an area of 18 square centimeters. Depressions were an additional marker for farmers not to scratch on those and because of this the markers could be lost, ”he said.
Allred marvels at the work of those early explorers who, like David Thompson, made unknown surveys, often in the most insecure areas of the country and subjected to the most extreme climatic conditions.
«Surveyors are pioneers. In Thompson's case it was a work entirely done by observing the stars. There was no other point of reference for him, ”says Allred.
He jokes jokingly at the idea that the surveying is boring.
"A lot depends on the characteristics of the earth and every piece of it has limits," he tells us.
«Surveyors have to be good at trigonometry; they have to be good at understanding legal systems and in art and mapping as well as geography. They have to know what existed before. Topography is history ».