Office of the Surveyor General for Upper Canada

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Office of the Surveyor General for Upper Canada

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Dates of existence

1792-1845

History

The Office of the Surveyor General for Upper Canada descended from the earlier position of Surveyor General for the Province of Quebec; with the passing of the Constitutional Act of 1791, this structure was kept for the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. The Surveyor General was responsible for surveying, maintaining, and selling Crown lands in the province (via land grants and leases), and would report to the Lieutenant-Governor and the Legislative Assembly. David William Smith was appointed at the first Surveyor General of Upper Canada in 1792, although surveying work had been done prior to this.

The physical act of surveying was a difficult one, and required a team of around eight to ten men per surveyor, including two chain bearers (used to determine measurements) and axemen to clear paths. The surveyors were required to keep both diaries and field books outlining their operations, and taking note of characteristics such as vegetation, soil type, topography, and the suitability of the land for agriculture. Upon the completion of a survey, the notes and other records were handed to the Office of the Surveyor General, where draftsmen or surveyors would assemble finished plans based on the material. The maps created by this office established a visual standard, including the use of coloured inks for specific areas (red ink for Crown reserves; black ink for Clergy reserves; blue for water; yellow-green for swamps) and the units of measurement.

Around 1827, the Surveyor General position was slowly superseded by the newly-created office of Commissioner for Crown Lands, and by 1845 the Surveyor General’s Office was fully integrated into the Department of Crown Lands. From that point on, surveying duties were done under a new branch, the Surveying Department of Canada West.

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