February 12, 2009
Building the future includes taking care of the past
The Sea-to-Sky Highway, linking Vancouver’s two winter Olympic sites, is being built upon layers of historical survey data.
Bunbury & Associates Land Surveying Ltd., a long-time company working on the highway corridor and with offices in Whistler and Squamish, has added to that historical base, but also uncovered signs early surveyors left more than 100 years ago.
Paul Bunbury, with father Alexander, who has worked in the corridor since the 1960s, has found old survey posts from men who ventured into the bush for weeks, traveling by foot or horses, packing equipment and supplies.
“We have several of these (old posts) sitting in our office,” said Bunbury, whose company has been chosen to do the bulk of the highway surveying between Squamish and Whistler.
When surveyors come across old posts, they are required by law to update them.
The old posts hold a certain fascination for Bunbury.
“These are often hand-hewn, eight-inch square posts that were four-feet long and you could see where the surveyor had hand-carved distinctive marks. They were set in a stone cairn with a bearing tree,” he said.
A suitable bearing tree was decided upon with marks carved on the trunk to indicate its relation to a corner survey post.
The location and details of the bearing tree and corner post were then recorded on the survey plan.
Many old bearing trees still remain today, but others have been destroyed, as their significance often was not recognized.
Their loss as reference points makes the work of modern day surveyors more challenging.
It means more sleuthing – searching for tell-tale signs of old activity in the landscape, working from old maps and walking through the woods trying to triangulate from known points as well as crunching numbers on a computer.
While it may seem nothing much was surveyed along vast stretches of the Sea to Sky Highway, nothing could be further from the truth. Early homesteaders trekked to the area more than 100 years ago.
Pacific Great Eastern Railway received a provincial charter in February 1912 to push a route along Howe Sound to Prince George, a grueling 752 kilometres.
“Numerous crown grants were given out to just about anyone who wanted one,” he said.
This activity needed surveyors to move into the area to perform road, land and right of ways surveys.
The historical markers – even if a settlement is long gone – are required to be recorded on maps for future reference.
But, how accurate were the old surveyors compared to today, where distance can be measured by an electronic beam?
Some of the early measurements had crews spooling out a metal 66-foot tape that was dragged over rock, bush, stumps and through mud and streams.
“They were remarkably accurate,” Bunbury explained.
Surveys that are 50-60 years old are often just as accurate as those today.
Surveys more than 100 years old are prone to be off – but not by much, usually an inconsequential amount.
Under survey rules, unless it can be proven the surveyor made a grave error, posts are left in their original position.
It’s another way of preserving a true historical record.
Bunbury said that there is the unintentional destruction of survey monuments during major projects, such as the Sea to Sky Highway improvements.
Bunbury’s task has been to go in during construction and determine the correct right-of-way boundaries, ensure old markers are intact and also to leave new markers that the next surveyors will be able to find.
Occasionally, Bunbury said, just finding a location to place a survey point that would endure can be a challenge as large bulldozers works away. His crew sometimes chooses a rock bluff because there is a good chance it will stand the test of time.
These new posts left by Bunbury’s crew connect the past to the present and provide a link to the future.
When the new Sea to Sky Highway upgrades are completed and the Olympics begin, thousands will drive the new route admiring some of B.C.’s most scenic areas.
But, few will realize that the road they are driving on is built upon a historical past, etched in the landscape by a small but dedicated group of surveyors.
“There have been only about 900 surveyors commissioned (in B.C.) since 1905 and only about 300 practicing today,” he said, adding they are responsible for laying down map lines that others will follow.
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