Ken Allred's love for topography knows no limits, and his enthusiasm, for a study that in the eyes of novices appears as a mathematical equation, is contagious.
The retired MLA of St. Albert does not think twice about pointing out the power that topographers have once they nail down their simple landmarks. Even hundreds of years later, these milestones are considered life-long markers. The topographic monuments define the national and international limits, but at a smaller level, define the boundaries of property of any owner a plot. Its importance dates back to the first time that people stood on a piece of land and began to argue about who was the owner of each rock.
«Work on The importance of surveyors It can be found in the Bible, in the book Deuteronomy of the Old Testament, in which land ownership is considered. Canadian explorers like Samuel de Champlain or Jacques Cartier were really surveyors who were creating maps on the coastlines. In modern municipalities, the definitive boundaries of a property, which defines who owns the land and any element 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 edge of Waterton National Park. I saw an Ottawa surveyor come and find the trace of a wooden landmark that served as a border marker; This fact excited me, because I understood that to be a surveyor, one must be partly a detective, "says Allred.
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 began to be so absorbing that, as a pastime, he made a study on the history of topography. Allred spent many of his free time searching for famous monuments such as the 300 monument, the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States or the Stelae limit 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 topography is that the monument is the one that commands. This rule is the one that remains firm in any boundary dispute.
The expressed orders or even the written documents do not have the same power as the surveyor's milestone. Even a real verdict does not establish the true line on the ground that indicates where one's property begins and ends that of the other.
In the case of the Mason-Dixon Line, for example, the reasoning criterion of the 1700s was that the King of England had established ownership of William Penn's land on the basis of the 40 parallel. However, the original survey performed was not 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 holds true for international limits such as the 49 parallel," says Allred. "The Canadian - American boundary is not exactly on the 49 parallel."
Close to his home, in 1861, the priest Albert Lacombe gave here, to the first settlers of the land in St. Albert, a system of marking on a set of areas adjoining a river based on the Québec methodology. Each colonist obtained a narrow strip of land bathed by the Sturgeon River.
At 1869, a surveyor named Major Webb was sent by the government of Canada to carry out the survey of the riverine areas located in the Red River settlement in Manitoba, using the polygonal area method for measuring the terrain. Louis Riel reviewed the survey process carried out by Major Webb and stopped him.
Allred commissioned the artist Lewis Lavoie of St. Albert to paint a painting illustrating this historic moment.
"When Riel stopped that sequence of the topographic survey process, it changed the geography of western Canada," says Allred.
The procedure used in the topographic survey in Manitoba was a marketing ploy. Webb had been required to raise parcels of land on 800 acres in an attempt to lure settlers north of the US border. The Americans raised their communities in 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. At 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, mestizo settlers threatened to stop work if the riparian parcel method was modified, forcing 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 land. If this was re-measured, the settlers argued, at least seven families would have ownership of 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 this, would have to be changed.
"The government did not learn the lesson. He did not learn from what happened in Manitoba and that caused problems here and in 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, territorial claims were a matter of everyday. 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 the topographers have remained as landmarks of definitive property but they 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 tape, tied to the top. When Allred removed the leaves and debris, he found the original iron marker. In the surroundings, he also found a shallow depression in the earth.
“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 ».