The history of land surveying dates back to the time of the Egyptians and Babylonians as a means of determining ownership and taxation.
The first land surveys in Manitoba took place in 1813, when twelve lots were surveyed for the first Selkirk Settlers to arrive at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

Over the next few years, additional lots were surveyed along the rivers as the need arose, until 1869 when the beginnings of the township system appeared.

Three years later, forty-nine surveyors were employed on the prairies, laying out the grid system and resurveying the river lots to conform to the settlement holdings.

In 1874, a group of surveyors formed an association for the better organization of the profession, and seven years later, in 1881, the Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors was incorporated, becoming the first such incorporated in Canada.



The art of surveying in one form or another is one of the oldest of human activities and extends into the past far beyond the bounds of recorded history. In all probability the earliest record of a survey was a crude map scratched in the sand or drawn on bark or skin with a piece of charcoal.

Primitive though this map must have been, it would yet embody most of the characteristics of a topographic map. Bearings would be indicated by the direction of sunrise or sunset and distances by days of travel.

Later in history when man began to practise agriculture, the property rights of the individual became important. This involved the fixation of land boundaries and the appearance on the scene of the land surveyor. As civilization developed and land became more valuable it was measured and defined with ever increasing accuracy.



During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s a new breed of explorer was developing — the land surveyor. Explorers such as Henry Kelsey and Anthony Henday were sent out by the Hudson’s Bay Company to persuade the Indians to trade with them.

Yet with rising competition from the posts established by the French, the Company became very aggressive and employed mappers and surveyors for exploration purposes. In 1778 they brought in Philip Turnor, an English surveyor, who trained David Thompson and Peter Fidler. His maps were the first to give reliable information on the topography of Manitoba.

The first survey of land in Canada was made in 1625 on the St. Charles River near the City of Quebec and was made by the man recognized as Canada’s first surveyor, Samuel de Champlain.

Manitoba’s recorded history of discovery also takes us back to the early 1600’s when explorers were searching for a ‘water route’ or ‘Northwest Passage’ to reach the riches of the far east. Attempts to find such a route through Arctic waters, led explorers such as Hudson, Button, James and Foxe, to penetrate far into the Hudson Bay.



Peter Fidler was Chief Surveyor for the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1796 to 1821. In 1813, he surveyed 24 river lots for Lord Selkirk’s Red River Colony, which was the first formal survey on the prairies. The use of the River lot system (land parcels in narrow strips at right angles to the river) was adopted by Lord Selkirk because of his concern for the welfare and protection of the settlers in the isolated colony.

In 1835, George Taylor became the surveyor to the settlement and during his tenure he resurveyed all existing, as well as 1,542 additional lots, the plans for which became the basis of the Hudson’s Bay Company Land Grants in the settlement. By 1860, three surveyors, William Inkster, Roger Goulet and Herbert Sabine, were required to cope with increased development.

The first step in bringing the west into Confederation was the purchase of the Hudson’s Bay Company holdings, known as Rupert’s land. Prior to the official land transfer, the government undertook to establish a land and water link between the Canadian provinces and the Northwest Territories. Simon Dawson was placed in charge of the work and he sent a survey and road building party, under John A. Snow, to Fort Garry to begin work at the western terminus of the route (the Dawson Road), portions of which are still in use today. Snow’s was the first Dominion survey party to operate in the Red River Settlement.

Lt. Col. John Stoughton Dennis, later the first Surveyor General of Canada, was asked to recommend a land survey system for the Northwest Territories. He travelled overland, stopping in St. Paul, Minnesota to confer with the State’s survey officials, thereby gaining an insight into theory and application of the “rectangular land system”. From these consultations, he proposed a system with each township being approximately eight miles square, and divided into 64 sections of 800 acres each. The original Hudson’s Bay Company river lots were to be resurveyed, but left intact.

Dennis set out in 1869, along with Milner Hart and Major A. C. Webb, to implement this system pending approval from Ottawa. His instructions from the Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories, William McDougall, were to select “the most suitable localities for the survey of townships for immediate settlement”. He established the Principal Meridian from a point on the International Boundary ten miles west of Pembina. Hart set about surveying township lines in the Shoal Lake area while Webb worked near St. Norbert, east of the Principal Meridian.

On October 11, 1869, Webb’s crew was stopped by a Metis party led by Louis Riel. The Metis were concerned that the government was going ahead with its survey before their titles to Hudson’s Bay land grants had been verified. No violence ensued and the survey party left quietly. All surveys were brought to an end by the Metis uprising later in the year.

The uprising was ended by force in the early months of 1870, and in May of that year, the transfer of the Northwest Territories to the Dominion finally took place. The new Lieutenant Governor, Hon. Adam G. Archibald (1814-1892), suggested several changes to Dennis’ township system. He favoured the rectangular system, but recommended that the smaller township divided into 36 sections of 640 acres be adopted to conform with the United States subdivisions. He felt that the immigrants throughout the world had come to recognize these standard units of land division. This great system extending from Ontario to the Rocky Mountains is today recognized as the simplest and most satisfactory scheme of land identification ever devised by man.

For almost sixty years after the formation of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, the surveying and mapping of its lands were solely administered by the Federal Department of the Interior. During this period, the principal surveying activities included the expansion of the township framework and the subdivisions of townships for settler’s homesteads and communities. The mapping of the territories expanded because of necessity for resource development and because of advancement in mapping technology.

The surveying of the lands paved the way for reliable mapping of the region since information was taken from township survey maps, commonly referred to as township diagrams.

They provided topographical detail such as shorelines, marsh areas, roads, trails, railways in relationship to surveyed sectional boundaries. In 1891 the Topographical Surveys Branch introduced a “Sectional Map Series” which at a scale of 3 miles to 1 inch and later at 6 miles to 1 inch served mapping needs for many years.

There remained the fact that little was known of the unsurveyed northern 70% of the province. Any existing maps of ‘wilderness’ areas prepared from exploration survey reports lacked topographical detail and therefore reliability. With the advent of aerial photography in the 1920’s it became apparent that in such large areas using some form of geodetic
control, topographical detail of an entire region could be filled in from air photos with a speed and accuracy unobtainable from ground surveys. It was inevitable that aviation would play an increasing role in the surveying and mapping of this vast country.

At the time of the transfer of the natural resources to the province in 1930, only about one quarter of the province had been surveyed and less than one half had been mapped.

This document is reproduced with permission of Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism.

When Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870, its total area measured only 33,280 square kilometres, or one eighteenth of its present size. Its tiny rectangular shape earned Manitoba the title of “Postage Stamp Province.”

The boundary extensions of 1881 and 1912 which brought the province to its present dimensions were the result of a series of complex and, at times, heated negotiations between the various levels of government within the country.

The story of these negotiations is an important part of the history of this province and its people.



This Centennial Survey Monument is one of twelve such monuments erected in capital cities across Canada and dedicated on June 21, 1967 to surveyors for their considerable contribution in the development of Canada. These monuments also served as symbols to mark a transition into a new era of survey technology and, at the same time, marked precise survey points in key locations for practical future reference.

This monument is located in Winnipeg’s Memorial Park on the north side of York Avenue. The three main columns are precast concrete with a rough surface and the two rings, representing the equator and Principal Meridian, are made of stainless steel. A plaque is fixed to each column.

The inscription on one plaque reads: “SURVEYING FOR THE FUTURE – This survey monument and plaque is dedicated to the surveyors of Canada whose skill and industry contributed so greatly to the exploration, mapping and development of our nation. It is symbolic of the beginning of the second century of surveying in Canada and is a First Post in a unified system of precisely coordinated survey points. With eleven other Centennial Survey Monuments erected across Canada, it signifies the contribution by surveyors both past and present to the charting of our nation’s future.” Inscribed on a second plaque is the French language version of this dedication. Inscribed on the third plaque is the geographic position (latitude, longitude, and elevation) of a survey post planted in the base of the monument with azimuths and distances to adjoining monuments in Ottawa, Toronto, and Regina.





On July 4th, 2005, the Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors hosted a celebration at the North-West corner of the “Postage Stamp” Province of Manitoba, being the North-East corner of Section 36-17-13WPM.

The event was held as part of the Association’s celebration of their 125th Annual Meeting.

The day’s activities included the dedication of an historical monument at the Northwest corner of the Postage Stamp Province of Manitoba and re-enactment of the 1872 survey that placed the original survey post demarcating the actual corner.

A brass plaque affixed to a large boulder was unveiled and dedicated by outlining the historical significance of the corner was dedicated by the Honorable Jim Rondeau the provincial Minister of Industry, Economic Development and Mines, and by Vern Hink, President of the Association. The inscription on the plaque reads:

The Postage Stamp Province

This site marks the location of the Northwest corner of the original Province of Manitoba as established by The Manitoba Act of 1870 and the Dominion Act of 1877. From this point the boundary extended east to the Manitoba District of Keewatin (now Ontario) boundary and south to the Canada — United States border. Manitoba’s boundaries were extended in 1881 and 1912 to their present locations.

The original survey post for this corner was placed on July 4, 1872 by John McLatchie, a Land Surveyor with the Dominion Government.

This monument was dedicated on July 4, 2005 in commemoration of the 125th annual meeting of The Association of Manitoba Land Surveyors.

The re-enactment survey was carried out by a four-man survey crew portrayed by current AMLS members in time period costumes and using equipment of the era who reconstructed a mound and pits complete with wooden post at the original corner.

A typical survey camp was also established at the site for the duration of the event where informational displays were available for viewing by the public.

In addition to the re-enactment of the original survey, a modern day survey crew completed measurements of the site using state of the art Global Positioning System equipment.

Two tents were erected on site with one being typical of a field party of the 1872 era and the other containing historical maps, field notes, etc as well as a static display of survey monuments courtesy of Stan Andruski.

A lunch of bannock and beans, typical of the fare that sustained the original survey crew, was served to the approximately 200 people in attendance.