1905 - The Birth of the Province

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    In September, 1905, the Province of Alberta was founded and, pursuant to the provisions of the British North America Act, the government of the new province became responsible for the administration of real property law within its territory.

Prior to that time, jurisdiction over land and land tenure in the former North-west Territories of Canada had been exercised by the Dominion government under the Dominion Lands Act, which dealt with unpatented lands, and under the North-west Territories Land Titles Act, which dealt with privately-owned lands. Under the former Act, provision was made for the commissioning of a class of persons known as Dominion Land Surveyors whose function it was to carry out the necessary surveys whereby the raw wilderness was divided into units of appropriate size for agricultural settlement and into townsite blocks and lots for urban development. Only they and no other persons could lawfully perform land surveys in the Territories.

It would be interesting to go back and review in some detail the history of the Dominion lands system of survey and the work done by the earlier Dominion Land Surveyors in western Canada, but that is another story which lies outside the scope of this narrative. It is worth noting, however, that the Dominion Land Surveyor was not the first kind of licensed surveyor to operate in Canada. Long before the Dominion Land Surveyor first came into official existence in 1872, licensed surveyors known as Provincial Land Surveyors had been functioning in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec (then called Upper and Lower Canada) under an Act of 1849. It was from among their ranks that most of the first deputy surveyors, later called Dominion Land Surveyors, were appointed to carry out the early surveys in the west between 1869 and 1872. In the latter year, the Dominion Lands Act was passed and it provided for the automatic admission of Provincial Land Surveyors to practice as deputy surveyors of Dominion Lands, at the same time establishing a system of examination for new aspirants to the title of “Dominion Land Surveyor”, which was officially adopted in 1874.

This early background deserves mention in order to show that there has long been a provincial basis for the profession of land surveying in Canada, and that even though the qualificational requirements for Dominion Land Surveyors have generally been of a higher standard than those imposed by most of the provinces, the Dominion Land Surveyor has no historical claim to priority of recognition within the provincial sphere. In the earlier days of the profession and even as late as
1920, this was a bone of frequent and sometimes bitter contention between Dominion Land Surveyors and those commissioned by the provinces, and some of these squabbles, as they happened to affect the profession in Alberta, will be mentioned later.

After the Province of Alberta was formed, the provincial government, following the example of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, passed various provincial acts concerning land titles and land surveying. They were The Land Titles Act, The Alberta Land Surveyors Act and The Alberta Surveys Act, all of which became operative in the year
1910. The first of these provided for a system of registration of land titles based on the famous Torrens system that had its origin in Australia and had later been copied by some of the western states of the U.S.A. The Alberta Land Surveyors Act provided for a system of examinations and the registration of persons found qualified to practice as land surveyors for the purpose of The Land Titles Act and established a professional association of Alberta Land Surveyors. The Alberta Surveyors Act prescribed the system and the methods whereby land surveys were to be carried out under the general purview of a provincial Director of Surveys whose responsibility it was to see that all survey work was performed in accordance with the provisions of that Act.

At that time, the province had no jurisdiction over unpatented lands. Those lands remained under the control and ownership of the Dominion government, and all surveys of Dominion lands had to be made by Dominion Land Surveyors. The surveyor with only provincial qualifications was thus excluded from a large and, at that time, comparatively active class of survey work, whereas any Dominion Lands Surveyor had only to pass a couple of written papers on the provincial acts and regulations and take an oral examination in order to qualify as an Alberta Land Surveyor. For these reasons and because all the land surveyors then resident in the province were Dominion Land Surveyors, the earlier members of the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association were all men who had first obtained DLS commissions.
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