Surveying the Great Divide

The Alberta/BC Boundary Survey, 1913-1917

Jay Sherwood

In 1917 Canada commemorated its 50th anniversary against the backdrop of World War I. Although the war effort was the main focus of the federal and provincial governments, some important projects continued. The Alberta-BC boundary survey, which had started in 1913 during an economic boom in western Canada, continued to receive funding throughout the war. It was quintessentially a Canadian project — talented Canadian surveyors using the most modern equipment available, transported by horses and humans through rugged wilderness country to mountain passes and the summits of peaks along the Great (Continental) Divide.

Throughout their journey, the surveyors documented their work, leaving behind not only a comprehensive collection of letters and journals, but also one of the most extensive collections of surveying photography in North America. The survey crew climbed many mountains, taking pictures from the peaks that were later used to create the first detailed maps of the Great Divide. Today scientists are taking repeat photographs at the same locations, documenting the dramatic changes the have occurred in the Rocky Mountain landscape during the past century.

One hundred years later, as Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Jay Sherwood’s Surveying the Great Divide offers a testimony to the fortitude of the survey crews who risked their lives working in remote, mountainous terrain documenting the boundary between Alberta and BC.