Plotting the Future: Contributions to the History of Canada by Surveyors and Contracting Engineers from Eastern Ontario
Charles Broad Willem Melchers UE
For Discussion / Editing / Peer Review
Announced recently, the merger of IN Engineering with Collett Surveying Limited marks a return of full-service engineering services to Brockville, Ontario and surrounding area. IN Engineering established in 2018 is, one of the newest engineering firms in the area. By contrast, Collett Surveying Limited, purchased by current owner Brent Collett in 1996, is one of the oldest continuously run surveying operations in the region, tracing its origin back to its founding in 1881 by Willis Chipman, a professional engineer and land surveyor who left his mark on the history of Canada across a storied career. He would later sell his practice to Lieutenant Colonel Bryce J Saunders who would go on to partner with Thomas Henry Wiggins, each making interesting contributions to the history of Canada in their own rights. Canada at the turn of the 20th century would have been an exciting place for a surveyor or contracting engineer. The country was a little over three decades old, new provincial governments were formed or being formed under the auspices of joining Confederation and the Government of Sir Wilfred Laurier was implementing an ambitious immigration agenda to settle the west. To say the landscape was changing rapidly is an understatement and there is little doubt that surveyors and engineers of that time were plotting and building the future of the country.
This paper sets out to examine some of the contributions these individuals made to a young Canada and how their influence shaped the direction of the country. Interestingly, each seemingly had a sense of civic duty, both in commitment to their profession and in service to their community. A look at the contributions of these individuals should without a doubt serve as a reminder that the future is built upon the contributions of those that came before us. As new meets old in the world of surveying and engineering perhaps these stories can serve to inspire the growing team at IN Engineering & Surveying. Where Chipman and his contemporaries were re-imagining home sewer systems, today the team at IN Engineering & Surveying are leveraging the latest best practices in Building Information Modeling, 3D Modelling and photorealistic rendering. This is moving the world of surveying and engineering from the typical 2D paper-based drawings into one that is fully rendered and 3D.
Information in this paper is largely drawn from the records of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors who maintain an impressive collection of biographies from past members.
Willis Chipman (1855-1929)
Willis Chipman founded his private practice in Brockville, Ontario as a Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer in 1881. He would eventually become the town engineer and would prepare the town plan for Brockville in 1883/1884. Mr. Chipman would be recognized as a founding member of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors, serving as its first secretary treasurer from 1886-1890, as Vice-President in 1895 and as President in 1896. In 1923 he would become the President of the Ontario Association of Engineers. Born near present day Elgin, Ontario he would complete his public schooling in Athens, Ontario before moving to Montréal, Quebec, for high school, later attending McGill University, graduating in 1876 with first rank honours in Civil and Mechanical Engineering.
Throughout his professional career he was a strong advocate for city sewer systems and home sanitation. In 1881 he published a paper titled “How to Do It: Some Suggestions on House Sanitation” which was prepared for the “association of executive health officers of Ontario”. His paper was ahead of its time in Canada describing the importance of city planners and engineers working in close collaboration with public health officials to ensure effective sanitation. He placed emphasis on the more wider use of water closets and plumbing fixtures to advance civic sanitation. He argued this would create the conditions necessary for avoiding the propagation, or worse, the creation of epidemics. Stating that home plumbing was not just a luxury of the rich and should be available or at least required for all citizens of a city; rich and poor alike. An examination of his career demonstrates that this was a view he held throughout as he brought this idea of sanitary engineering to communities across Canada helping to reduce the prevalence of disease spread by poor water and waste disposal practices.
Chipman quickly established himself as a leading designer of water and sewer works. His designs would be use to construct sewer works all across Ontario, including Cornwall, Pembroke, Gananoque, Arnprior, Renfrew and Lindsay. His work and his contributions to the surveyors association would pull him more and more to Toronto and he would officially relocate there by 1894. That said, his contribution to Brockville and surrounding area cannot be understated.
Bryce J. Saunders (1860 – 1926)
Willis Chipman sold his practice in 1891 to Lieutenant Colonel Bryce J. Saunders. Saunders, born in the area of present-day Lyndhurst, Ontario, qualified as a Land Surveyor in 1884 and as an Engineer in 1886. Like his predecessor, he would eventually be appointed as the town engineer in Brockville in 1892, holding the position until 1896. Saunders was a military man serving Canada across many armed conflicts in its early history.
Just three years after the British North America Act founded the Dominion of Canada in 1867, at the ripe age of ten, he served as a drummer boy in a small unit involved in defending Brockville, Ontario against potential Fenian Raids in 1870. As an adult, he would serve with the ‘Dominion Land Surveyors Intelligence Corps’ deployed in 1888 during engagements at Fish Creek and at Batoche as part of the North West Rebellion. As a point of historical intrigue, this intelligence corps was the first ever unit in the British Empire to ever be designated as such. He would volunteer to join the Canadian contingent sent to South Africa as part of the Boer War, although he would not be selected to serve in that conflict. In the years leading up to the First World War he would serve as a Captain in the Canadian Mounted Rifles in Edmonton, Alberta. He would be promoted to the rank of Major in the 19th Alberta Dragoons during which time was among a prestigious few to represent Canada at the funeral of King Edward VII in May, 1910. An event marked by the rare photograph of ‘Nine Sovereigns at Windsor’ which was the last time that many sovereigns of Europe gathered in one place at the same time. Finally, he volunteered to serve in the First World War returning in 1919 to retire with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His impressive military service is accentuated by the fact that he did so while pursuing his private practice and contributing to his community as a public servant across Federal, territorial and municipal departments.
In 1897, Saunders was commissioned by the Ontario Government to survey the boundary between the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba. By the turn of the century the allure of the west was calling; a surveyor and engineers dream at the seemingly blank slate that was the new territories seeking to join confederation. He would become Deputy Minister of Public Works for the Northwest Territory. A few years later he would relocate his private practice to Edmonton just one year before Alberta joined confederation. His designs and works can be found across Alberta and his contribution to the young province is well documented right until his death in 1926.
Chipman and Saunders would each be recognized for their contributions to their field and to their communities. In recognition of Willis Chipman’s contribution to the field of engineering across Canada, the non-profit industry association, ‘the Consulting Engineers of Ontario’ created in 2003 the Willis Chipman Award to recognize the knowledge, skill and expertise of consulting firms and to showcase the importance of engineering projects to the economic, social and environmental well-being of Ontario. To further commemorate him the main office building of IN Engineering and Surveying is named after Willis. Saunders is remembered by the tributes following his passing in 1926 and the fact that his remains were escorted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and officers of the local militia while his funeral was described as an event with the “befitting dignity of a military ceremony.”
In Brockville, the private practice founded by Chipman and furthered by Saunders would pass to Thomas Henry Wiggins, who again, advancing similar principles of home water and sewer systems to continue improving the living conditions of the area’s residence which no doubt allowed the communities of eastern Ontario to grow. From there, the firm was in continuous operation offering surveying services to the area. It was purchased by Brent Collett in 1996 and now, in 2020, merging with IN Engineering. As a result of its long history, IN Engineering & Surveying offices alone have the records of surveyors and their associated Ontario Land Surveyors Registration Number, including Willis Chipman (181), John Harrison Moore (260), William Verner Taylor (306), Samuel Barber Code (349), Andrew Wellington Gray (549), Raymond Frank Mucklestone (613), Martin Herman Kaldeway (1249) and of course, William Brent Collett (1641). Imagine the stories that could be told behind each of those careers.
As IN Engineering & Surveying sets out to establish itself as the leading full service engineering firm for the area the hope is that it will continually look back on its rich history and be reminded that the surveyors and engineers of Canada’s past have plotted and built the future of this country. They are off to a good start as they have already demonstrated a willingness to contribute to local community projects including the P&G Pavillion at Rotary Park and the reconstruction efforts behind the Five Mile Lighthouse project. This small, local team has an exciting opportunity to build off the legacy of those that came before.