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The Township Grid in the Osoyoos Land District, British Columbia

The CPR Railway Belt

One of British Columbia's conditions of entry into the Dominion of Canada in 1871 was the expectation that a railway would be constructed to link the new province and the Pacific Coast with the rest of eastern Canada. The Dominion Government agreed to absorb British Columbia's enormous colonial debt and promised to begin the construction of a railroad within two years and also ... to complete it within ten. The Dominion would be compensated for the construction of the railway by means of a large provincial government land grant along the proposed railroad, not to exceed 20 miles in width on each side. This 40 mile land grant across the province became known as the CPR Railway Belt, although the railroad itself was not completed until the last spike was driven at Craigellachie in 1885. All these arrangements may have been well and good, except that the terms of BC's union with Canada also gave the Dominion government jurisdiction over the administration of the Railway Belt, an agreement that was destined to be a source of disagreement haunting both sides in the coming years.

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The railway survey was initiated by Dominion astronomers and topographical surveyors O. J. Klotz and Thos. Drummond, whose objective was to determine the locations of the initial meridians and latitudes along the railway belt by means of telegraph and astronomical observation. At the same time Wm. Ogilvie was to make an accurate instrumental traverse line of the proposed railway right of way to be used as a base line for the subdivision of the Railway Belt into the township grid system, integrated and continuous with the existing Dominion Land Survey of the prairies. The map below is a close-up of an overall map of the DLS, with a focus on the 6th Principal Meridian near Revelstoke (Link to full map). This township grid system, at least to some extent, was to be ultimately projected north and south well beyond the Railway Belt into the rest of the province by the survey system of British Columbia.  View a detailed 1913 map of the Railway Belt in this region of B.C. around Sicamous (Link).

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Looking back at the Colonial Surveys

The BC mainland became a British Crown Colony in 1858, and the new colonial government quickly recognized the challenges of governance, security and infrastructure, primarily arising as a result of a series of gold rushes in the BC interior. The survey of the 49th parallel, the boundary between the colony and Washington Territory, was of most immediate concern, and Governor Douglas made arrangements with the Foreign Office to engage a team of Royal Engineers and sappers from England, who would work in co-ordination with the Americans, to accomplish this task (Link). With "mission accomplished" in 1860, many Royal Engineers returned to England, while others remained behind to survey townsites, build roads and divide crown land for potential settlement.

Richard Clement Moody, himself a Royal Engineer, was appointed as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony, and the fledgling government established a new Department of Lands and Works in 1859, with R.C. Moody also sworn in as the Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works. One of the first departmental challenges was the formulation of a land settlement strategy and system in which the sale of crown lands would serve as a means of generating revenue, while at the same time, encouraging the settlement and agricultural development of the vast colonial interior.  

Governor James Douglas and Lieutenant-Governor Moody initially looked southward to the United States and the Homestead Act of 1862 for inspiration. With this legislation, the American west was surveyed into a checker-board-like grid of 6x6 mile square townships, and smaller 160 acre parcels of land within these townships were then freely granted to qualified applicants as homesteads. Although the British colonial government adapted certain aspects of this system, it lacked the necessary funds to pre-survey its own government lands and tinkered with a pre-emption system to offload the cost of survey to the would be settlers themselves.

Limited township surveys were undertaken by private surveyors in the BC coastal region as well as parts of the interior, but their measurements were often inaccurate and the land parcels were scattered and unconnected and tended to be irregular in shape and size. And there was still considerable confusion in general, regarding maintenance of official land records, residency, land prices, land auctions and land leases.

The DLS Township System in the new Province of British Columbia

After British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, the provincial government adopted the less complicated rectangular Dominion Lands Survey (DLS) system of uniform townships, sections and quarter-sections which could then be sold to qualified applicants, regardless of how they were surveyed. Then two years later in 1874, the province also adopted a system of free land grants similar to the system prescribed by the federal Dominion Lands Act of 1872, although free grants were only made available between 1875 and 1879.

Between the years 1876 and 1894, the B.C. Department of Lands and Works was administered by Chief Commissioner, F.G. Vernon (the namesake of the City of Vernon) (Link) albeit with a mid-term leave of absence. Under his watch and the supervision of Surveyor-General Joseph Trutch, a special Board of Examiners was created in 1891 for vetting potential candidates to become Commissioned official Provincial Land Surveyors (P.L.S.). By the early 1890s, several teams of these professionals were undertaking an ambitious program to readjust and connect pre-existing Pre-emptions and Crown Grants scattered throughout the province, to the aforementioned CPR Railway Belt and the Dominion Township Grid. Additional new Townships were also surveyed and subdivided into Quarter-Section parcels of 160 acres to attract farmers and ranchers to the vast empty spaces of the provincial interior.

The Osoyoos District Surveys 1891 to 1897

We can learn about the surveys in the Osoyoos District from the annual reports of two such Provincial Surveyors regarding their work in the Okanagan and the Kettle River region along the US border ... J.P. Burnyeat's report of 1891 (Link) and John A. Coryell's report of 1896 (Link). 

At the request of Commissioner Vernon, the Department also began producing highly detailed maps in the early 1890s to document the progress of these surveys. This web page will examine three such maps of the Osoyoos District from the years 1891, 1893 and 1897. - Source: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/

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About the creation and publication of these maps ...

Tom Kains, the Surveyor-General of British Columbia, in his 1892 annual report (Link) to the Hon. F. G. Vernon, Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, wrote the following:

"During the past year some twenty thousand copies of different maps and plans have been lithographed and printed for general distribution. They are as follows:—

1.— Map of portion of the Osoyoos District 5,000 copies
2.— Mr. Poudrier's exploration of the Chilcotin Country 2,000 copies
3.— Subdivision surveys in the San Juan Valley 2,000 copies
4.— Tsimpsean Peninsula 2,000 copies
5.— The eastern portion of the Province 5,000 copies
6.— The Town of Nelson 4,000 copies

The first two maps of the above list were photo-lithographed and reduced from original plans by the Canada Bank Note Company of Montreal. The remainder were lithographed and printed at the " Colonist" Printing and Publishing Company, Victoria. All the maps on the above list were compiled and drawn in the Lands and Works Department under my own supervision. A complete map of the Province, showing all recent information to date, prepared by Mr. J. H. Brownlee, D.L.S., is now also in the engraver's hands" (Link).

But it is the first map on the list that is of particular interest here.

The Osoyoos District Map of 1891

This map, which appears to have been created under Kain's supervision (Link to full map), depicts the state of the survey of the northern portion of the Osoyoos District as it appeared in 1891. We can see a number of blank, though numbered Railway Belt townships immediately north and south of the railway at the Salmon Arm of Shuswhap Lake. These townships are an extension of the 21st Township tier of the prairie Dominion Lands Survey (DLS), beginning at Range 7 West of the 6th Principal Meridian, which is itself located off the map to the right near Revelstoke.

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The provincial Osoyoos District townships appear immediately south, though slightly shifted eastward to accommodate the river valleys and railroads further south to Enderby and the City of Vernon. This shift in alignment is characteristic of most BC townships, which take into account the unique local topographical peculiarities of terrain in which they are positioned. The townships, nonetheless are the standard size 6 mile square blocks, which are subdivided here and there into 36 smaller, single square mile sections. Each Land District had a unique numbering pattern. The numbering of the Osoyoos District Townships appears to have originated around the city of Vernon and follows what may be a chronological survey sequence around the District south to the border then back up again, ending at Township 89 just north of Keremeos on the 1897 survey map. Indian Reserves have been identified on this map but not subdivided. A smaller scale Index or Key Map is included on this map as an inset with a wider view westward into the Allison (Princeton) area and eastward into the Boundary and West Kootenay region of the interior (Link).  The original survey field map of Township 38 between the Railway Belt and Enderby can be viewed here (Link).

Although the names of the actual surveyors associated with this map are not identified, we can presume that the Commissioner's "Obedient Servant", J.P. Burnyeat P.L.S, may have had something to do with it (Link to his report).

The Osoyoos District Map of 1893

This exceptional map was drawn by Gotfred Jorgensen in the Lands Office in 1893, although he is remembered more for his famed 1895 official map of British Columbia. Like our previous map, this Osoyoos District map was also printed at the " Colonist". It follows the township survey further southward to the International Boundary (Link to full map). We can recognize familiar waterways and place names and can see a great number of townships subdivided into sections around Kelowna, Penticton, Okanagan Falls, Fairview (Oliver) and Kruger (Osoyoos) and the survey neatly defines two tiers of townships along the boundary as far east as Cascade City near Christina Lake. These and most other townships are perfectly aligned side by side as a continuous grid except for the "Keremeoos" township No. 53 which overlaps and infringes on its easterly neighbour, Township 54. Many smaller Crown Grant District Lots are also seen around the perimeters of Okanagan Lake and Osoyoos Lake and along the Similkameen and Okanagan Rivers, as well as the Kettle River at Grand Forks. Formerly known as Grande Prairie, this settlement is unnamed on the map although current local residents would undoubtedly recognize it at the confluence of the two meandering rivers in Township 71 and 72. Grand Forks Crown grants are generally rectangular, either vertically or horizontally aligned, each being a Quarter Section or 160 acres in size, though they are not aligned with the local township grid. Eholts (Midway), another recent settlement, also appears on this map at the first crossing of the Kettle River east of here. An updated Index or Key Map is also included on this map as an inset (Link).

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The Osoyoos District Map of 1897

Unlike the two previous maps, the 1897 map is oriented sideways in landscape mode, to more effectively include the survey eastward in one continuous uninterrupted sweep (Link to full map). This map has also been drawn in the office of Lands and Works, Victoria, B.C. although under the supervision of new Commissioner G.B. Martin. Aside from the addition of Township 89 near Keremeos, the township view is much the same as that of the previous map and a comparison of the two gives us an opportunity to examine the progress of the survey between 1893 and 1897.

Firstly ... the Index or Key map is now in itself a "virtual masterpiece" of intricate detail and new content (Link), covering much of the southern interior from Princeton to Fort Steele in the East Kootenay. Eholts is now Midway, Grand Forks is identified on the  map, as are most other small towns even as we know them today, and waterways and even small streams are also intricately rendered and identified.    

As for the full 1897 township map, the two tiers along the border between Osoyoos and Christina Lake, including Townships 65 to 84, appear to have received the most attention.

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One might say this map is all about the two Kettle Rivers, both the West fork and the North fork, which include major and minor associated tributaries. If you have read John A. Coryell's 1896 report, you would likely recognize his hand in the detailed content of this map. We can see additional Crown Grants and that, except for Township 72, Section 3, all other Grand Forks Sections are now occupied by settlers. Most of their identities can be confirmed by referring to our Google Crown Grants Page (Link).  Coryell's report also describes significant mineral deposits in the region and we can identify the locations of numerous active mining camps referenced in his report. As an aside, many local historians would already know that the Greenwood Camp would soon be renamed "Phoenix Camp". Another valuable asset which now finally appears on this map is the detailed plotting of trails and government roads. This information would have been extremely useful to other map makers, who could then take into account their precise location relative to the fixed township grid.

It may be a coincidence, but when superimposing and aligning all three (1891, 1893 and 1897) Osoyoos District maps and their townships as transparencies, it appears that the Kettle River Boundary region townships (as shown above) are seemingly best aligned horizontally with the DLS Railway Belt township grid.


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