Literary Location: Ootsa Lake memorial signpost, where the road going south from Francois Lake reaches Ootsa, within 1 km of the Ootsa Lake Bible Camp. Lat 53 degrees 49', long 126 degrees 05'

From 1905 to 1952, there was an agrarian settlement on the north shore of Ootsa Lake in central B.C. about sixty kilometers south of Burns Lake. During the '20s and '30s, George and Else Seel raised their children towards the western end of the lake near the largest village of Wistaria. Elsie and her son Rupert remained there until 1952 when Kenney Dam construction, as part of the Alcan project, raised the level of Ootsa Lake, flooding their property, also forcing the evacuation of the Cheslatta First Nation. Jay Sherwood's seventh book, Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel - A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed (Caitlin $24.95), retrieves the history of that vanished, mixed community through the lives of an immigrant German couple who worked in the Nechako Watershed for decades until they were flooded out by the massive 90,000-hectare Nechako Reservoir.

[See review below]


A former Vanderhoof teacher and president of the Nechako Valley Historical Society, Jay Sherwood first culled some of the best of surveyor Frank Swannell's portraits and images for Surveying the North (Caitlin Press $29.95), nominated for a 2005 B.C. Book Prize. The book covers the period from 1908 to 1914. "His photos appear in most books that cover the BC Interior in the early 20th century,"; says Sherwood, now a teacher-librarian in Vancouver, "yet he is seldom given more than passing credit.";

Born in Ontario in 1880, Frank Swannell tried to reach the Klondike during the gold rush but signed on as a surveyor's assistant when he ran out of money. Wherever he went as a professional surveyor in the summers that followed, he recorded the details of his life in journals and amassed a collection of more than 5,000 photographs that have been obtained by the B.C. Archives.

While maintaining his primary residence in Victoria, Swannell worked throughout most of British Columbia for at least 40 years, taking time to fight in World War One and join an anti-Bolshevik force in Siberia in 1919. He was wounded in the shoulder during the latter campaign. "To be an explorer was my great aim in life," he told the Daily Colonist in 1963. He died in Victoria in 1969.

Jay Sherwood's second book is Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928 (Royal BC Museum, $39.95).

Having spent three summers visiting the locales that Swannell surveyed, Sherwood has compiled a superb record of Swannell's vast contribution to the province during the 1920s when he was camping with his crew in an area stretching from Prince Rupert to the west, Smithers to the north, Prince George to the east, and Bella Coola and Williams Lake to the south.

Swannell followed Alexander Mackenzie's route to the Pacific, mapping the explorer's path in accordance with Mackenzie's journal, and photographing many of the landmarks that Mackenzie described. More importantly, his camera and journals have provided a lasting record of the cultures and people that he met, including some characters described in Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher's classic wilderness memoir Driftwood Valley.

Swannell's photograph of a nine-metre-high G'psgolox mortuary totem pole, carved in 1872, is one example of his unpaid sociological fieldwork. This historic G'psgolox pole, first erected on the banks of the Kitlope River near the foot of Gardner Canal, was commissioned by Chief G'psgolox of the eagle clan to give thanks for the fact that relatively few of his Haisla people died during the smallpox epidemics of the 1860s.

This pole remained in place as a geographic marker and cultural symbol for decades until the Swedish consul in Prince Rupert, with the aid of a local Indian agent, decided the Misk'usa village on the Kitlope River was abandoned.

At the time, Sweden was one of the few countries in Europe that did not already have at least one major totem from the Pacific Northwest, so they had the pole cut down in 1929 and sent to the Etnografiska Museet in Stockholm.

The Haisla instigated negotiations to have the pole repatriated in the 1990s. They carved two replicas of the pole. One was sent to the museum in Stockholm. The other replica was erected at the original site in Misk'usa.

Frank Swannell's three photographs of the pole were essential to the process of reclamation. In 2006, Sweden returned the original totem pole to the Haisla in Kitimat from the Etnografiska Museet in Stockholm. It is, according to Sherwood, "the first totem pole repatriated from Europe to a First Nations community.";

Frank Swannell conducted surveys and made photos in northern B.C., the Kootenays, the Chilcotin, the Cariboo, Vancouver Island and along the coast. His many summers in north-central B.C. are commemorated by the Swannell Ranges, Swannell River and Mount Swannell.

After his three books about Frank Swannell, Jay Sherwood had dug deeper into surveying annals for In the Shadow of the Great War (RBCM 2013) retrieving the records of two overlooked, separate expeditions into northeastern B.C. in 1913, filed away in the shadow of World War I. Whereas the young G.B. Milligan was a consummate professional; the much older E.B. Hart had never surveyed or even used a sextant. Sherwood recalls the disparate adventures of these two very different men amid the muskeg and raging rivers of the westerly Peace region.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Furrows in the Sky: The Adventures of Gerry Andrews
In the Shadow of the Great War: The Milligan and Hart Explorations of Northeastern British Columbia, 1913-14
Surveying Central British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-28
Surveying Northern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell
Return to Northern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1929-39
Surveying Southern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell


Sherwood, Jay. Surveying the North (Caitlin Press, 2004 $29.95). 1-894759-05-2

Surveying Central British Columbia, A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1920-1928 (Royal BC Museum, 2007 $39.95 ). 978-0-7726-5742-8

Furrows in the Sky: The Adventures of Gerry Andrews (Royal BC Museum 2012) $19.95 978-0-7726-6522-5

In the Shadow of the Great War (Royal BC Museum 2013). 978-0-7726-6637-6
6 x 9, paperback, 224 pages

Surveying Southern British Columbia: A Photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1901-07 (Caitlin Press 2014) $36.95 978-1-927575-51-2

Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel - A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed (Caitlin 2016) 978-1-98791521-1

Surveying the Great Divide: The Alberta/BC Boundary Survey, 1913-1917 (Caitlin 2017) $29.95 978-1-987915-52-5

Surveying the 120th Meridian and the Great Divide: The Alberta-BC Boundary Survey, 1918-1924 (Caitlin Press 2019) $29.95 9781773860091
See ORMSBY REVIEW for a review of the above title.

Kechika Chronicler (Caitlin Press, 2023) $26.00 9781773860909

Edited Books:

Bannock and Beans: A Cowboy's Account of the Bedaux Expedition (Royal BC Museum, 2009), by Bob White

[BCBW 2023] "Photography"


Surveying the Great Divide: The Alberta/BC Boundary Survey, 1913-1917 by Jay Sherwood (Caitlin Press $29.95)

The provincial boundary between B.C. and Alberta is the longest in Canada.

Surveying the Great Divide by Jay Sherwood recalls how surveying that line between the two most-western provinces was a remarkable feat. The "man-defined" northern section follows along the 120th meridian of longitude whereas the southern part-follows a natural feature, the Continental Divide.

Sherwood's focus is the latter -- the spine of the Rocky Mountains commonly referred to as the Great Divide.

From the time that British Columbia became a province in 1871 until almost the end of the nineteenth century, the province was continually in debt. Very little money was allocated to surveying any boundaries, let alone the main eastern one.

Sensitivity to the province's extensive borders started to change with the Klondike gold rush of 1896-99, when the province's northern and northwestern boundaries came into focus.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the B.C. government also required more precise knowledge of its boundaries to regulate mining and timber interests and to encourage railway and mountain tourism in the Rockies.

Finally, in April 1912, Richard McBride's government committed to surveying B.C.'s eastern boundary.

George Herbert Dawson, B.C.'s Surveyor General, contacted Edouard Deville, the Dominion of Canada's Surveyor General, to discuss timing, methods of surveying, and cost sharing.

In 1913, the Dominion, B.C., and Alberta governments agreed to a tripartite agreement to jointly fund the boundary survey.

Of the mountain passes to be surveyed, Kicking Horse Pass was chosen first, even though the Crowsnest Pass had the most economic importance. Kicking Horse, on the CPR mainline and accessible to Banff and Calgary, offered the commissioners easy access by rail. Men and supplies were moved to the site easily.

Each pass was designated a letter as it was surveyed. Pass A was Kicking Horse, Pass B was Vermillion, C was Simpson, and the list continued on to Pass S, the Yellowhead Pass.

The monument (or survey marker) set at the lowest point of Kicking Horse Pass was numbered 1A. All other monuments set going southerly were given odd numbers such as 3A, 5A, 7A, etc. Monuments set going northerly were given even numbers such as 2A, 4A, 6A, etc.

As the remaining passes were surveyed, the same numbering system was retained, but the letter designated for the pass was changed to B, C, D, etc.

Fortunately, a number of field party members kept diaries and careful field notes or described their progress in letters to family and friends. Many such documents have survived, and Sherwood has reviewed and drawn from them precise information about the surveys and conditions under which the crews worked.

Sherwood has gone through the documentary and photographic records meticulously to provide a detailed chapter for each year's fieldwork from 1913 to 1917.

Besides these five yearly chapters, he provides chapters entitled Background, Cast of Characters, Surveying Methods, Geographical Names, Afterword, and Survey Crews. Rounding out the book are acknowledgements, a lengthy list of sources, and a useful index.

Required to take a "round" of photographs at each of his survey stations, B.C. commissioner A.O. Wheeler took nearly 2,000 of them, an astonishing record of mountain photography. Sherwood has incorporated a number of these in each chapter.

During this past decade, members of the Mountain Legacy Project at the University of Victoria have returned to some of Wheeler's survey stations to compile a "before and after" photographic record in a technique known as "repeat photography."

"The repeat photographs that they have taken," notes Sherwood, "are being used by scientists to document a variety of changes that have occurred in the landscape during the past century." Sherwood also uses his own repeat photographs throughout the book.

For example, in the summer of 2017, a large wild fire burned in the Akamina Pass, altering its landscape and ecosystem. Between the original photographs taken by Wheeler and Alberta commissioner Bill Cautley, and recent ones by the Mountain Legacy Project and Sherwood, scientists will be able to document the regeneration of the ecosystem and a century of landscape change in this scenic location.

The boundary survey coincided with the worst part of the First World War. Later, from 1918 to 1924, the impressive and resolute A.O. Wheeler-whose son Edward Oliver Wheeler took part in the first topographical survey of Mount Everest in 1921-added to the survey of the Great Divide, while Alberta commissioner Bill Cautley moved further north to survey the 120th meridian from the Great Divide through the Peace River area. Cautley's later work could probably fill a book of its own.

Surveying The Great divide leaves me awestruck by the hardships involved in surveying that border and full of admiration for the detailed fieldwork of a century ago.

We have all driven by signs saying, "Welcome to Alberta" (and "Welcome to British Columbia"), and so now I will have a new and better appreciation of what was involved in determining our intricate eastern boundary from high elevation survey stations in mountains that had never or only very recently been climbed.

Indeed, on my next journey through one of those passes, I will stop and tip my hat to Wheeler, Cautley, and their crews.

I am still spellbound every time I drive through the Yellowhead, Kicking Horse, Vermillion, or Crowsnest passes. 9781987915525

Review by Robert Allen, a life member of the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors (ABCLS), a life member of the Canadian Institute of Geomatics, and a Canada Lands Surveyor.

[BCBW 2018]