A.J. (Al) Edwards
- Born in Calgary, Alberta on October 17th, 1920, then raised on a farm in the Delia area.
- Completed high school in 1938.
- Received ALS Commission (#224) on October 24, 1956.
- Received SLS commission in 1957.
- Became an honorary life member of the ALSA January 29, 1992.
- Was an active member of the ALSA in excess of 38 years and served on numerous committees from 1958-1985 in addition to being vice-president, president and past president from 1962-1964.
- Surveying experience in Alberta (1949–1984) involved every type of surveying that was done, with the exception of satellite and related hi-tech work.
Al Edwards’ real introduction to surveying was working for Phillips, Stewart and Phillips (a predecessor of Phillips Hamilton and Associates then predecessor of current Hamilton and Olsen) out of Saskatoon. He worked with Buck Olsen on the Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Reserve, learning about laying out section boundaries. Later, he was transferred to Edmonton and worked in northern Alberta setting control for seismic surveys. After a few years, he and various others decided to leave Phillips Hamilton. Al joined up with Dave Usher and later became co-owner of the firm W.D. Usher and Associates Ltd.
Al served on the ALSA Council from 1960 to 1965 as councillor then took the president route. It appeared that professionalism and ethics were a problem for a few members during his time as president. In his presidential address, to the membership at the 1964 AGM, he stated “ethics is a constant problem before us today” and “borderline ethics are not good enough.” It appeared that some were not following the “tariff of minimum fees” and were undercutting or canvassing other surveyor’s clients. Interesting times!
My first meeting with Al was in 1967 when I joined the firm of W.D. Usher and Associates Ltd. He was one of my mentors that convinced me to enhance my surveying career by taking Survey Technology at NAIT then go after my commission to become an ALS. Al was instrumental in tutoring many students, in getting them through their exams, over his years of practice. He remarked, in his interview with Les Frederick, ALS, “After a while I thought...we are training a whole bunch of competition, cause they are going to leave the firm and set up an office in competition to us.” This was true as many new corporations were spawned from Usher and Associates. Al was always ready to share his expertise and thoughts in helping his staff to advance in the profession.
We had a great group of partners in the late seventies and early eighties but things did take a turn for the worse, economically, for our firm. Some of us, including Al, went our separate ways. One of our partners, Roger Leeman, ALS summed up our thoughts quite well with his comments: “A couple of things I will always remember about Al: he was always so calm, cool and collected—nothing ever upset him—probably why he lived to be 90. The other thing I remember is his propensity to give quotes over the phone without really taking the time to do a proper estimate. I recall that the rest of us used to shudder whenever this happened.”
Al always wanted to please and do his share; sometimes working off the top of the pile too much, but was always committed to the company and his profession.
I would like to thank God for giving all of us (fellow ALSs, former partners, all the employees that worked with him, his many friends and family) the opportunity to know Al. I would also ask Him to bless and give comfort to Al`s family. Amen.
A Conversation with Al Edwards
Les Frederick interviewed Al Edwards as part of the Historical & Biographical Committee’s initiative to capture biographies of prominent Alberta Land Surveyors.
Edwards: When I got into university, first year Calculus was a breeze. The second year, they darn near lost me. But actually, my worse subject in university was Physics because I never took Physics in school. We didn’t have enough people to take it, so we didn’t teach it. When I came back after the War, in order to get into university, I had to take a refresher. I went to Calgary and took a refresher at SAIT for about six months—I can’t remember how long for— it was right through the winter anyway and I took Algebra, Trigonometry, Chemistry and Physics. I got 98% in Trigonometry, 89% in Algebra; I think about 78% in Chemistry and 59% in Physics. But it was good enough to get me in anyway.
Frederick: What was your first introduction to surveying?
Edwards: After my second year at university. After the first year, I went travelling because I hadn’t done any done travelling except during the War and that’s not exactly called vacation. After the second year, I worked for the City of Saskatoon and after the third year, I worked with Phillips, Stewart and Phillips which was the predecessor of Phillips, Hamilton which was the predecessor of Hamilton & Olsen. So, I worked with them in the summer of 1949. I never finished university because I ran out of money and the government was giving us the huge sum of $104 a month. So I figured that I had to stay out and work a couple years, make some money and go back and finish. Well, then I got on with (Buck Olsen was with the same firm) we actually subdivided a bunch of Indian reserves down at Fort Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan. So then, when I decided I had to take some time off from university, they offered me a job.
Frederick: How did you get to go to the University of Saskatchewan?
Edwards: That was a strange, strange thing. I wanted to sort of get into a field which was kind of unique. I had an interview in Calgary at SAIT, I can’t remember who he was or what he was, he said that ceramic engineering was the coming thing but the only place you could get it in Canada was in Saskatoon. So, I decided to go there. So, I had another interview after I got there, got settled in, and the guy said the only place for employment for ceramic engineering is Medicine Hat, Alberta and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So, I did a quick switch to civil.
Frederick: What is ceramic engineering?
Edwards: Actually, it might not have been a bad field because you make tiles and stuff like that but it sort of moved into the plastic/steel in the mid ‘50s. Ceramic and plastics are blended altogether and plastics have been a big thing. That was the story of that – so, I went to work with Phillips, Stewart and Phillips in January 1951 and they moved me to Edmonton with Phillips, Hamilton. At that time, they were really hustling pretty darn well. The first job I had here was the Belgravia subdivision in Edmonton. That was right on the periphery; today it’s almost downtown.
Frederick: In your first introduction to surveying in your second year, what did you do? City work?
Edwards: Oh yeah—it was doing curb layouts and mostly all grade work—street construction. We took our equipment, got on the streetcar and went wherever we had to go. It seems crazy, but that’s the way it was—no vehicles. I realized afterwards that the City of Saskatoon was really quite far behind in procedures and whatever they were doing—just barely enough to get by on. That had to be a big job and a big responsibility because they were building them just like crazy. He was a pretty good guy. He carried out an extensive interview before he hired you. He wanted to know how you were doing in university and this sort of thing. I said that I was not a top student. He said that with the City, he needed guys who could work through the summer and maybe miss the first week or two of university because the summer’s work was not finished. He said that they didn’t want highly qualified academics because they are not good workers. So, anyway, I got the job. I only worked the one summer with them actually. I figured there was no beneficial experience in that. But, working with Buck Olsen and guys down in Fort Qu’Appelle, that was an experience because we had ravines there to cross like you wouldn’t believe. We’d hitch two chains together and stretch them up tight and figure out the sag. It was easier than cutting a whole bunch of bloody bush.
Frederick: Was that your first experience with the actual land system?
Edwards: Oh yeah, it was, definitely. There was Gus Petersen—young kid— God, good worker and sharp. He went on, he got through university and I don’t know what he’s doing now. I think probably Buck kept in touch with him because he worked right with him all the time. We had a pretty good time down there. About the only experience that I remember was that we had a Norwegian cook. She was an elderly lady, we called her Ma, and we’d ask her, “What are we having for dinner.” “Roast beef and wegtables.” In the middle of August or early August, I guess it was, the weather one day was really sour. She says, “I know what’s going to happen. We’re going to have one of those bad hail storms.” Of course, Buck Olsen, being from Prince Albert, he’d hardly ever seen hail. So he was needling her like the dickens. Well, believe you me, that night the vehicles were just pounded. It was like somebody took a hammer and beat the hell out of them. It was a really vicious hail storm. We were living down in an old Indian reserve. It took the windows out of the building and everything. She says, “Now, Mr. Olsen, you realize what a hail storm is?”