C.B.C. Donnelly

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C.B.C. Donnelly received his commission as an Alberta Land Surveyor on June 1, 1950.

In 1982, W.D. Stretton wrote the following about C.B.C. Donnelly in the Depression years in his book From Compass to Satellite under the subheading: Winter Surveying with Relief Labor.

C.B.C. Donnelly had a way with words, a way with men, and a fine reputation as a surveyor. Eighteen young men, mostly mere boys, who volunteered to leave their relief camp (for 20 cents a day) to work for Donnelly on a winter survey in Manitoba's Duck Mountain Forest Reserve could not have guessed that he intended to build them up in mind and body, teach them philosophy and a pride in Canada and, incidentally, turn in an excellent survey, with all that implied in terms of honesty and pride of work.

The snow was deep the winter of 1935-1936, with 52 inches where the ground was level, and the young men had no knowledge of snowshoeing. Their learning experience was ludicrous and dangerous -two received bad axe cuts, one man narrowly escaped death with a cut on the crown of his head, and another was badly gashed above the knee.

The tent camp was moved frequently, to minimize the walks to and from work. To reach the first camp, ten miles of trail had to be broken, with four teams of men dragging light sleighs, and three men on snowshoes breaking trail on each side in a double line. Every step was a plunge and the trip was not completed until 4 p.m. on the fourth day. The next day was spent in organizing the camp (in four feet of snow) erecting tents, and accumulating a supply of wood.

The actual survey work began with a five-mile walk, breaking trail all the way, then searching for the starting-point baseline post until 5 p.m., finally returning to camp at 10 p.m. Sixty miles were surveyed, which averaged one-half mile a day ­ the maximum for a day being two miles and the minimum ten chains. The dense growth and deep snow made arduous work, and, in his official report, Donnelly commented that in the days of contract surveys, no contractor would have undertaken the cutting of that line at the quoted rates for bush work. In many places thickets were so dense the axemen had to clear a path before a transit could be carried through. Posts were cemented in temperatures of 50 degrees below zero by using calcium chloride mixed with the cement to prevent freezing while setting.

The scale of rations was the same as for relief projects throughout Canada, and were ample in scope and variety. At the inception of the work, when Donnelly was asking for volunteers for survey work at the base relief camp, he had spoken to the men collectively, explaining the nature of the work, the hardships to expect, and noting the total elimination of their customary Saturday afternoon holiday. On the other hand, he promised them freedom from boredom and pointed out that this freedom was only obtained by hard work, and that any man who quit laid himself open to the stigma that characterized a quitter. Later on, when he heard these young Canadians speak of riding the rods, stealing government clothing, being "pinched" and "'doing a stretch", he gave several informal talks. The 20 cents per day, he was careful to explain, was pocket money, allowance, anything but pay. Pay was exchange for work done. The people of Canada were bearing a burden of taxation, which strained the resources of business. The administration's sources of revenue were drying up, while expenses rose beyond the level of the pre-Depression period. Food, clothing, and pocket money was the extent of the Canadian people's ability to care for these men.

The following illustrates Donnelly's philosophy:

Why then must you work and work hard? Because your health must be preserved, your bodies kept fit, that the beneficent of discipline which work fosters must not be lost to you against the time when opportunity rears her head, you will not have forgotten how to work. You, the youth of today, will be the men of tomorrow. Twenty, thirty years hence, will find you running the country. Now, here and now, the measure of your manhood will be taken, and as you behave now in the face of your present extremities, so surely will you reflect the same degree of self-respect and honour which will mark your efforts in the years to come.

Donnelly was a great man with words, and he found many opportunities to talk during that winter survey, of why the unemployed should not feel guilty or lose their self-respect, on the basic principles of democracy, and upon other subtle appeals to the finer feelings of the men. And he was successful. The party held together, and the men became an efficient machine. The survey was a success.