D. Rae Sutherland

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D. Rae Sutherland, ALS
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Daniel Rae Sutherland was born on March 4, 1926 and was commissioned as Alberta Land Surveyor #165 on November 9, 1951 at the age of twenty-five years. Mr. Sutherland remained an Alberta Land Surveyor for fifty-five years until his retirement in January 2006. D. Rae Sutherland passed away on July 13, 2006.

For those of you who knew Rae, you realize that such statistics don’t begin to tell the story of who this man was. His company, Canadian Engineering and Surveys and its various incarnations was, at one time, one of the largest survey firms in Alberta involved in large pipeline and oilfield projects. Like any other company that has been in business for any length of time, there were good days and bad days. I remember David Thomson, ALS telling me one time that he used to work for CES and that his office was next to Rae’s. During one of those bad periods, David had a steady lineup of people at his door submitting their resignation from CES. David tells me that, as he was receiving these resignation notices, he could hear Rae on the phone in the office next to his telling his caller that everything was just great and couldn’t be better.

Rae was the quintessential entrepreneur. It seems like he had a hundred new ideas every day and he was always optimistic that, with enough funding and enough support, it was going to be the next biggest thing that would change the world. We knew that 99 out of these 100 ideas were bad (and sometimes very bad) but there was always that feeling that there was going to be that one idea.

I met Rae late in his career but age certainly never seemed to affect his willingness or enthusiasm to support his next big idea. Rae always tried to flatter me by comparing me to the late Jack Holloway and encouraging me to be more like him and use my so-called influence to move the Association in a new directions; the direction in which Rae wanted to move.

A review of his membership file shows a number of letters to Council encouraging them to look at new initiative and new ideas. In 1998, he wrote a two-page letter to Council covering everything from RPRs to title insurance to a new role for practice review to the Association setting up its own research department. Just a few years ago, he suggested changing the name of the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association itself. I always had the sense that Rae always felt that, given enough time, he could convince you that his idea was the right one.

Throughout his career, D. Rae Sutherland articled fourteen people, according to our records. This ties him for first place with Charlie Weir and George Walker for the most number of articling students in their career.

Rae Sutherland’s ideas and initiatives meant that he sometimes ran afoul of the Association and the Discipline Committee. Shortly before he passed away, Rae asked me for a copy of a case in which there were discipline charges brought against him early in his career. I went through the file and found the record of the complaint from 1958. Rae replied that he was not looking for the 1958 discipline case but the 1963 discipline case against him. I don’t think Rae thought of discipline as a bad thing but just the cost of doing business the way he thought it should be done.

Rae’s ideas were not limited to land surveying. According to a 1978 newspaper report, “In 1961, Canadian Engineering Surveys was much involved in Thompson, Manitoba, installing the town’s gas utility and building apartment accommodation for the growing population. Thompson was bound to flourish. Furthermore, cable television was just coming in. What better prospect could there be than supplying cable television for this isolated new community? So CESMTV for Canadian Engineering Surveys Manitoba” was launched. The newspaper goes on to explain the problems that Rae had with CESM-TV and Rae summarized the whole idea as “the setting was inappropriate.”

It is difficult to summarize a 55 year land surveying career in just a few sentences. Perhaps it is best it is best to leave the last words to D. Rae Sutherland himself in an article he seems to have prepared for his University of Alberta class reunion.

Brian E. Munday, Executive Director with Assistance from Bernie Rachansky, ALS


The Experiences of a Lifetime

One way seems to intimate that I would relate just a few important experiences encountered in my lifetime. Whereas, taken the way I want it to be taken, is that my lifetime has been one grand experience, made up primarily of the meeting and associating with some of the finest people this old world has to offer. Without prejudice, this includes my family.

The first, and probably most important experience of my lifetime, was the meeting of my mother and father when I was born in Edmonton at the Royal Alec Hospital on the 4th of March 1926.

My father was born in 1876 in Pictou, Nova Scotia and his family eventually migrated to Brandon, Manitoba where he and his brothers commenced work on building the old Grand Trunk Railway (now CNR) through to Edmonton and, eventually, Vancouver.

My mother was born twenty years later in Fort Qu’ Apelle while it was still in the North-West Territories and the experimental farm her father worked on was still trying to find out what would grow in what was to be known as Saskatchewan. Her family later returned to Winnipeg and then went back to Saskatchewan to homestead by Red River Oxcart pulled by an ox which almost became a part of her family.

Her father proved up a farm amid dramatic prairie fires and built a hotel in anticipation of the coming of the railroad my father was building. This was a fortunate decision for me as my mother met my father when he stayed at their hotel. It was nip and tuck for a while when my father left to build the railway on into Edmonton. But again, fortune took a hand and my father wired down to the hotel, “come up to Edmonton and let’s get married.” Eleven years later, I appeared on the scene and experienced Edmonton which was also in its infancy.

The experience of growing up, travelling back and forth to my relatives during holidays and returning to go to school in Garneau after having gone to a two-room, twelve grade farm school with my cousins for two weeks, when their school year started ahead of mine, was really an experience.

The farm boys were a pretty rowdy “I’m stronger than you” group while Garneau was made up of doctors, lawyers and professors’ sons who said “excuse me” for just having rubbed shoulders. Talk about a culture shock.

As with most experiences, there is always an advantage to them. Mine came at the beginning of the war when the experience of having the best teachers a person could ask for in Garneau, led to a Mr. Innes calling for all the Grade 10 boys wanting to have a summer job surveying in the north and had experience with horses, please step forward.

I’m afraid my politeness slipped for a moment because I made it up first and this experience set the direction of my future irrevocably in place.

I was fortunate enough to travel by pack horse all through the Pine Pass area before there ever was a road and see oil being drilled in a remote area where it took three years to drill a hole which now is done in thirty days. They even had a log school house for the drillers’ children and close by, was a trapper who made more than the drillers did in those days.

This summer job brought the most important experience in my life. That was meeting the bridge champion of Canada and the senior surveyor for the Federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Mr. Howard Spence, whom some of you may know.

For three summer seasons, we packed horses, lived in tents and triangulated from every mountain we could climb. One summer, we travelled to Great Bear Lake and used nothing but dog teams and canoes. Have you ever met a hungry husky for the first time who can sense you are scared stiff? That, in itself, is an experience. Eventually, the training I received in the rough country school environment enabled me to win the battle of wills with said Husky team leader. I must admit there was a bit more than wills being applied before he finally got the idea I was in charge and not him. We actually became quite good friends finally.

When I started, I said life was made up of experiences in meeting people. Let me correct myself, include dogs, horses and the entire animal kingdom as well, except for the odd grizzly bear that put me up a tree. It’s an experience, but better done without.

There was finally the one summer I had to write exams and couldn’t leave soon enough to go exploring with my friend Howard Spence. I had to take a labouring job in a new oil sands development in Fort McMurray which led to my first experience of riding the freight cars like a hobo with my best friend Murray Stewart, who wasn’t keen at all in cuddling together to keep warm. After all, what are friends for?

Another benefit which came of this change was that Howard Spence carried on working in the newly developing mining areas and meetings the developers whom he quickly told didn’t know anything about surveying and that they should use a good friend of his whom he had personally trained.

This led to my becoming chief surveyor for Eldorado Mining and Refining in Lake Athabasca and eventually chief engineer in my third year of Engineering.

Who said the shortage of manpower during the war years made things tough. I got the greatest break a young engineer ever could have had because of it.

My friend Howard, still exploring new territories, found another and better opportunity to help a stumbling mining company with their surveying just, coincidentally, as I was graduating in 1948. You guessed it, he got me the chief engineer’s job, but in taking it, I had to give up an opportunity to play with the Eskimos for the princely sum of $600 a season. What is it they get today?

After attending the graduation dance with no less that our own Virginia, and saying goodbye to all the class in the dawn, standing at the crest of the outdoor club hill, I took off for the wilds of Montreal and Labrador. Which was the wildest, I have yet to decide.

It was an emotional leave taking because we had unique class of fellow students that even included a girl and a fellow who slept through most classes, copied our notes and still became a prominent engineer. He, I still remember seeing later, disembarked from an Air Canada flight with the then uniform of a Torontoite—dark suit, dark blue overcoat and scarf, plus a very formal homburg. I concluded Don had got in the habit of copying everything and if I too were to be successful, I should do the same.

Our class was made up of returning WWII veterans and young, green behind the ears, direct from high school, young un’s like myself. The combination added missed youthfulness to those old pillars of propriety like Harry Newton, Jack Flavin and Phil Dau, plus others we all remember, while at the same time adding some maturity to Gordy Greenwood, Al Walker, Gordon Coates, Ross Jefferies, Gord Brown and other, including myself. I can’t list everyone, but you all know the cross-influence that existed and made our class a truly unique experience and of lasting benefit to all our lives.

Thankfully, many of us continued to interact in business and I received my first major pipeline survey contract through the influence of Gordy Brown and Phil Dau.

With all the help I have had in getting work, it’s a wonder I even knew how to apply for a job or a project.

Doing all this reminiscing, I am afraid that I am rambling, but as I probably will not be at the reunion, I won’t have to take all your remarks, so suffer on.

The three years following graduation was certainly an experience of a lifetime as I was involved in locating and surveying railroads, dam sites, open pit mines, mapping photogrammetrically uncharted frontiers and meeting the rugged individualists who were responsible for opening these frontiers.

The Iron Ore Company required the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway and I had the good fortune of doing all the “joe” jobs of running projectors, serving drinks, and so on, for Jules Timmins who promoted the massive project and was lobbying the Prime Minister, his ministers, senators and senior bureaucrats. What an experience to see how major decisions are brought about in a country. I found that there is another kind of engineering other than what I had been prepared for. There should be courses in the ways of the wordly.

Speaking of becoming worldly, I spent all the winter months in Montreal and even went to see the famous Lily St. Cyr at the Gaiety Theatre which was something for a prairie lad who had never been in civilization during a summer holiday. The first time this happened, I was amazed at what people didn’t wear. This was really a cultural experience.

Another experience was running to catch commuter trains to work and shocking the more sedate travellers as to how all of our group of westerners stirred things up and made conductors wipe their brows. This tomfoolery attracted one very pretty blond girl and when she said yes when I asked her to marry me just as my father had done with my mother.

I had left Montreal to return to Edmonton where I articled as a professional land surveyor under our Dean, Bob Hardy, and lectured in surveying, giving Pat Bouthillier and Stu Sinclair a break from the tedium.

Once established, I, like my father, wired the pretty blonde and asked her to marry me, which she did after she came out and inspected the “wild” west. Lorna Pearce and I were married on Labour Day weekend in 1951.

Following the end of my lecturing, which I found really interesting and challenging because, unlike us, they had not taken the adding and subtracting exercises that we had taken in grade school. The result was that the answers on their tests were notably wrong which made me feel rather guilty as to my not having got my message properly across.

Upon deeper analysis, I found that their simple arithmetic was the problem which I corrected after Christmas by bringing in Grade 3 adding and subtracting exercise forms which they were timed in completing at the beginning of each lecture. Guess the reaction—I got over this. But surprise, surprise, their marks improved immeasurably on the next test. (I hope the Dean of Engineering takes note of this.)

Perhaps, because of this incident, Bob Hardy and Chic Thorsen asked me to join with them in forming R.M. Hardy and Associates.

I was very pleased at the confidence they showed in me but living up to their expectations of me was somewhat daunting, especially when I went out to do a soils survey for a large, heavy refinery cracking tower. I’ll bet that was the most minutely surveyed foundation this country ever saw.

What brought things back into perspective was bringing the results into the Dean at his massive, file covered desk (which I now understand and emulate) and have him look at the report for about thirty seconds, after which, he picked up the phone and made his recommendations to the client. If it ever had fallen down, I would never have known if it was from my soils survey or his snap judgement.

The firms of R.M. Hardy and Canadian Engineering Surveys Ltd., which I had formed prior to being asked to join in forming Hardy and Associates, prospered extremely well in both engineering and surveying. With growth in both fields, it became obvious that the responsibility for running each company should be separated. Harold Morrison took on the management of Hardy and Associates and I took on that which I was better qualified for—surveying. It was a good decision.

The reason I am writing this on a Canadian Engineering & Surveys Inc. letterhead is that the history of myself and CES are synonymous from this point on and my experiences stem from the development of CES from 1954 until today.

The interesting part about surveying, which I found out only through experience, is that it is usually the first undertaking of any new development and the principals undertaking the development are acutely interested in the early appraisals of the surveyors. This leads to some interesting responsibilities and experiences beyond the normal scope of just surveying.

Initially, we undertook the location/legal and construction surveys for most of the major western pipelines, a few of which we did for Jack Flavin, Gordon Brown, Phil Dau and Gordon Walker, all of whom I am sure you know. Later, we carried out mining surveys for International Nickel in Thompson where we employed the first skidoos that Bombardier built.

Still later, we carried out aerial triangulation surveys using the first cubic autotape multiple range electronic distance measuring equipment. Again a first.

Surveying was fast growing into a high technology challenge, far removed from the old transit and level of survey school. Imagination seems to be the only limiting factor to the expansion of this profession.

To complement surveying, computers first became an essential partner to the profession and CES formed the first technical computer service centre in Calgary. This, we later sold to enter into the first cable television station in Canada in Thompson, Manitoba.

As surveying moved into the offshore areas for oil exploration and hydrographic mapping, CES again applied current technology and imported the first GPS satellite surveying systems of use in the Canadian Arctic.

The challenge of the frontier is the most fulfilling and rewarding experience because you are not bound by traditional solutions. Your imagination can run freely and if the idea is reasonable, it usually is implemented without delay.

While all this tradition breaking is going on, Lorna and I had three girls, who, in their own way, are carrying on the challenge of defying tradition.

What does the future hold? A new technology, of course. An airship platform to replace communication satellites.