Frederic Hatheway Peters

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F.H. Peters

On November 20, 1982, Canada lost one of its most distinguished sons with the death of Frederic Hatheway Peters. This event passed with little local attention, as he had been retired from the public service since 1948. At the time of his death in 1982, he was in his hundredth year. Few of his contemporaries were alive to mourn his passing.

But the career of this remarkable man should not go unnoticed. It spanned almost a half-century, in positions of ever increasing responsibility, climaxing in the period of World War II, to which his contributions, if not spectacular, were solid and important. One measure of his protean talents was that upon his retirement in 1948, his responsibilities had to be divided among no less than five newly established units governing surveying, hydrography, mapping and aeronautical charting.

Frederic Hatheway Peters was born in Quebec City on November 4, 1883, the son of James and Isabella Peters. He was educated at Upper Canada College, and then entered the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario. He graduated with honors in 1904, being awarded the gold medal.

He obtained employment at once joining the federal Public Works Department as first assistant engineer. He worked on water conservation surveys on the Upper Ottawa and Montreal Rivers, and on leveling surveys relating to the Trent Valley Canal. The year 1905 found him working on the Georgian Bay Ship Canal Survey, and in 1907 he moved to the head office in Ottawa to prepare further plans and estimates for this project. After working at harbor surveys out of London, Ontario, he resigned to join the federal Topographical Survey of the then Department of the Interior, and assisted in laying out the townsite of Port Churchill on Hudson Bay.

In 1909, he went to Alberta for the International Waterways Commission to direct a measurement survey of the Milk River. In 1910, he qualified as a Dominion Land Surveyor, and this was followed by an appointment to make special investigations of all international streams in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and of the St. Mary's River in Ontario.

His marriage to Claudia Bowen Bates, daughter of an army colonel, occurred in 1911. During their long life together, they had three children, Morna of Auburn, England, James of Toronto, and Frederic of Point Claire, Quebec.

In 1911, he was named commissioner of irrigation and chief engineer, based in Calgary, under the federal Department of the Interior. He held this post until 1921, at which time he was recalled to Ottawa to assist Dr. Deville in a major reorganization of Canadian survey work. By 1924 he had become Surveyor General of Dominion lands. Later, his responsibilities were expanded to include the direction of the Topographical Surveys and the Air Surveys Bureau.

The Department of the Interior was abolished in 1936. Mr. Peters was appointed Surveyor General and Chief, Hydrographic and Map Service in the new Department of Mines and Resources. His time was divided between his hydrographic service work in his office in the Confederation Building on Wellington Street and his manifold duties in survey and mapping work at the old Labelle Building at the corner of George and Dalhousie streets.

A number of departmental changes involved alterations in his titles. The final one in the year of his retirement was that of chief, Surveys and Mapping Bureau, which evolved in the following year into the Surveys and Mapping Branch. On his retirement in 1948, he moved to the village of Aylmer, Quebec. Some of his winters were spent in Florida, where he relaxed on the golf course, having been for many years a member of the Royal Ottawa Golf club. During his working career he was a member of the Rideau Club.

Among his many affiliations were a life membership in the Engineering Institute of Canada, membership in the American Society of Engineers, registration as a Professional Engineer, Ontario, and honorary life membership in the Canadian Institute of Surveying, and with the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. He served on numerous boards and commissions, including the chairmanship of three boundary commissions, and as Canadian delegate to the Civil Aviation Organization. He was a member of the International Committee on Air Surveys and Base Maps and the Associate Committee on Survey Research. In the field of toponymy, he was a prominent member, and later, chairman of the Geographic Board of Canada, now the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names.

Mr. Peters contributed many articles to survey and geographic journals on diverse subjects - Empire conferences, map projections, the Canadian national map index, aneroid barometers, and reviews of Canadian survey and mapping progress.

A number of men who achieved distinguished careers in the surveying and mapping profession served under him. These included Bruce Waugh, who succeeded him as Surveyor General, R.J. Fraser, who followed him as dominion hydrographer, C.H. Ney, Eric Fry (who discovered the site of Goose Bay airport, a matter of great consequence for the staging of aircraft from Canada to beleaguered England during the war years), A.M. Narraway, C.B.C. Donnelly and Bob Thistlethwaite, Surveyor General.

This bare recital of titles held and organizations served says little about the important accomplishments of this remarkable bureaucrat. Mr. Peters, in historical perspective, had what might perhaps be regarded as the misfortune to have labored under the shadow of the revered Dr. Deville, whom he succeeded. Yet he has to his credit many lasting achievements of real consequence to Canada. Early in his career, he succeeded (where his predecessor had failed), in establishing an instrument repair facility in Ottawa which had lasting benefits in the development of survey equipment. He shared the concept with General Burns of a national air photo library, which he nurtured and expanded. He set up the first permanent hydrographic office on the west coast at Victoria, BC. In an era when survey and mapping technology was in a state of evolution which may almost be termed explosive, he was totally receptive to new ideas.

His soundness of vision was notable in respect to air charting. In 1932 he met with generals McNaughton and Burns, out of which came the seminal decision that the future basic air chart should be founded on the eight-mile-to-one-inch scale. When war broke out in 1939, the pattern for the eight mile aeronautical series, so essential to the success of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, existed in the form of a handful of maps covering the commercial transcontinental flying route in southern Canada. In the brief period of four years, the flying maps totalled 206 sheets, covering the entire area of Canada. For his work in this connection, Mr. Peters was honored by membership in the Order of the British Empire.

Mr. Peters encouraged work by his then assistant, Bruce Waugh, in developing the Airborne Profile Recorder, which reached completion as a unique Canadian tool for the delineation of terrain elevations shortly after Mr. Peters left the service.

The contributions of Frederic Hatheway Peters to the art and science of Canadian surveying and mapping, which bears comparison with the best in the world, has yet to be recognized and measured. Unquestionably it was substantial. The unified direction of almost all federal work in this field by this one man for two decades laid the firm foundation on which the modern edifice of present day expertise in this area has been built.

G.F. Delaney in the Canadian Surveyor Supplement, Spring 1983