G.E.O. (Gord) Olsson

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By Ken Allred, on the occasion of the presentation of the Professional Recognition Award to Gordon Olsson, 1999


Alberta Land Surveyor #352 recorded on his biographical information form filed with the Association states that he was born in Rossland, BC in, believe it or not - 1987. I have it from a good source however, that he was actually born in 1941.


As a new graduate of SAlT and full of pee and vinegar, this young surveyor sought adventure roaming the world, surveying in Australia and New Zealand in order to meet some of his expenses.


Upon returning to Canada, he soon landed a position in Ottawa with the Legal Surveys Division of the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, as it was then called. He also met his lovely wife Sheila in Ottawa. Gordon Olsson rose up through the ranks of legal surveys earning his DLS in 1968 and in 1972, after receiving his ALS, he was appointed Regional Surveyor for Alberta.

As Regional Surveyor, Gord worked closely with the Department of Indian Affairs in Western Canada. He researched some of the natural boundary problems on the Belly River which forms a boundary of the Blood Indian Reserve in Southern Alberta.

Gordon was instrumental in the initiation of a unique orthophoto mapping of First Nations' lands in the early 1980s which led to the development of one of the first spatial database GIS models used for the cadastral management of Canada Lands. This initiative brought significant recognition in the Geomatics community. His work on land claims and self-government activities with First Nations has earned him (and surveyors in general) a high degree of respect from native leaders.


Gord has always been an active member of the ALSA, serving on a multitude of committees over the years. Gordon Olsson was one of the driving forces behind the re-formatting of ALS News in 1977 from a typed, stapled series of pages, to the impressive typeset version with the attractive layout and photographs that we now take for granted. Gordon served as the first editor of the new style ALS News from 1977 until 1979. (Actually, he was writer, editor, graphic and paste-up artist, and publisher-all in one.) His editorial aptitude assisted him as publisher of the third edition of the Manual of Instructions for the Survey of Canada Lands. Gord served on numerous ALSA committees, Council from 1979-1981 and 1987-1990, including a term as president in 1988-1989.

Gordon has also been active in the Canadian Institute of Geomatics, was CISM Edmonton Branch Chairman in 1974, and URISA, and has served on many national committees in the federal Legal Surveys Division. He was instrumental in the restructuring of Legal Surveys Division and the formation of the Western Regional Operations Centre which consolidates all of the operations of legal surveys for Western Canada in Edmonton.


One thing that stands out about Gordon is his willingness to face up to a challenge. Gordon is an avid tennis player, rock climber, and skier. He plays hockey, soccer, and basketball -no challenge is too great for him.

Similarly, when asked to take on a role in the ALSA or the surveying community, Gordon is prepared to take on the most daunting and sometimes, unrewarding tasks. He always produces a product that goes beyond anyone's expectations.

On the occasion of his retirement from the federal government, honorary life member Dunc Gillmore roasted Gord Olsson as follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen and guest of honour, Gordie Olsson, hereafter referred to as the roastee:

I want to thank you for this opportunity to express some thoughts on Gordie Olsson, Canada land surveying and the federal government which, in the interests of being politically correct, I would have had to otherwise refrain from saying.

First, I want to clear the air and lay to rest that old myth that if you work for the federal government, it's a fairly easy life. You come in late in the morning, have a few coffee breaks and lunch, leave early in the afternoon and not really do much of anything. I can personally vouch that this is not the case because in 1959 and 1960, I actually did about six months work for Legal Surveys while they had me employed for two years.

When the invitation to Gordie's retirement initially came out in the mail, I glanced at the split line field notes on the left hand side of the invitation and mistakenly assumed that if this was a retirement party for Gordie, these were a copy of his field notes. However, I later noticed that the line was run on the 20th of October, 1908 and realized my mistake. This means that between 1908 and 2001 (if you'll just bear with me for a moment, they teach surveyors calculus and trigonometry, but only about 50% of us can add and subtract) would be 93 years. Assuming he was approximately 20 years old when he ran the line, this would make him 113 years old today. And you only have to look at Gordie and the shape he is in to realize he is probably two or three years younger than that.

I haven't seen Gordie for a few years so the first thing I noticed when I met him tonight is that his hair line is receding a bit. I've always thought of it not so much as going bald, but as a depleting natural resource. However, I've never actually come out and said this because the last thing a senior wants is a bunch of environmentalists in his hair. Basically, I don't think Gordie has to worry because in one of the federal government acts there is a section which says in effect "that area so long covered as to wrest from it any vegetation or growth or to mark a distance change on same, automatically reverts to the Crown." So even though he has left the Government, they may always own a small piece of him. How much they will own will have to be computed by a Canada Lands Surveyor, all of whom had to pass an exam.

I don't know how well Gordie ran his department but just as a matter of interest, I noted that when Gordie started with the federal government approximately 35 years ago, the federal debt was 17.2 billion dollars and today it is 582 billion dollars. Although at first I assumed it had nothing to do with him, I did become suspicious when, this year, which is the year of his retirement, the Government is showing its first ever surplus of 15 billion dollars.

I would like to congratulate Gordie on his 35 years of surveying which has taken him all the way from transit and chain or tape surveys right up to global positioning. I might add here that I have never agreed with the name global positioning and have always figured it would be something more suited to an international prostitute than to a land surveyor.

In closing, I would like to say that I am certain that I speak for everyone present this evening when I wish Gordie and Sheila a happy and healthy retirement. Retirement isn't so much giving up something old as it is a new beginning. It's a time to start projects you have always wanted to do, but never had the time. I'm sure both Gordie and Sheila will be very happy in the years ahead.