John Stoughton Dennis Jr

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J.S. Dennis

Colonel John Stoughton Dennis was born at Weston, near Toronto, Ontario, on October 22, 1856 and passed away November 26, 1938 at the age of 82.

His father was John Stoughton Dennis Sr., who became the first Surveyor General in the Department of the Interior. J.S. Dennis Jr. was educated at Trinity College School and Upper Canada College and also attended the old Military School at Kingston.

In 1872 at the age of 16 years, he started to go West for the summer on land survey parties under different surveyors.

In 1877, after a year of study under the late Bolton Magrath at Aylmer, Quebec, Dennis received a commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor and a certificate as a Dominion Topographical Surveyor.

In 1878, he was appointed to take charge of a survey party sent out to establish the Fourth Meridian in the North-West Territories.

In 1879, at the age of 23 years, Mr. Dennis joined the service of the Hudson Bay Company as, surveyor and engineer for the Land Department of the Hudson Bay Company and during his three years of service with that company he surveyed and laid out their properties into town lots at Winnipeg, Prince Albert, Edmonton and Rat Portage (now Kenora). He was also in charge of the construction of the company's buildings and water and sewage systems. In 1884, he was engaged in surveying and locating mines in the Bow Pass of the Rocky Mountains.

When the Riel Rebellion broke out in 1885, Mr. Dennis was given command of the Dominion Land Surveyors Intelligence Corps, which became know as Dennis’ scouts, with the rank of Captain.

Following Riel’s collapse, Dennis joined the staff of the Topographical Surveys Branch of the Department of the Interior and remained in that service until 1897, when he was appointed Chief Inspector of Surveys.

Like William Pearce, J.S. Dennis became an advocate for irrigation. He even asked for and received permission to investigate irrigation development in different states in the USA and submitted a draft of a proposed irrigation act to the Deputy Minister of the Interior. Dennis' duties as Inspector of Surveys took him to Alberta and, while there, he shared Mr. Pearce's office in Calgary. From here on Messrs. William Pearce and J.S. Dennis operated pretty much as a team.

The need for irrigation legislation to apply to the Territories was brought to the attention of the Minister of the Interior, the Honourable T. Wayne Daly, during a visit to Calgary early in 1892, by Mr. Pearce.

In 1893, William Pearce was sent to Ottawa where he and a Mr. Fraser or the Department of Justice drafted an irrigation act. The act, called the North West Irrigation Act, was made applicable to the Territories and assented to by Parliament on July 23, 1894. It was amended several times and the name was changed to the Irrigation Act but it served satisfactorily until the natural resources, including water, were transferred to the prairie provinces and each province enacted a Water Resources Act similar to the Irrigation Act.

1893 marks the last year of Mr. Dennis’ work as a full-time land surveyor in the technical sense. Between 1869 and 1888, over 71 million acres of Dominion lands had been surveyed by the organization set up under the Surveyor General.

In 1894, William Pearce and J.S. Dennis were named delegates to the International Congress at Denver, Colorado, and in 1895, they were both sent to Alberquerque, New Mexico, in the same capacity, where Pearce delivered an address on “Canadian Laws and their Administration.” In fact, both men gave papers at the 1894 congress.

While Dennis and Pearce were at the International Congress at Denver, Colorado, in 1894, they learned that the United States Reclamation Service had investigated and was planning to divert water from the St. Mary River in Montana by a canal from the Lower St. Mary Lake via Spider Valley and drop it into the North Branch of Milk River at a point close to the boundary between Canada and the United States. From here, the water would run down the North Branch Channel to Milk River in Canada and thence by the Milk River through Canada and then south and east to land east of the Town of Havre in Montana. This project would take water that had been allotted to the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company by the Government of Canada to be diverted from the St. Mary River at Kimbal near Cardston. Reports from Dennis and Pearce drew attention to the threatened loss of potential irrigation water from the St. Mary River and great concern was expressed by government officials and irrigation interests. The St. Mary River had been recognized from the first as the key to the future economy of a large tract of land south and east of Lethbridge.

Representations were made to the United States Government through diplomatic channels in 1896 suggesting the setting up of an international commission for the regulation of the various streams in the area for irrigation purposes, but to no avail. In the absence of a governing principle of international law or treaty between the two countries, it appeared that the United States intended to proceed without ceremony.

Meanwhile, Dennis and others continued with vigor the two courses of action most likely to secure favourable results; rapid expansion of water usage from the St. Mary River and intensive search for a checkmate to the American move.

A combination of private enterprise and government surveying and engineering achieved good results in short-order. The Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company established firm water rights on the St. Mary and Milk rivers and one of the surveys organized by Dennis in 1901 located a possible diversion of the Milk River.

No time was lost in reopening the subject with the United States Government and in tactfully pointing out that Canada could intercept any water taken from the St. Mary to the Milk before it regained United States territory. It appears that this hint was not at first accepted south of the border, and no official results were immediately forthcoming.

Dennis, however, strongly promoted the Milk River canal and by 1904, fourteen miles of it had been constructed by the A.R. & I. company.

It may be inferred that the canal was intended to serve in the first place as an instrument to bring the United States to the conference table and secondly, to actually recover at least 300 second-feet of the water taken from the St. Mary River if the American canal was constructed without an international agreement. At the 1915 hearing before the International Joint Commission at St. Paul, Dennis, by this time Assistant to the President of the CPR, asserted that the canal could still be put in service if required.

As events transpired, the canal was never used in a physical sense and in 1907. Elihu Root as Secretary of State submitted to Canada a draft of a treaty which after two years of negotiation developed into the Boundary Water Treaty of January 11, 1909.

The North West Irrigation Act provided for the appointment of the necessary staff to carry out investigation and surveys and to administer the provisions of the Act. Mr. Dennis was an able and active man and was highly regarded by the authorities in Ottawa. It was quite natural, therefore, that he was chosen to head up the new organization under the Act which was administered under the Minister of the Interior. In 1894, Col. Dennis' duties were described as "Inspector of Surveys" and in charge of the Canadian Irrigation Surveys. Under his advice and administration, the Government of Canada started surveys to determine the amount of water available for irrigation and the larger areas on which this water supply could be utilized. In making these investigations and surveys, the canal system heading in the St. Mary River, which was subsequently constructed by the Canadian Northwest Irrigation Company, and the Bow River canal system to serve the country on the north side of the Bow River east of Calgary, were located.

At this time, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company still had considerable acreage of land due to it as subsidies for the construction of railways. In 1903, as the result of recommendations made by Messrs. J.S. Dennis and William Pearce, it was agreed that the Government of Canada would turn over en-block to the railway company a tract of about 3,000,000 acres of land lying between the Bow and Red Deer rivers, together with the surveys and plans showing how it was feasible to irrigate a large portion of it.

In 1902, J.S. Dennis left the employ of the Government of Canada and joined the staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Mr. Pearce left the government service in 1904 and, on May 1 of that year, joined the staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company at Calgary.

Mr. Dennis became chief engineer of construction of CPR irrigation projects. Later, he was appointed manager of the Irrigation and Land Branch and, in 1912, when the Department of Natural Resources was formed, he was appointed assistant to the president and head of the new department which office he held until he was made Chief Commissioner of Colonization and Development. On January 1, 1930, Col. Dennis retired from this position but remained a member of the advisory committee which deals with matters affecting the departments of Natural Resources and Immigration.

During World War One, he was appointed representative on the British Canadian Recruiting Mission in the United States, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and was later promoted to the rank of colonel and proceeded to Siberia as director of transportation and intelligence on the general staff of the Canadian Brigade. During 1918, he acted as Canadian Red Cross Commissioner in Russia and a Canadian Trade Commissioner in the same territory.

Colonel Dennis received medals and decorations for his services during and after the War. He was awarded the Julien Smith medal for outstanding service for his country.

After retirement in 1930, Colonel Dennis moved to Victoria, BC, where he lived until his death on November 26, 1938.

In December 1879, Mr. Dennis had married Miss Mary Conroy, daughter of James Conroy of Aylmer, Quebec. They had one child, Mary Aileen.

Source unknown