Robert M. (Bob) Thistlethwaite

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Bob Thistlethwaite, ALS
Known for Surveyor General of Canada

Robert Thistlethwaite, though a quiet, thoughtful and unassuming man, led an interesting and adventurous life and could tell many colorful stories of his experiences in the jungles of South America and the wilds of Northern Canada, in the days before he rose to become the sixth Surveyor General of Canada Lands, Chief of the Legal Surveys Division of the Surveys and Mapping Branch and chairman of several boundary commissions. Bob was born in Winnipeg in 1909, attended high school in that city and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in civil engineering in 1933. He was gold medalist for highest standing in both third and fourth year subjects. As a student, he was employed on summer and winter survey work on railway construction, as well as on mapping and municipal engineering project.

In 1936, he joined the Topographical Survey of Canada and carried out positional astronomy assignments in the Northwest Territories. From 1937 until 1940, he was a land surveyor with the Tropical Oil Company in Colombia, South America, where he carried out legal surveys and positional astronomy, and had various adventures with snakes and alligators in the steaming jungles. From 1940 to 1944, he was chief engineer with International Petroleum in Ecuador and was in charge of mapping and legal surveys for the company. Among his souvenirs of this period are reels of brownish-tinged movie film, in which he looks somewhat like Clark Gable in a jungle screen epic.

In 1944, he returned to Canada and joined the Hydrographic and Map Service of the Department of Mines and Resources as a surveys engineer, and undertook a program of mapping in connection with the development of the Columbia River Basin in British Columbia. During this period, he qualified as a Dominion Land Surveyor (1945) and as a British Columbia Land Surveyor (1947).

In 1947, Bob returned to South America once more, as a land surveyor for Socony Vacuum in Peru, where he did positional astronomy for mapping control.

From 1948 to 1951, he was in private practice as a land surveyor in British Columbia and entered into partnership with Adrian Wolfe-Milner on Salt Spring Island. During this period, he qualified as an Alberta Land Surveyor (1950) and carried out major projects for the B.C. and federal governments, as well as positional astronomy and triangulation for the Alberta-British Columbia Boundary Commission, extending the boundary northward some 90 miles from the Chinchaga River.

In 1951, Bob returned to the federal government as chief of the Field Surveys section in the Legal Surveys and Aeronautical Charts Division of the Surveys and Mapping Branch. In 1952, he was appointed Assistant to Surveyor General Bruce Waugh and, in 1953, was appointed Surveyor General and Chief of the Legal Surveys and Aeronautical Charts Division.

During the eventful 18 years that he has been Surveyor General, the division has moved (in 1961) from its ancient firetrap of a building on George Street into modern offices in the Surveys and Mapping Building; and has acquired such devices as tellurometers, geodimeters, distance meters, electronic computers, and microfilm equipment. New responsibilities have included the registration of plans of oil leases in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and current problems include the adaptation of surveying systems for oil exploration and production in Canada's offshore lands.

During this time also, Bob has been chairman of seven provincial and territorial boundary commissions, councillor and president (1960) of the Canadian Institute of Surveying, chairman of the Interdepartmental Committee on Aeronautical Charting, chairman of the Board of Examiners for Dominion Land Surveyors, federal representative on the Canadian Advisory Council on Cadastral Surveying, a member of the FIG committee of The Canadian Institute of Surveying and one of its delegates at FIG meetings. He has given these bodies the best of his thoughtful and conscientious presence and will be sorely missed in all of them.

He speaks English and Spanish and has been studying French for a number of years, so that he is well-equipped to pursue the hobby of golf in a number of countries.

The Canadian Surveyor, December 1971