William Ogilvie

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William Ogilvie, DLS
Known for Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society

William Ogilvie was born at Ottawa on April 7th, 1846, his parents being James Ogilvie and Margaret Holliday Ogilvie, who came from Belfast, Ireland, and Peebles, Scotland, respectively.

He received his education in the local public schools at Ottawa, and at the age of 20 years became articled to Robert Sparks, who was then a prominent surveyor at Ottawa. He was admitted as a PLS, on July 12th, 1869, and practiced local surveying for six years.

In 1872 he married Miss Mary Ann Sparks, sister of Mr. Robert Sparks, and continued to practice his profession at Ottawa until 1875 when he was first employed by the Dominion Government.

Mr. Ogilvie spent his entire life in surveying for the Department of the Interior. He obtained his commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor on April 14th, 1872. The following summary of the surveys performed by him was furnished by the Surveyor General:

  • 1875-76 - Township outlines South of Dauphin.
  • 1878-79 - Surveys of Indian Reserves, Bow River.
  • 1880 - Township outlines West of York.
  • 1881 - Fourth meridian to Township 40.
  • 1882 - Seventh baseline West of Fourth Meridian.
  • 1883 - Fifth meridian from Edmonton to Athabaska River and Twenty-first baseline westerly.
  • 1884 - Micrometer survey of Peace River from Chipewyan to Dunvegan and Athabaska River from Slave River to Athabaska Landing.
  • 1885 - Traverse along CPR in British Columbia.
  • 1887 - Exploration surveys-Yukon River and Mackenzie River.
  • 1888–89 - Surveys and explorations - Porcupine, Lewes, Bell, Trout and Peel River.
  • 1890 - Exploration survey between Lake Temiscamingue and Hudson Bay.
  • 1891 - Examination between Liard and Peace rivers.
  • 1892 - Subdivision and re-surveys in Prince Albert District.

In 1887, he carried a traverse down the Yukon River from the head of Lynn Canal on to the coast, and in this way determined the approximate location of the 141st meridian, which is the boundary between Alaska and the Canadian Territories eastward. He established an observatory near Forty-Mile Creek on the south side of the Yukon River, and determined the longitude by a series of lunar culminations. His transit was set on the largest stump that could be found in the vicinity, the diameter being eighteen inches at a point about five feet above the ground. His observatory was built over the stump. From the observations taken in the winter of 1888, he found that the meridian was about three miles distant from the observatory. The meridian line was cut out on each side of the river for some distance.

Two years later, observations were taken at the same point by Mr. J.G. McGrath, and also by Mr. J.H. Turner of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, on the Porcupine River to the North, which observations confirmed Mr. Ogilvie's meridian. About twenty years later, the telegraphic longitude of the meridian was carefully determined by connecting with Vancouver and Seattle, the work being carried out by Canadian and American government astronomers - who found the Ogilvie line only a few score yards west of the correct position.

From 1889 to 1892, Mr. Ogilvie was employed on surveys of James Bay. In 1893-94, he was in southeaster Alaska, engaged in the work of the International Boundary Commission, and in 1895-96, he was again at his old observatory near Forty-Mile Creek. In 1896, he was appointed a commissioner on the International Boundary Survey, but the negotiations with the American government falling through, he returned to the East, but was in the Yukon district again in January 1897. During the winter he laid out the townsite of Dawson City, and surveyed many mining claims on Bonanza Creek and Eldorado Creek. Although gold had been discovered as far back as 1880, it was not until 1897 that it became world-famous and the rush to the gold fields began.

Major James M. Walsh, of Brockville, was the first commissioner appointed by the Dominion Government as administrator in the Yukon District. He was succeeded by Mr. Ogilvie in 1898. They met at Vancouver in July of that year. Mr. Ogilvie held this onerous position for three years.

For some years afterwards he was engaged in private enterprises in the State of Texas, and in Alaska or the Yukon. In 1910, he was again employed by the Dominion Government on surveys, to determine the water power available on the Saskatchewan and Nelson rivers, also on reclamation surveys on the lower Saskatchewan.

He died in harness at Winnipeg, on November 13th, 1912.

Mr. Ogilvie was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1891, and was awarded the Murchison Medal in recognition of his two years' continuous explorations in the Mackenzie and Yukon regions of British North America. His book, "Early Days on the Yukon," was published in 1913, the preface being written by his widow. This book is a most interesting one to surveyors, but, unfortunately, it ends at the most interesting period in the development of the Yukon, that is, about the time when gold mining became established on a settled basis.

The Manitoba Free Press expressed the sentiments of the country at the time of Mr. Ogilvie's death as follows: "His name, the synonym of justice, equality and fair dealing. With great opportunities to enrich himself, yet he came out of the Yukon as he had gone into it, poor in pocket but rich in reputation."

Source: Association of Ontario Land Surveyors