An agent of change: William Drewry and land surveying in British Columbia, 1887-1929

  • Darby James Cameron
Keywords: land surveyors, William Drewry, boundaries, government control


In 1887, following the completion of the CPR to the Pacific, William Stewart Drewry took part in the Topographical Survey of Canada's first experiment with photographic surveying, which he applied to the Rocky Mountain Railway Belt. He then surveyed the rich mining districts of BC during the Kootenay hardrock mining boom (1893-1909). In 1909, he became BC's first and only Chief Water Commissioner and, in 1911, he returned to surveying as BC's Inspector of Surveys. From 1913 until his retirement in 1929, he surveyed for government and in private practice. Throughout his career, Drewry operated between two land systems: first, a system based on customary rights and local obligations; and, second, a system based on private property and market exchange. Drewry implemented the latter capitalist system, attempting to empower the settlement society, which had the effect of ensuring corporate dominance and, to Drewry's dismay, monopolization of the BC landscape.