Pearce, William

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Pearce, William

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1848-02-01 - 1930


A son of United Empire Loyalists, William Pearce was born on February 1, 1848 near Port Talbot, Dunwich Township, Elgin County, Ontario. Following a semester of study, in 1869 he abandoned his studies in engineering at the University of Toronto to take a three-year surveying apprenticeship with Wadsworth and Unwing, a Toronto land surveying firm. During his apprenticeship Pearce worked on surveying assignments in the woods of northern Ontario. His apprenticeship inspired his life-long interest in natural resource and wilderness development and confirmed his professional surveyor's career. Pearce's professional life divides into three phases: federal surveyor and administrator (1874-1884); federal advisor for western development policy (1884-1904); and western consultant for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (1904-1928). He received his certification as a Province of Ontario Land Surveyor in October 1872. His professional career began as a transit man for H.D. Lumsden, a railway engineer for the Muskoka Junction Railway. He moved back to Wadsworth and Unwin in January 1873. The company immediately assigned him to the challenging Thousand Island survey project running surveys across open water and ice on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. During his Thousand Island surveying project, Colonel J.S. Denis, Canada's Surveyor General, approached Pearce with an offer to join his staff in the newly-created Dominion Department of the Interior as it began to absorb the vast North American regions of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories. The Rupert's Land Act of 1868 began the legislative process to transfer from The Hudsons' Bay Company to the Dominion of Canada Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory; after two years of geopolitical negotiation the Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory Order admitted the territories into Canada in July 1870. In the following years, strategies to assert Canadian sovereignty and control over this vast region were foundation stones of federal policy. Pearce's professional career was intimately connected to these strategies. Ottawa began to manage the region with the Dominion Lands Act (35 Vic., c. 23, 1872) primarily directed at the parsing of resources and settlement of the Canadian Prairies. The next year Ottawa created the Department of the Interior (36 Vic., c. 4, 1873) thereby assigning a single department administrative jurisdiction over all public and Indian lands west of Ontario. Following his recruitment, Pearce began his surveying position in the Department of the Interior in Winnipeg, in May 1874. He was responsible to progress with surveys addressing what was commonly known as the "Outer Two-Mile" claims. Under the Manitoba Act (33 Victoria, c.3, Canada, 1870) Metis land grants along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers included undetermined and pre-survey settlement claims. The Manitoba Act gave Metis settlers access to hay two miles beyond their defined holdings to feed their livestock. In the shifting settlements, squatting, and rampant land speculation, Pearce attempted to stake out these claims. The "outer two miles" question was not settled until 1877, and claims were not staked until 1881 (Dept. of the Interior Annual Report, Canada Sessional Papers, 1882). Following the "outer two miles" assignment, in 1878 Pearce moved on to locating township grids, surveying meridians in Manitoba, and determining the International Boundary in the Turtle Mountain area.


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