William Pearce began his education in engineering in 1869 at the University of Toronto. After one semester he abandoned his studies 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, confirmed his professional surveyor's career, and brought him to Western Canada.
In 1873 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. 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 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. In October 1881, Pearce accepted his recommendation as Inspector of Dominion Lands Agencies in the Dominion Lands Board. He moved into the position of Superintendent of Mines in 1884. He returned to a full-time surveying position when Clifford Sifton appointed him Chief Inspector of Surveys in 1901.
In 1904 Pearce left government service to join the Natural Resources Department of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The series therefore includes his reports on the placement of railway branch lines and his study of the possibilities for settlement of the Peace river and Athabasca River districts. His recommendations on both matters were based on the trained surveyor's detailed observations of the topography and prospective resources of the areas in question. He assisted in the establishment of professional standards for surveyors and served on the Examining Board for the Province.
The series includes 91 maps, most Mr. Pearce collected as working documents, with notes and observations. They include a track survey, drawn in the winter of 1878 using an upturned toboggan as a table; a sketch map of the Peace River district drawn for Mr. Pearce on two sheets of Hudson's Bay Company stationery; and the 3-mile and 6-mile sectional maps of the Department of the Interior. Two sheets of G.M. Dawson's maps are also in the diaries for 1915. These maps cover an inspection of Canadian Pacific Railway land grants.
The series title is based on the contents of records.