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From Saddle To Surveying



Top photo: Members of Gerald Andrews’s team explore the B.C. interior in 1925; (bottom left) Andrews during WW II; (bottom right) Andrews (right) taught Cree-speaking Métis children at the Kelly Lake school in the 1920s.

When World War II was declared in September 1939, Gerald Andrews and his small aerial survey crew were standing on a sandbar in a remote Rocky Mountain stream. The terrible news came to them through the radio in their small float plane. Andrews’s agile mind immediately jumped to the possibilities of a wartime application for aerial survey work. His ability to think ahead had served him well over the years, and it would be something he would draw upon many times again. Indeed, it was one of the reasons why people referred to him as being ahead of his time.

Born in Winnipeg on Dec.12, 1903, Andrews was the son of a pharmacist and a full-time homemaker. His mother, Emma, had two boys and four girls. She died in 1913 when Andrews was only 10 years old.

Five years after Emma’s death, the family moved to Calgary where Andrews became fascinated by the Rocky Mountains, whose craggy peaks filled the western horizon. In 1919 he found work in the mountains, first as a waiter at the Railway YMCA lodge in Field, B.C. He later became the cook’s assistant at a CPR camp at Takakkaw Falls, a place that catered to tourists. He then moved on to Brewsters, a transportation company that took tourists to and from the railhead to the hotels and camps in the area.

He gained invaluable experience with handling horses, but this work in the wilderness also presented an opportunity to explore the province’s interior, both on foot and on horseback while acting as horse-wrangler to the guides employed by Brewsters. He grew familiar with the now much-visited tourist locations, including Lake Louise, Alta., and the Yoho Valley in British Columbia. He later became a guide himself, taking people into the backcountry where the national parks have long been established.

By 1920 it was time to think about a career and so he enrolled in first-year arts at the University of British Columbia. Someone suggested a career in forestry would be a good choice to combine an intellectual challenge with working outdoors. But first it was necessary to acquire enough money to get himself through several years of study, so he took teacher training in Vancouver, followed by teaching for a year. Not wanting to have a principal breathing down his neck, he moved to the B.C. interior to teach in one-room schools, first at Big Bar Creek, situated along the Fraser River, and then at Kelly Lake in the Peace River country where he taught Cree-speaking Métis children. Out of the dozen children ranging in age from six to 14, none spoke English except for an 11-year-old. It was a situation that certainly challenged the young teacher’s improvisational skills.

There had not been a school before at Kelly Lake and this new venture was at the initiative of Jim Young, a local store owner and fur trader who donated half of his store building to house the school. It had been intended as a games room but Young thought a school for the local children was more important. The school opened in the fall of 1923 with primitive, homemade desks scrounged from another location.

If there were any misgivings about how the children would react, Andrews’s concerns were soon put to rest. On the first day, after getting up early to ensure all was ready, he peered out of the school window to see several neatly dressed children outside–and it was only 7:30 a.m. Not wanting to discourage them he opened the door at 8 a.m. and the students filed in. From the moment they were handed notebooks, pencils, erasers and rulers, he found them bright and eager.

Building from a basic vocabulary and then moving on to an introduction to grammar, within a year the children’s English was more than adequate, their general schoolwork was impressive, and attendance was close to 100 per cent. At the end of the school year a visiting inspector encouraged Andrews to return for a second year, by which time the class had increased to 20.

From Big Bar Creek and Kelly Lake, Andrews made several wilderness trips. The first was a solo journey by horseback that followed a disused miners’ trail from Big Bar Creek, south to Pemberton via Lillooet. Much of the trail was over high country with westerly views of the distant Pacific Ranges or Coast Mountains. He met several reclusive prospectors. One of them, Bill Marsh, was a cultured man who had been in the Indian Forest Service.

The other trips were more ambitious. In 1924, accompanied by Young and his teacher friend Fred Barber, Andrews rode from Kelly Lake, south of Dawson Creek, to Vanderhoof westwards via the Pine Pass and Fort St. James. The following year, with four companions and 14 horses, he headed southeast towards Jasper, Alta., then veered west to the Bowron Lakes and the gold-rush town of Barkerville. Much of the ground covered on these routes was then wilderness and so the going was tough, but now the Hart Highway follows most of that first ride. Andrews and the others on that journey had to cross rivers with their horses, and sometimes the water was so deep or unpredictable it would force the travellers to build rafts and steer them with makeshift paddles. The group also had to deal with the unpredictable weather, insects and the nasty thorns of a bush called the Devil’s Club.

Both trips took over a month and were 400 and 550 miles in length, respectively. By the time they reached the Hudson’s Bay Co. post at McLeod Lake on the Pine Pass trip, food was getting low and they were resorting more and more to that backwoods staple, bannock. The trail was often non-existent and they were forced to search for it. At McLeod Lake they were greeted by the sight of canoes coming across from a settlement. The passengers were full-blooded Sekanis and Andrews’s knowledge of Cree came in useful. Many had never seen a horse and one child said he thought it was a “funny moose.”

Writing of these adventures years later, Andrews said: “High in the saddle one commands a wide overview of the country. The pace is slow and quiet enough to savour the passing scene–the flora and fauna, as well as nature’s symphony and sounds. In the morning freshness a distant mountain gradually takes on awesome proportions, but by the drowsy afternoon it has slowly fallen behind to resume a minor key in the total scene. At sunset, the shadow relief reveals added charms….”

By 1926, after four years of teaching, Andrews had accumulated enough money to attend the Forestry School at Toronto University. Summer work experience took him to Manitoba, Quebec and the British Columbia interior. He made important contacts in all of these places that would be useful to him later. In Quebec he also came across aerial photography surveying for the first time.

In 1930 Andrews attained a university degree and began employment with the survey division of the British Columbia Forest Service. He referred to it as “a nod from Lady Luck” because his last summer job had brought him to the attention of B.C.’s chief forester, P.Z. Caverhall.

Over the next eight years, while working in many locations, he became convinced of the benefits aerial photography would bring to surveying B.C.’s hard-to-reach mountainous interior.

In 1933–with the depression looming–he had to face an indefinite layoff, but used the time to attend the forestry school at Tharandt, near the German city of Dresden, where the program included an advanced course in aerial photogrammetry. He learned German by studying primary school textbooks. During his time there he witnessed the growth of the Nazi party and the rising power of Hitler.

In early 1934 he returned to B.C. to be re-hired by the forest service. On the way home via the United Kingdom, the British War Office somehow got news of this young Canadian who had gained full knowledge of German aerial photography techniques. He was invited to meet the Air Survey Committee who gave him a warm reception.

Back in British Columbia he was able to engage in some aerial photography, but a decisive break came in 1936 when the premier’s office requested survey information on a 500-square-mile area of central Vancouver Island. Despite the primitive camera, the provincial government became sold on the concept. With that, Andrews’s career was advanced when the provincial government authorized the purchase of the latest equipment and he was placed in charge of the aerial survey crews throughout the province.

While on a west coast cruise in 1937, Andrews met Californian Jean Bertholdt and they married the following year. In the summer of 1939, the couple’s first daughter, Mary, was born.

Later that year, after hearing the news of war being declared, Andrews hurried back to Victoria to join the armed forces only to be given a polite brush off. He immediately wrote to his contacts in the British Air Survey Committee and was told to “come at once.” He was granted an immediate commission in the Royal Engineers and sent to the Air Survey Training Centre. From there he was transferred to the Canadian Corps Forward Survey Company.

As the war progressed, so did aerial photography. Andrews, now a captain, was placed in command of the Canadian Aerial Survey Liaison Section, working in close co-operation with the Royal Air Force. When the de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber came into production some were equipped with the efficient Eagle Mark V camera for photo reconnaissance flights over enemy territory. The photos were then passed to the liaison section for interpretation.

When the 1944 D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy were being planned, Andrews’s section analyzed the aerial photographs to select the most appropriate beaches. A system was developed for correlating wave velocity and water depth, vital information for the landing-craft fleet. Andrews, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his part in this enterprise.

After returning to Canada in September 1945, Andrews joined the Surveyor General’s Department where he organized a new air survey division. And as British Columbia’s first air surveys engineer, he was in charge of the division. Around the same time he and his wife celebrated the birth of their second child.

There were not only many war surplus cameras available, but also fully trained young men eager to bring their knowledge to civvy street. Fortunately, Andrews was able to take some of them on, expanding his staff to almost 40. He also bought 25 of the ex-military cameras for his department. The provincial government purchased two Avro Anson aircraft that provided a rock-steady aerial platform for the survey work.

Beginning along the coast, the survey covered more land each year. The 1949 target was 30,000 square miles. The work was exacting and required special skills. The aircraft flew at 19,000 feet and the photographer–using a camera that was mounted through the floor of the aircraft–had to systematically photograph a section of the terrain below and then ensure an overlap on each adjoining section. The weather had to be clear, with minimal cloud cover or haze. It was soon evident that four straight days of flying–with several hours of flying each day–was the maximum that could be undertaken without fatigue setting in.

By the 1950s there was an increasing demand for maps from both government and private industry, especially mining, forestry, hydroelectric power, agricultural, oil and petroleum. It was a time of huge growth in the province, encouraged by the Social Credit government of Premier W.A.C. (Wacky) Bennett.

In 1951, Andrews was appointed Surveyor-General of British Columbia as well as Provincial Boundary Commissioner. During his tenure one of the largest hydroelectric projects ever undertaken was the Peace River Dam near Hudson’s Hope, B.C.

Throughout this time he continued to visit his crews in the backcountry rather than sit behind a desk. Paddy Brennan, a retired surveyor who was with the Topographical Division under Andrews, recalls those visits and his informality, which made him very popular. In a July 1956 departmental letter he did, however, gently chide his younger field staff as to how soft they had it compared to the privation of his early days with its “staple diet of beans, bannock and bacon, plus soggy blankets, ponderous tents and stinking citronella.” It is still affectionately known as the citronella letter.

After retiring in 1968 Andrews shared his knowledge with surveyors in other parts of the country and around the world. He took on a contract with the federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (now Natural Resources Canada) to tour and report on all provincial survey departments. He also went overseas with the Canadian International Development Agency and taught aerial surveying.

Also in retirement, Andrews joined the British Columbia Historical Society and became president of its Victoria branch. He was an accomplished artist and author as well, and was presented with many awards, including the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia as well as honorary doctorates. A lasting legacy was his introduction in the mid-1960s of Integrated Survey Areas, which consists of three-inch round brass markers that can be used as survey points throughout B.C.

In a 1989 autobiographical piece he said rather philosophically: “I had luck winning the benevolence of people in exalted ranks. Long ago, on my first postgraduate job I resolved never to watch the clock nor to worry about pay. Like coins we have two sides, one shiny and one not so bright. I try to keep my dark side secret.”

Andrews celebrated his 100th birthday in 2003, and died on Dec. 5, 2005. From the warm memories of him it is obvious that no one encountered a dark side. Those who knew him well are confident that at some future time a significant topographical feature will be named after Gerald Andrews, and it could very well be a park or mountain peak–deep in the interior of the province he knew so well.

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