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WSP delivers surveying and mapping solutions for the entire project lifecycle with speed and certainty. Our crews are first on the ground supporting some of the largest projects in Canada. Regardless of the project size or location, we are there, from field to finish.


The Peaceful and Lawful Enjoyment of Land

November 04, 2016


As Geomatics Professionals, and more specifically Land Surveyors, we are responsible to our clients and society to preserve the peaceful and lawful enjoyment of land. This can be achieved through a multitude of means from the establishment or re-establishment of land boundaries, to the development and access of geospatial information in today’s digital world. Geospatial information touches everything today and its footprint is ever expanding in this connected, mobile, digital age. We are no longer responsible for just maintaining the spatial fabric for land owners by assessing evidence, marking property corners and preparing plans depicting those boundaries. Boundaries are now defined by coordinates, referenced to specific datums and coordinate systems. This means we also have to be advocates and teachers to the public as there is increasing access to sensors and platforms that will tell John Q Public approximately where he is. However this could be a topic unto itself, or rather multiple topics and I want to focus on a more traditional role for the Geomatics Professional, although in an ever more present business situation. Legal Plans in an urban environment, as part of a multi-disciplinary, multi-company project team.

Survey Party Chief finds a legal monument over 1m below the surface.

Why do I find this so interesting or maybe why do I think you would find it interesting? A lot of the projects these days are ending up as multi-disciplinary projects. Groups with specialized skills come together, be it from boutique companies or larger organizations with multidisciplinary offerings, to provide the client with a single point of contact and project team. As a Geomatics Professional, I find myself falling into many categories here, at WSP we are one of the largest Geomatics firms in Canada and part of an even larger multidisciplinary company. In most projects we find our Geomatics services to be boutique in nature, rather than the focus. As this small part of every team we touch most aspects of any project as custodians of spatial data as outlined by my colleague, Kelsey Davis, from data collection, presentation and visualization for engineering to preparing maps for public consultation and eventual acquisition of rights in the land.

Complete street project in Ottawa, Ontario.

One of my more recent, ongoing projects involves the design and future construction of a “complete street” vision through a 30 block portion of a major transit corridor in the City of Calgary to introduce dedicated bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations, wider sidewalks and boulevards. In this diverse and historically significant section of the city a number of challenges are introduced: from preserving historical buildings and landmarks to accommodating existing business needs or ensuring the design matches the existing surfaces and utility infrastructure. Questions such as where is our business sign located and what is the elevation of the existing sidewalk and asphalt need to be answered to allow for decisions to be made.

Searching for legal monuments.

The end client on the project, The City and its residents already had an extensive amount of geospatial information at the project onset as a result of the ongoing operation and management of a large civic center. As such it was not critical to complete extensive data acquisition but rather to validate the data provided (LiDAR, property line and utility mapping.) What was needed was data acquisition focused on specific sites and for the establishment of property boundaries where the design anticipated that portions of private land would need to be acquired for public purposes: assessing evidence, developing and providing a professional opinion, and solving complex re-establishments when development has inadvertently disturbed or destroyed evidence. Over the 30 blocks that covered this project area we need to acquire over 40 parcels of land from land owners, some having lands described or defined by survey plans dating back to as early as 1910.

Legal survey monument found buried below asphalt and concrete curbing.

So much has changed since then, not just the technology we use and the way we survey, but the landscape, the land use and even the town name itself as it was annexed by the city over 50 years ago. Some things have not changed though, the survey monuments (if they still exist) that were originally placed still govern the property boundaries. If the governing monuments are no longer there we have to widen our search to find monuments that are tied to the governing monuments, sometimes blocks away. For each step that we take along an every expanding search, we must use an exhaustive search, looking for rust or traces of a monument, trying to figure out why it might not be there. The monuments may not be right there, poking out of the grass or dirt; they may be buried by landscaping, or countersunk from when the streetscape looked vastly different. So we stake them out, calculate from other information and start digging. But wait, this hole is going to be in someone’s yard; a yard that they take time to landscape, maintain and keep it looking good.

The proper excavation of a buried legal monument to ensure the site is left as it was found.

As professionals, we are responsible for the peaceful enjoyment of the land. We are responsible for ensuring ourselves and our agents present ourselves in a professional manner.


About Chris Beaugrand | For more information about land surveying, geomatics, or this blog, please contact Chris Beaugrand, P. Eng., ALS.