McVittie Brothers

Dominion Land Surveyors

We have not, as yet, been able to establish a clear link between our McVittie line and that of Alexander Westmacott and Thomas Thane McVittie , Dominion Land Surveyors - but we're still trying.

McVittie Brothers: Land Surveyors

by Robert W Allen, BCLS, CL

Archibald Westmacott McVittie

A W McVittie, PLS (Ontario, DLS, LS (British Columbia) was born in Toronto, Ontario, on May 5, 1858. He was the second son and fourth of eight children born to Thomas Sr. And Bessie McVittie. Both the paternal and maternal grandfathers were half-pay military officers from the Napoleonic Wars. They, along with a number of others, came to Canada about 1830, settling on the shores of Lake Simcoe on land granted by the Crown to army and navy officers. At the age of fourteen, McVittie moved to Barrie, Ontario, with his family, where his father owned a hardware store on Dunlop Street. He attended public and grammar schools in Barrie and later went to Upper Canada College in Toronto to study architecture.

In the meantime, he also took up land surveying and become articled to Maurice Gaviller, PLS, of Barrie, in 1872. McVittie was Mr Gaviller’s first pupil and he states: "Archie was a good and reliable boy who served his three years’ apprenticeship ... but as he had not then attained his (age of) majority, he was not sworn in until July 10, 1879."1 In the fall of 1879, McVittie was working in Michigan state for a Mr Henderson of Barrie.

Early in 1880 he opened his own office in Barrie but by December had joined with Thomas Kennedy, Architect, and as in the partnership of Kennedy and McVittie until August 1881. When William J Holland, a carpenter and builder, joined the partnership it became known as Kennedy, McVittie and Holland. The firm eventually had offices in Barrie, Collingwood and Toronto. It is interesting to note that the 1881 census for Barrie lists McVittie as an architect.

McVittie qualified as a Dominion Land Surveyor (number 103) on March 10, 1882, and shortly afterward, employed by the Dominion government, he moved west and surveyed some of the outlines of the townships west of the second and fourth meridians on the Prairies. He returned to Barrie that winter and advertised in a Barrie newspaper (January 1883) as a surveyor and real estate agent in Calgary, soliciting investment in the Northwest Territories. Later in 1883 he laid out the townsite for Fort Macleod and on January 1, 1883, McVittie signed the first subdivision plan in the new City of Calgary. This plan is known as Plan A, Calgary. The "certification" on that plan states: "This plan is correct and is prepared under the provisions of the North West Territories Registration of Title Ordinance. Winnipeg, January 1st 1884 (signed) A W McVittie, D.L. Surveyor."2 This plan has since been redrawn under the authority of the Land Titles Office with the original no longer being in circulation. Reprints of this second plan can be ordered through the Calgary Land Titles Office. These moves led Archie to retire from Kennedy, McVittie and Holland in Ontario "to take charge of the branch office at Calgary, McVittie's house built in 1882 of logs, driftwood and scraps of lumber, was probably the first one built in Calgary.4 It was once moved to the Calgary Zoo for use as a souvenir shop but in 1965 it was moved to the Heritage Park, where it stands today. The signboard in front states:

An early Dominion Land Surveyor, Archibald W McVittie, lived in this cabin. Dominion Land Surveyors, as these men were known, divided the prairies and parklands of western Canada into legal parcels that incoming settlers could claim as homesteads. Between 1879 and 1889 surveyors measured and mapped some 61 million acres, an area more than one-third the size of Alberta. In addition to surveying farm lands McVittie laid out the town plots at Fort Macleod in 1883 and at Calgary in 1884.

A W McVittie hosted the first Masonic meeting in Calgary in his home and is recognized in the records of the Grand Lodge of Alberta. Until 1998 McVittie lived in the Calgary area and worked in the partnership of McVittie, Child and Wilson, Architects and Surveyors.

Archie then moved to Fort Steele where he joined his brother, Thomas Thane McVittie, LS, where they practised land surveying in the booming East Kootenay. McVittie Bros. Shared a building with the Fort Steele Assay Office. (This assay office is now reconstructed in Fort Steele Heritage Town.) Thomas Kennedy invited his to return to Barrie, which he did from 1895-97, then retraced his steps to Calgary and Fort Macleod. Silver-lead mining development in British Columbia brought him back to Fort Steele in time to become a charter member of the Fort Steele Board of Trade, which held its inaugural meeting on September 2, 1897. By spring 1898, four surveyors were advertising in The Prospector. A W and T T McVittie, Charles Estemere and T H Taylor.

He married Emily Louise Leslie of Prescott, Ontario, at St. John’s Anglican Church, Fort Steele on November 18, 1899. They had two children, Charles Archibald, born in June 1900, and Margaret Emily, May 1902.5 After the children were born, the McVittie family moved to Cranbrook where he was instrumental in developing the district coal and number industries, as well as working with John Hutchison in real estate. He was a founding member of the Cranbrook Board of Trade.

McVittie’s next move was to Victoria, where they had a home on South Turner Street. Mrs McVittie’s sister and seven-year-old son followed for a "visit". That visiting youngster was to become Canada’s Bruce Hutchison. The late Hutchison says in his book The far side of the Street: "Thanks to the McVitties’ generosity it (the visit) lasted for about two years."6 In the same book he described Uncle Archie as "... a successful Land Surveyor of middle age, an inveterate speculator in worthless mines, and a good man though his bristling black beard somewhat frightened me."7 McVittie dabbled in real estate in Victoria and Lake Cowichan and, according to Hutchison, the Collapse of the land boom at the beginning of Word War one "ruined" him.8

Archibald Westmacott McVittie passed away after a short illness on August 24,1926, at his home at 1411 Mitchell Street in Oak Bay, Victoria, BC, and two days later he was laid to rest at the Ross Bay Cemetery.

Thomas Thane McVittie

T T McVittie, LS, was born in Barrie, Ontario, on February 9, 1855. He was the first son and third of eight children born to Thomas McVittie Sr. He acquired his education at Upper Canada College in Toronto, then was engaged in railroad work and township surveys. He came to British Columbia in 1879. At the age of twenty-six he went into private practice as a surveyor at Galbraith’s Ferry (later called Fort Steele). The community was renamed following the withdrawal of the North West Mounted Police in 1888, at which time T T McVittie was made a Justice of the Peace. He had the longest continuous service of any Justice of the Peace in the East Kootenay.

 

Thomas Thane McVittie & manservant

The East Kootenays were being explored, mines developed and townsites built in the 1890s. A partial list of survey projects conducted by T T McVittie gives us some idea of his contribution to the district:

1896 St. Mary’s Trail to Summit and a Map of Fort Steele Mining Division.

1897 Kimberley Townsite, Sullivan Group of Mineral Claims, Marysville Townsite and Wardner Townsite.

1898 Moyie River Placer Mining Company.

1899 Fernie Townsite.

1900 North Star Claims.

1901 Marysville Smelter and additional townsite.

1903 Kootenay Central Railway, Wardner Townsite, Estella Mine, Sullivan Minesite.9

T T McVittie was elected as one of the first churchwardens when an Anglican congregation formed St. John’s parish in January 1896. He was secretary of the Fort Steele Mining Association, president of the Liberal-Conservative Club, school trustee, on various committees of the Board of Trade, and found time to join in the entertainment presented following the annual school Christmas concerts. He became Townsite Agent for R L T Galbraith in April 1898. An announcement in the Fort Steele Prospector, April 16, 1898, states: "All persons having business in connection with the townsite are directed to transact the same with T T McVittie and to make all payments due or accruing due on lots already sold to him."

He resigned as school trustee in June 1899, made extensive renovations to his house, and in December he married Anna Galbraith, daughter of Alexander S Galbraith of Oneida, New York, and niece of Robert Galbraith, Fort Steele’s most prominent citizen. In October 1900 Anna lost the only child they ever had, an in fact son, a great disappointment for them.

Quotes from the extant correspondence of Harold Nation, a young Englishman working near Moyie, describes visits to the McVittie home where they had "a great number of papers and magazines and a splendid little library with many first editions and out-of-print copies." Mrs McVittie was very fond of Thackeray, among other authors, and Nation was glad to borrow and read a number of books at her suggestion.

In December 1901, when he was working in the bush near Moyie, Nation was invited to spend Christmas with Thomas and Mrs McVittie. To get to Fort Steele he "struggled through the snow" in his best shoes to the Swansea railway junction and used a borrowed two dollars to buy a train ride to Fort Steele junction, where he caught the stage to Fort Steele. He continues; "My feet got pretty wet during my walk and pretty nearly froze when I was sitting still in the stage. However three hours chill in the evening air came to an end as we drew up in front of the house where a welcome light was streaming like in those post cards. McVittie came out on the sidewalk to greet me. As soon as I got into the tiny hall Mrs McVittie advanced up the drawing room and greeted me. She is very small and jolly and is fond of young men, having had many brothers and no sisters.

"They at once showed me to my room, a bright small place plastered and beautifully clean. After my old ten and more or less dirty surroundings, it seemed too nice to go into. However, I changed and got my poor feet warm and dry and then we had dinner. My, how awkward I felt in manipulating the dainty silverware and china, and my poor hands looked terrible against the tablecloth, being ingrained with pitch in every cracked place.

"To describe the house; the original log cabin, in which McVittie lived for a long time, with its open fireplace and stone chimney is now changed into a modern drawing room, and the fireplace surrounded with a mantle piece. A verandah is on each side, and a bathroom with water is a splendid luxury."

Young Nation was invited back quite often, even though he turned down Thomas McVittie’s offer to article him as a surveyor-in-training. During a visit in July he gives a charming account of the beginnings of a new day in the McVittie household: "In the morning McVittie gets up and lights the fires and makes coffee, singing cheerfully the while (the dog chiming in with a sympathetic whine!). He then comes to me with coffee and says that the bath is ready. (Oh my Gad, what luxury") Out I pop and while I am in the bathroom Mrs McVittie comes out and gets breakfast ready."10

By March 1903, Nation was reporting to his Aunt May that he was to be "fort of general assistant to Mr McVittie at $75 a month ... on the Kootenay Central Railway preliminary survey." This was a generous wage. He had been making up to $34 the previous December. Perhaps surveying wasn’t so bad after all?

Thomas, cheerful, active and successful in both business and civil affairs, gradually assumed leadership in the community. If the Premier of the province visited the area, it was Thomas who made the arrangements. He became a personal friend of Richard McBride during his premiership, but hosted many other political visitors. If a major trade fair was to be held, even in Cranbrook, he would be involved in planning. All these jobs he did with ease and grace. His speaking ability was often praised; even his acting (in a Fort Steele farce) received mention.

In 1916 his beloved Anna died, after which time his own health began to fail. In 1918, thinking a change might help his condition, he went to Edmonton to stay with his brother-in-law and sister, Mr Justice and Mrs Scott. He passed away on March 25, 1918, and his funeral took place in Edmonton two days later.

John Frederick Howay described Thomas Thane McVittie as "widely and favourably known, not only as an able surveyor but also as a representative and useful citizen."11

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Robert Allen heads a company of surveyors in Sechelt, BC. He is a member of the Historical and Biographical Committee who have written Early Land Surveyors of British Columbia Vol.I  and are preparing volume two.
Footnotes;
1. Association of Ontario Land Surveyors annual meeting report for 1927, p. 122.
2. Copy of Plan A in the Calgary Land Titles Office.
3. Biographical sketch on file with the Simcoe County Archives, p. 7.
4. Description of the McVittie cabin by Calgary Heritage Park Society, p. 12.
5. St. John’s Parish Records, Fort Steele Archives.6. The Far Side of the Street, Bruce Hutchison p..25.
7. List compiled by David Morley, Operations Manager, Fort Steele Heritage Town.8. Research from the H.T. Nation files by David Morley.11. British Columbis From earliest Times to the Present, Vol.3. Judge Frederic Howay.
Sources;
Simcoe County Archives (James R Campbell); Jim Sharpe, BCLS; Bob Lemaster, BCLS: John Armstrong, BCLS; Syd Loeppky, ALS; Betty Thompson; Bruce Hutchison; Tales of the Kootenays’ Fred J Smyth (pp.79 and 81); Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (Jane Heffernon); Fort Steele Heritage Town (Martin Ross, General Manager, and Derryll White, Archivist); Fort Steel - Here History Lives. Derryll White.