MLA Bill Bennett

MLA Bill Bennett

McVittie House, Land Surveying Office open at Fort Steele

Dignitaries and guests gathered on Saturday, July 11, to celebrate the grand opening of McVittie House and Land Surveying Office. 

For the Townsman

Dignitaries and guests gathered on Saturday July 11 at Fort Steele Heritage Town to celebrate the grand opening of McVittie House and Land Surveying Office.

Robert Allen, British Columbia Land Surveyor (BCLS), Past President of the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors (ABCLS) and chair of the Historical and Biographical Committee was emcee for the event. Dignitaries present included: Bill Bennett MLA and Minister of Mines and Petroleum Resource, Brad Froggatt (Director of Heritage Services Fort Steele), Bronwyn Denton BCLS and President of the ABCLS, Mike Thompson, BCLS and Surveyor General of BC from the Land Title and Survey Authority of BC.

Naomi Miller local historian and Fort Steele volunteer was presented with an award from the ABCLS for her support and assistance with this project and other historical projects in the region and throughout BC.

Bill Bennett, Bronwyn Denton and Brad Froggatt cut the ribbon to officially open the McVittie House and Land Surveyors office.

The moving, restoration and refurbishing of Thomas McVittie’s House and Land Surveying Office was a long and a joint effort between the Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors (ABCLS), Fort Steele Heritage Town (FS), the Friends of Fort Steele, The Province of BC and Teck Corporation. All parties wanted to see the house and office saved and moved on to the main Heritage site. The project started in the spring of 1992 and the House and Land Surveying Office were moved to the present site in 1994.

Pictured: The interior of the McVittie House at Fort Steele Heritage Town,

One of the ABCLS Historical and Biographical Committee’s Terms of Reference is to “Liaise with the representatives working on the McVittie House and  restoration project”. The initial hands-on involvement of British Columbia Land Surveyors and family and friends started with work parties in 1998 and went on each year to 2002. John Armstrong, Jim Sharpe, Bill Chapman, Gordon Stein, and Jon and Faith Magwood were some of those involved in those early work parties and they were present for the opening.

In June 2011, the North American Land Surveyors (NALS) Canoe Team camped at Fort Steele for two nights while paddling in the 2011 David Thompson Columbia Brigade and it was here at Fort Steele that the group discussed starting up the work parties once more. Eight of those paddlers who camped here just over four years ago have also been here for the past three years participating in our week long work parties.  Recognition goes to: John Armstrong BCLS  and his wife, Carol from Cranbrook; Bill Chapman BCLS from West Vancouver; Denny DeMeyer, Washington State Land Surveyor and his wife, Delores from Birch Bay; Washington; Jim Halliday ALS from Cochrane Alberta, and Ian Emmerson ALS from Calgary. Other Brigade members have helped since 2011 and they are Don Watson BCLS from Delta, Ken Allred ALS from Blairmore Alberta, Mike Thomson BCLS British Columbia’s Surveyor General from Victoria, Mary McDowell  Washington State Land Surveyor from Everett Washington, and Ross MacDonald from Invermere.  Other participants were the Surveyors on Bikes, or SOBs as they prefer to be known by: Mike Taylor, Brian Brown, and Roy Pominville, Dai Yates. The Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors has also been very supportive financially throughout this entire project. NALS also contributed financially to the project.

Without their faithful dedication to the project we wouldn’t have had a grand opening. Recognition goes to Land Surveyors and their families from British Columbia, Alberta, and Washington State. The Association of British Columbia Land Surveyors has also been very supportive financially throughout this entire project.

Pictured: The interior of the Land Surveyor’s Office at Fort Steele Heritage Town.

McVittie House and Land Surveying Office were originally built on the other side of Highway 93-95 on the south end of Riverside Avenue and they were moved to their present location s in 1994. The house was originally built on a log foundation with numerous additions and moving it presented many challenges. Structural modifications were made by Fort Steele Staff as there was significant damage from rot. Special shoring had to be put in place and it was gently moved into position after new concrete foundations were cast.  Soon after, restoration commenced. Layers of old wallpaper were removed until enough could be found to closely match the pattern. The old plaster was removed and new lath were put up where needed and the re-plastering began.  Squirrel and bird nests were removed from the attic walls and the outside was scraped and repainted. In this ongoing project new floors have been laid, office steps constructed, walls papered, new fence and walkways built, ceiling papered, a new stove installed, doors, and windows repaired, etc..

The Land Surveying Office contains many historic instruments and other exhibits.  The house contains many unique features different from other homes at Fort Steele including the hot water system heated by a wood stove conceived by McVittie.

This year’s project lasted one week, involved 15 volunteers, putting in approximately 440 hours. Over 450 visitors signed the guest book from all over the world as they were given guided tour as the work progressed.

Our biggest supporters are the Friends of Fort Steele and the staff at Fort Steele Heritage Town, and in particular, Brad Froggatt and Jessica Vanoostwaard (Assistant Curator). Brad and Jessica have given their unwavering confidence, guidance and expertise.

A little background on Thomas Thane McVittie PLS:  He was born in Toronto, Ontario, on May 5, 1858, and he moved to British Columbia in 1879 and opened his at Galbraith’s Ferry in 1881. When the North West Mounted Police left in 1888, the community was renamed Fort Steele after Superintendent Sam Steele and it was at that time that McVittie was made a Justice of the Peace. The East Kootenay was booming in the 1890s and McVittie was equally busy, surveying many towns and mining properties; including Fort Steele, Kimberly, Marysville, Wardner, Fernie, the Sullivan Mine, the North Star mineral claims, etc. McVittie was also a very civic minded person and in addition to being a Justice of the Peace, he was also a church warden, school trustee, townsite agent, secretary of the Fort Steele Mining Association, and president of the Liberal-Conservative Club.

In June 1899, he resigned as a school trustee and began extensive renovations to his home in anticipation of his marriage to Anna Galbraith from New York, the niece of Fort Steele’s most prominent citizen and McVittie’s good friend, Robert Galbraith. By early November, the renovations were complete and on December 16, 1899, McVittie left for Calgary where the wedding took place about a week later. Very shortly after their marriage, they moved into this same house that was officially opened July 11, 2011.

One friend of the McVitties is quoted as saying: “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 mantel piece. A verandah is on each side and a bathroom with (hot and cold) water is a splendid luxury.”

Anna McVittie died in June 1914 in Victoria and Thomas Thane McVittie died in Edmonton on March 25, 1918. Judge Frederick Howay later described McVittie as “widely and favourably known, not only as an able Surveyor but also as a representative and useful citizen.”

As European settlers moved west across the prairies and the Rockies, they often followed in the footsteps of early Land Surveyors who played a vital and often unrecognized role in the settlement process. No railroads or roads could be constructed or towns or mining claims developed and improved before being located by a Land Surveyor. Thomas Thane McVittie was one of those Land Surveyors.