The Surveyor General

The Surveyor General – Responsibilities

The Canada Lands Surveys Act sets out that surveying Canada Lands is done in accordance with the Surveyor General's instructions.    The Surveyor General has the legal responsibility, subject to the direction of the Minister of Natural Resources, to manage all surveys on Canada Lands and to maintain all the original plans, journals, field notes and other documents connected with those surveys.  Additionally, more than 20 pieces of federal and territorial legislation set out property rights systems that rely upon the work of the Surveyor General. 

These legal responsibilities are delivered through the main offices of the Surveyor General Branch (SGB) in Edmonton and Ottawa, and its regional offices in Amherst, Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit.  This regional structure allows SGB to be responsive to the needs of aboriginal groups, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Parks Canada, Justice Canada, provincial and territorial governments, land administrators, land surveyors, land surveying associations and others who work with Canada Lands. 

The Surveyor General also serves as the Canadian Commissioner of the International Boundary Commission (IBC) and as the Canadian member of the tripartite Alberta-British Columbia Boundary Commission.

The Surveyor General – History

The title of Surveyor General dates back over five centuries.  In Britain, the position entailed the management of the King’s property (roads, royal palaces, gardens).  In early Canada, however, such responsibilities were superfluous, so the Surveyor General position instead focused on the survey, settlement and sustainable use of Crown land.  Like the shift from old world to new, the current responsibilities of the Surveyor General have evolved over time.

For a more thorough review of the history of the Surveyor General and the Surveyor General Branch (SGB) see chapter 2 in Surveys, Parcels and Tenure on Canada Lands.