Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

George Vancouver Copley British Columbia Land Surveyor by George C. Copley

My grandfather was born June 20, 1880 in Cobble Hill at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island of two immigrant parents – father from Alsace Lorraine and mother from England. This family is considered the first LDS family to be located in British Columbia. The family farm was five miles out of town and he did not receive a very steady education in the local school. At fourteen years of age he left school and went to work in a local sawmill in Nanaimo where his job was to tend to the drive belts that transferred power to the saws. Whilst tending the belts one day he miscalculated and reached his arm into a moving belt and crushed his right hand and arm fairly severely. A doctor in Victoria after a period of time shortened both bones in the lower arm and thus he ended up with his right arm that was about two inches shorter than the left one.

Image - George Vancouver Copley

George Vancouver Copley

As a young fellow he and his buddy Frank Swannell entertained the young women of the Temperance Union Hall in Victoria and both found their future wives within this organization. He eloped and married my grandmother Nora Mabel Liddell in King County, Washington in 1906. According to his often told story he had one nickel left in his pocket when they arrived back in Victoria by ferry and deciding that he would start his married life penniless, he took the nickel and bought a cigar. He worked in his early years of marriage in Victoria as a moulder, painter, decorator and shingle cutter in Victoria.

His surveying career commenced in 1909 in the company of Frank Swannell, a qualified BC Licenced Surveyor (BCLS), with whom he worked until the World War I started in 1914 when Swannell joined the war effort in Europe. Due to his short right arm he was denied acceptance into the Canadian Army and resolutely tramped off to the Northern hinterlands of British Columbia. According to his memory of the event, the B.C. Government saw a need to survey, map and charter the areas north of Quesnel, through the Parsnip Valley and out to Fort Rupert in preparation for encouraging the settlement of land in what was at the time considered solely trapper and First Nations territories. His base was Fort George (Prince George). In his preparation for the role of Surveyor, he undertook educational courses in Botany and Mathematics and qualified to obtain his BCLS designation under the tutelage of Swannell.

The means of survey required the use of canvas tents, rafts, horses or mules, and hiking on foot up and down hillsides utilizing triangulation from mountain top to mountaintop. This endeavour required a crew of hardy men who could endure being away from the comforts of life and family for long periods of time. At times many of his trips took him away from his home for nearly a year and according to him the First World War was over for a year before he got back from that one trip .His sense of humour was infectious and he would chuckle about returning from his outland trips to discover that he had become a father again.

During his survey trips he attempted to gathered at least five samples of all grasses, sedges and other plant life for what became one of the largest collections in North America and which he eventually donated to various universities and museums in B.C., Washington state and Saskatchewan. Due to his enthusiasm and interests in this field he was appointed as the first Commissioner of Grazing for the B.C. Ministry of Forests and in collaboration with Lawrence Guichon of Quilchena developed the formula for defining how many head of livestock could be grazed on an acre of land. He also had collected and documented one of the largest butterfly collections and this was donated to the University of Washington in Seattle upon his retirement. Until the advent of aeronautical flights for mapping, his maps stood the test and were reported to be so detailed that there was little found to be missing or could be added.

In recognition of his exploratory efforts on behalf of B.C. there are three landmarks named in his honour – Copley Lake, south of Fraser Lake, Copley Mount which is north of Fort St. James and the Copley Range which is located near the Parsnip River and north fork of the Fraser River.