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From a Surveyor's Field Notes

Manitoba Pageant, January 1958, Volume 3, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The scores of land surveyors who worked for the Department of the Interior in the tremendous task of preparing the Canadian West for settlement have left us their detailed field notes. It is not recommended that you read them for relaxation but they do contain much that is of great interest because they were compiled by men who were trained observers of their natural surroundings. This is what one of them noted in 1883 as some of the characteristics of the plains:

"The absence, or nearly so, of the phenomenon known as sheet-lightning.

Narrow currents of air, sometimes only a few feet wide, rushing and hissing through the grass in a serpentine course, like a huge snake.

Sound is very easily conveyed, and for long distances; so that speaking at half a mile is done without an effort, and even at a mile, increased force of voice does not correspondingly convey the sound a greater distance.

Distances are very deceptive. As an example, the picketman was sent to a hill, supposed to be about two miles away, but which after-wards proved to be ten.

Similarly deceptive are objects. For instance, a buffalo head was mistaken for an Indian's tepee; a solitary eagle or hawk, perched on a stone, for a buffalo, an Indian, an antelope — in fact, anything the imagination dictates.

When the atmosphere is in good condition, a three-quarter inch picket can be distinctly seen six miles away."

How about you; what have you observed of the prairies?

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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