Ministry of Environment


4.2 Soil And Land Utilization Surveys Prior To 1965

L. Farstad and N.T. Drewry

The Beginning of Systematic Soil Surveys (1920 to 1935)

Soil Landscapes of BC

Soil surveys were started in 1926 by the B.C. Forest Service. The first survey was carried out in the central interior along the Canadian National Railway route between Fraser Lake and Smithers. The soils were classified according to surface texture and slope. Foot traverses were made at .8 km intervals to cruise the timber and examine the soil. Slopes were plotted on the base maps from Abney readings. From 1927 to 1929 soil surveys were also carried out in the environs of Prince George, Sicamous and in the North Thompson valley from Kamloops to Barrière. F.D. Mulholland of the British Columbia Forestry Service, directed the study. His assistants were all agricultural graduates. They had no precedents of soil survey techniques, and had to develop their own methods and classification to suit the particular area in which they were working.

The purpose of these early soil surveys was to separate arable land from non-arable land, as part of the program to establish permanent Forest Reserves within which alienation would be denied. The results of these surveys formed the basis for Mulholland's report "The Forest Resources of British Columbia" in which he attempted to determine the 'allowable cut' from area and growth ratios. Later this concept was further developed into the first 'sustained yield' policy in Canada, and for that matter in North America. Lack of financial support in 1929-30 brought these surveys to an abrupt end.

In 1931 soil surveys were revived in response to a recommendation of the W. Sanford Evans Royal Commission of 1930 which was appointed to investigate the problems of the tree fruit industry in the Okanagan Valley. C.C. Kelley, a district agriculturist from Prince George, was appointed to direct the work from headquarters in Kelowna. Like many of the pioneer soil surveyors he had no previous experience in the work. The Experimental Farms Service of the Federal Department of Agriculture agreed to participate in the program on a 50:50 basis and R.H. Spilsbury who had been one of Mulholland's original assistants joined Kelley as the representative of the federal staff.

The first survey in the Okanagan on a scale of 1:40,800 was a detailed survey of the irrigation districts north of Kelowna. The soils were mapped on the basis of soil series. The survey contributed to the solution of dieback problems in apples and other tree fruits by showing that these and other problems were confined to the poorly and somewhat poorly drained soils. Later, the plant pathologists found that the corky core disease of apples was due to a boron deficiency in the soil materials. In 1935 the demand for detailed soil surveys diminished and turned to reconnaissance surveys in the Lower Fraser, Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.

The Co-Operative Federal - Provincial Soil Survey Program (1935-1965)

This period saw the expansion of soil survey activities from detailed mapping projects for special purposes by a few individuals to more general surveys of the major valleys and lowland areas in central and southern British Columbia by groups of soil surveyors.

During the 1935-36 field seasons reconnaissance soil surveys were carried out by Kelley and Spilsbury in the Okanagan, Similkameen and the Lower Fraser Valleys where intensive agriculture was practiced and some high priced crops were grown. The scale of mapping was 1:63,360. The map units consisted of soil zones, series, types and phases (see Soil Survey Reports Nos. 1 and 3 in Further Reading).

During this time some preliminary soil mapping was done on Vancouver Island to assist the Forest Service in their tree planting project by designating the location of arable lands.

In 1939 L. Farstad replaced R.H. Spilsbury as the federal soil surveyor, and started work in the Prince George area. The survey had begun in 1938 in an area where agricultural development was limited and where soil information was needed in connection with land settlement. Traverses were on foot following compass lines at one to two mile intervals. Due to the heavy forest cover, lack of roads and inadequate base maps the amount of detail was much less than that obtained in the open agriculturally developed area in southern British Columbia (Soil Survey Report No. 2).

The purpose of these early surveys was to classify and map soils, examine their physical and chemical nature, and determine as far as possible their agricultural possibilities. The information also provided an inventory of the soil resources and served as a guide to land use for government departments concerned with land and agricultural policies.

In 1941 differences in policies between the federal and provincial governments developed and L. Farstad's headquarters were moved to Vancouver where he established an informal co-operative agreement with the Department of Soil Science at the University of British Columbia. Farstad was placed in charge of surveys in the north, the central interior and the Peace River Block. Later, he completed the soil survey of the southeast portion of Vancouver Island. The University of British Columbia provided the Federal group with office space, laboratory facilities, and stenographic services. In addition, Dr. D.G. Laird assisted in the field work in the Central Interior and the Peace River Block.

Soil surveying in the sparsely populated areas of British Columbia in the late 30's and early 40's was not only interesting but difficult and often hazardous. Base maps consisted of information compiled from British Columbia Land Surveys (BCLS) and Dominion Land Surveys (DLS) supposedly locating lands "topographically suitable" for agriculture. The soil surveyors followed survey cut lines, compass lines and game trails. In the spring sow bears with cubs challenged our right to traverse their terrain and in the fall amorous bull moose claimed the right of way. We traveled by team and wagon, horseback, canoe, and on foot and dined on bannock, beans, bacon, grouse, venison and berries.

From the late 40's until the early 60's soil surveys were completed over most of the potentially agricultural land in British Columbia (see Figure 4.2.1). There also developed a gradual distinction between those areas that were to be handled by provincial surveyors and those that the federal unit would survey. However, this distinction should not be overemphasized. There long remained a bewildering interchange of personnel and financing that would turn a modern administrative officer gray.

During the first part of this period Kelley worked alone in Kelowna doing detailed soil surveys of small irrigation projects associated with the Veteran's Land Act. The first expansion of the provincial soil survey unit was associated with the need for soil information by the International Joint Commission Investigation which lead to the Columbia Treaty. The Upper Kootenay and Elk (Report No. 5), the Upper Columbia (Report No. 7) and the Kettle (Report No. 9) river valleys were all surveyed under this program. In addition there was an irrigation capability survey of the Okanagan valley. The purpose of all these surveys was to gauge the irrigation potential and the total water requirements of the soils. Then an estimate could be made of how much water should be withheld in Canada. The field mapping was carried out at a scale of 1:31,680. Soil zones, series, types and phases were mapped. In addition to soil surveying the provincial group provided an extension service to advise farmers on irrigation, drainage and other soil related problems in southern British Columbia.

Meanwhile the federal unit with the help of provincial personnel undertook the mapping of soils in the north central interior (Reports 4 and 10), on Vancouver Island (Report 6) and in the Peace River area (Report 8). The purpose of these surveys was to determine where the actual or potential agricultural lands were. Soil types, series and complexes were mapped at a scale of l:63,360 or 1:126,720 and slope classes were usually mapped by superimposed symbols. The area mapped was determined by the road access along the valley bottoms or how far up the valleysides you could walk in a day. Aerial photographs were first used in the Vanderhoof area in 1943. But there were no stereoscopes available, so only every second photograph was supplied (they had 60% overlap) from Ottawa. Stereoscopes and stereo pairs were not used until 1946 in the Peace River survey.

Figure 4.2.1

Land Utilization Survey 1942-1953

The British Columbia Department of Lands in 1942 started a program of systematic land classification surveys under the direction of F.D. Mulholland who had previously been in charge of forest surveys, making inventories of forest resources. The object of the Land Utilization Division was to classify the Crown lands of the Province according to their present land use and, from the available land considered suitable for settlement, to make recommendations regarding the development of economic farm units.

After World War II the program expanded with the appointment of a new director, D. Sutherland, a conservation officer and a soils specialist. The survey method was broadened to include both land use and soil capability standards. To the present-use classification developed by Mulholland was added an adaptation of the land-use capability system employed by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. The capability classification system closely resembled the soil capability for agriculture approach subsequently used by the Canada Land Inventory (see section 4.3). Eight land-use capability classifications were recognized. Classes 1 to 3 were arable, class 4 was arable with special practices, classes 5 to 7 were suited to increasingly restricted use of the natural vegetation because of their susceptibility to erosion and ecological damage. Class 8 was land suited only for wildlife production, recreational use or watershed protection.

Field surveys, employing supplementary summer help from the University of British Columbia, were conducted in the principal settlement areas from 1947 to 1953 when the work was suspended due to a change in government priorities. Extensive surveys were carried out in the Peace River, Prince George, Terrace, Creston and East Kootenay areas. The Peace River project was the largest, with over a million acres of land classified and mapped (see Figure 4.2.1).

Numerous special projects were undertaken to meet special government or community needs. The Pemberton Valley was studied to assist in determining the feasibility of dyking the Lillooet River. A detailed study was made of the Doukhobor lands to assist in resolving land use and ownership problems involving the Doukhobor sect and the Province of British Columbia (see Rowles in Further Reading). These projects, and others, demonstrated the applicability of the land capability classification approach to dealing with problems having both social and technical implications. The capability classification has proven to be an effective vehicle of communication between the technician and the general public which makes use of the technical information.

Further Reading

  • Farley, A.L., 1950. Summary and Map of Soil Surveys and Land-Utilization Surveys in British Columbia. Annual Rpt. Br. Col. Lands Service, II 49-57, 1 map.

    This contains a brief description and a detailed table of many of the early surveys.

  • Rowles, C.A., 1955. Soil, Agriculture and Rehabilitation. In Hawthorn, Harry B. (editor). The Doukhobors of British Columbia, Univ. British Columbia and J.M. Dent (Canada) Ltd. pp. 221-245.

    A study of the soils of Doukhobor lands with recommendations for their future use.

All the following are soil reports for the areas which were surveyed prior to 1965. They are arranged according to report number.

  • Kelley, C.C. and R.H. Spilsbury, 1939. Soil Survey of the Lower Fraser valley. Br. Col. Dept. Agric. and Exp. Farms Service, Dominion Dept. Agric., Publ. 650.
  • Kelley, C.C. and L. Farstad, 1946. Soil Survey of the Prince George Area, British Columbia. B.C. Soil Survey Rpt. No. 2, Br. Columbia Dept. Agric. and Exp. Farms Service, Dominion Dept. Agric.
  • Kelley, C.C. and R.H. Spilsbury, 1949. Soil Survey of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, British Columbia. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 3, B.C. Dept. Agric. and Exp. Farms Service, Dominion Dept. Agric.
  • Farstad, L. and D.G. Laird, 1954. Soil Survey of the Quesnel, Nechako, Francois Lake and Bulkley-Terrace Areas. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 4, Exp. Farms Service, Can. Dept. Agric.
  • Kelley, C.C. and P.N. Sprout, 1956. Soil Survey of the Upper Kootenay and Elk River valleys. B.C. Soil Survey Rpt. No. 5, B.C. Dept. Agric. and Exp. Farms Service, Can. Dept. Agric.
  • Day, J.H., L. Farstad, and D.G. Laird, 1959. Soil Survey of Southeast Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands, British Columbia. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 6, Can. Dept. Agric.
  • Kelley, C.C. and W.D. Holland, 1961. Soil Survey of the Upper Columbia River Valley. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 7, B.C. Dept. Agric. And Can. Dept. Agric.
  • Farstad, L., T.M. Lord, A.J. Green, and H.J. Hortie, 1965. Soil Survey of the Peace River Area in British Columbia. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 8, Univ. British Columbia, B.C. Dept. Agric. and Can. Dept. Agric.
  • Sprout, P.N. and C.C. Kelley, 1964. Soil Survey of the Kettle River Valley, B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 9, B.C. Dept. Agric. and Can. Dept Agric.
  • Hortie, H.J., A.J. Green, and T.M. Lord, 1970. Soils of the Upper Part of the Fraser Valley in the Rocky Mountain Trench of British Columbia. B.C. Soil Survey, Rpt. No. 10, Can. Dept. Agric. and B.C. Forest Service.