The Government Official – The Synonym of Justice, Equality, and Fair Dealing

by Josiah Audette

William Ogilvie found his occupation when he was articled and apprenticed to the reputable surveyor Robert Sparks at the ripe age of twenty. Surveying for the Department of the Interior would be his life-long occupation and an adventurous one at that. In 1887, already well suited with over twenty-one years in the trade, Ogilvie made his way for the Yukon. Near the Forty-Mile Creek (In Southern Yukon) Ogilvie erected an observatory, which he built over the largest tree-stump he encountered in the vicinity. Upon this stump, some 18” in diameter and about 5’ off the ground, Ogilvie positioned his transit. It was from here he would specify the approximate location of the 141st meridian through a series of lunar calculations. This was not only a remarkable accomplishment for a surveyor, but the accuracy of Olgivie’s measurement was astounding. Twenty-two years later, a team of Canadian and American government astronomers found the Ogilvie line only a few yards west of the correct position. But not only was Ogilvie astute in his occupation, but was furthermore a man of great principle, as we clearly learn from his work for the Dominion Government in the Yukon during the famous Klondike Gold Rush. In the commemorating words of the Manitoba Free Press, “His name, the synonym of justice, equality and fair dealing. With great opportunities to enrich himself, yet he came out of the Yukon as he had gone into it, poor in pocket but rich in reputation.”


William Ogilvie arrived in Ladue, Yukon in the first month of 1897. He was given the formidable task of straightening out the Klondike claim tangle. The original staking of the Bonanza & Eldorado area was a true terror. Confusion, hysteria, and the chaotic seizing of claims by gold-thirsty prospectors resulted in disputes over many boundaries. It had come to such a point of calamity that work stopped completely, men fought, and owners pleaded Ogilvie to re-survey their claims. The task was colossal in both size and significance. The shifting of stakes by a few mere feet would mean the loss or gain of thousands of dollars. In 1887 the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Ogilvie reports that there are 100 claims on Bonanza Creek capable of yielding from $250,000 to $500,000 and thirty claims on Eldorado that will no doubt yield an average of $1,000,000 each…” Such a job was meant for a man of exceptional surveying capabilities and incorruptible moral. It was also a task for a man of chalcenterous resolve. Extensive travel through the treacherous Yukon rivers was a necessary risk. Most of Ogilvie’s explorations were carried on in two basswood canoes. Each canoe carried two men and 1,400 pounds of supplies and equipment. It was in these that Ogilvie and his outfit traveled over 2,500 miles in the Yukon wilderness.


In one such task, Olgivie was assigned to survey the claim of a local prospector in Lower Bonanza. Through this particular claim ran a twisted river, and along its winding banks the prospector had measured his claim’s legal five hundred feet. Ogilvie’s survey discovered the poor man was eight feet under the five hundred foot distance on account that the man had not properly measured in a straight line. Being the legal stake was five hundred feet, many claims were oversized and consequentially partitioned by Ogilvie’s surveys. These remaining slivers of now unclaimed land could be staggeringly valuable. One ten foot wide sliver in Eldorado was thought to be worth ten thousand dollars or double that amount. Another, just five inches wide, was sold to the adjacent owner for five hundred.


Jim White, an Irish prospector, attempted to use Ogilvie’s surveys to his advantage. Certain there was a fraction between Thirty-Six and Thirty-Seven Eldorado, White bullied the owners on either side to come to terms with him. To much of the neighbors amusement, the fraction White was so persuaded about was just three inches wide. Thus, the miserly Irishman was dubbed the nickname, “Three-Inch White.”


But the richest fraction of all Olgivie’s surveys was from that of John Jacob Astor Dusal’s stake at Two Above. Upon completion of the survey Olgivie found a triangle shaped sliver of land left over with its broadest point pushing an astonishing eighty-six feet. Dick Lowe, one of Ogilvie’s chainmen, inquired if the surveyor would consider staking it for himself. The dutiful reply was, “I am a government official and not permitted to hold property.You go down if you like and record.” Lowe did just that, and so claimed the richest single piece of ground ever discovered. Excavating one shaft down the claim Lowe discovered not a single trace of gold, but upon his second shaft he brought up forty-six thousand dollars. In due course the claim paid out over half a million dollars. Two of the richest creeks, Bonanza & Eldorado, deposited their gold into Lowe’s property. A wire had to be strung along the border of his claim so whenever a nugget was found on the boundary a plumb line was slid along the priceless wire to determine its happy owner. Lower got drunk upon the discovery and stayed that way.


There is only one exception to the rigid rule-keeping of the surveyor William Ogilvie. Upon surveying the upper limit of Clarence Berry’s Five, Olgivie discovered that Clarence Berry’s claim was forty-one feet six inches too long. Upon this very section of land Berry had been doing all his winter’s mining and his dump of paydirt still stood frozen on the plot. If the fraction was announced – as it was Ogilvie’s requirement – Berry would lose everything he had so diligently worked for through the Yukon winter. Furthermore Berry couldn’t stake it because he had already used up all his staking rights. Ogilvie was fully aware of this predicament and took Berry aside to privately relay the devastating news. Berry, immediately distressed, asked Ogilvie what was to be done. Ogilvie replied, “It is not my place to advice you. Haven’t you a friend you can trust…” “Trust – how?” “Why, to stake that fraction tonight and transfer it to yourself and partner.” It was a genius plan which mercifully saved Berry. Berry had his close friend George Byrne followed the detailed instructions of the staking method from Ogilvie and staked the property therewith in the small hours of the morning. As Ogilvie wrote, “A friend like that, in such a need, is a friend indeed.”