Underhill Island, Central Coast, BC, 1921-1922

Probably the most written about survey by Underhill was the so called “Underhill Island” survey of 1921.

The significance of this survey would probably have been lost if not for the work of Jim Lewall,[31] the great-nephew of Bill Lewall BCLS, P.Eng., who was on the survey and Robert Allen BCLS, CLS. Mr. Allen published the biography of Bill Lewall (passed on to him by Russel Shortt BCLS, and written primarily by Ted Lewall, Bill’s son) in The Link Magazine.[32]

Mr. Allen’s contribution was the impetus for an old surveyor from Edmonton to phone Underhill’s offices in Burnaby and ask “What can you tell me about Underhill Island”, to which I replied, “There’s an Underhill Island?”.

In fact, there is an Underhill Island and a Lewall Inlet, and a number of other features named for members of the survey crew. Research into the survey has produced many more names than were identified in the above mentioned sources. There will likely be more to come.

Using the coordinates in the official field notes from 1921, the survey can be scaled and loaded into a KMZ file. Here, the 1921 survey can be seen to fit the modern orthophotography incredibly well.

(story continues below image gallery)

The surveys were of triangulation of the mid coast of BC, south of Bella Bella. The instructions to the Land Surveyors of the day were to suggest names for unnamed features when needed. According to J.T. Underhill’s official field notes, he did just that (see image above). During this time, he named numerous islands, inlets, channels and bays. Many of these names were later officially adopted and remain in use today. Other than the name J.T. Underhill, the official field notes are silent as to who else worked on the surveys.

Underhill’s original field books also do not mention who worked on the projects, but in the back of those books you can find the scores of the bridge matches they played. Many of the names and initials are of those who were there are associated with these scores.[33]

It is also obvious from these records that while playing bridge for money, against J.T. and his brother Jack, may have been a good way to pass the evening or one of the frequent coastal storms, it was not an avenue to great riches. The BC Archives have the Surveyor General’s file of the financial correspondence for the project.[58] These records provide the remainder of the names on the surveys. In total there were seven people on the crew. They were

  • James Theodore Underhill
  • Horace McNaughton Fraser
  • Bernard Cecil (Bill) Lewall
  • John (Jack) Edward Underhill
  • Donald Bellinger Hart
  • T. Ward
  • Frank A. Turnbull

Between the references above, the names suggested in the official field notes, and the original field notes, it is possible to put together a fairly complete picture of what was named for whom.

Features Named

Underhill Island was named for the Underhill family. If it had to be attributed to an individual member, the obvious choice would be J.T.’s father, Dr. Frederick T. Underhill. Dr. Fred was the City of Vancouver’s first full time medical health officer. He served in that capacity from 1904 to 1928. During his tenure, he successfully campaigned for improvements in the Lower Mainland’s water supply, organized the first regular garbage collection in Vancouver, instituted better inspection of restaurants and foodstuffs and guided the city through the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. In 1938, the City of Burnaby named Underhill Avenue in his honour.[3] Or possibly, it was named for J.T.’s mother Beatrice Alice (née Muriel) Underhill who is described as, “a tiny woman, always ready for a new adventure, with a great zest for life and a fondness for gambling”. Beatrice got her adventure, traveling from England to live the life of a pioneer on the west coast of Canada with Fred, and 13 children in the process.[3]

Lewall Inlet was named for Bernard Cecil (Bill) Lewall, who was serving his articles with Underhill & Underhill at the time. Lewall’s son Ted wrote, “I do know that dad was somewhat chagrined that a lowly survey apprentice should have his name attached to an inlet in Sterling Island, yet proud too.”[32] Bill was commissioned as a Land Surveyor in 1923 (BCLS#237).

Fraser Island (now officially known as Sterling Island) was named for the family of Horace McNaughton Fraser. Horace was articling to become a Land Surveyor. He was assigned by the Surveyor General of BC to be J.T.’s chief assistant for the project. Horace grew up in Atlin during the Gold Rush, where his father, J.A. Fraser, could be called a man of many hats (Businessman, Gold Commissioner, Government Agent, Tax Collector, Coroner, etc.). Horace was commissioned as a Land Surveyor in 1922 (BCLS #228) and subsequently went into partnership with Clare and J.T. Underhill. The company was renamed Underhill, Underhill & Fraser. Although the name Fraser Island was not officially adopted, another triangulation survey to the northwest of 2Tu251 has an archipelago on it called The McNaughton Group.

Leckie Bay was named for the fiancée of Horace McNaughton Fraser. Horace married Edna Flintoff Leckie in 1924.[11] ] Edna was the daughter of Robert Leckie, who was the son of John Leckie, who founded the J. Leckie Company in Vancouver. The Leckies were a prominent pioneer family in BC, and produced boots, and shoes. They were a major supplier of boots, to the Canadian Armed Forces, for both World Wars. The Leckie building still exists today in the Gastown part of Vancouver, at 164 Water St.

On another survey by J.T. Underhill, to the west[34] you can find the Edna Islands. In Horace’s field notes, there is a reference to ‘Flintoff Reef’. It never made it out of the field book. He was clearly quite smitten.

Clare Island was named for J.T.’s brother and business partner, Frederic Clare Underhill, BCLS. It seems that J.T.’s choice for the island to be named after his brother may not have suited Clare, as the name moved from one side of the survey in the Underhill field notes to the other side of the survey on the official plan.

Edward Channel was named for John (Jack) Edward Underhill, a younger brother to Clare and J.T., who was also on the crew. Later, Jack would become the Canadian Men’s singles Badminton Champion—twice. His wife Eileen became the Canadian Woman’s Champion and they were both the national Doubles Champions for three years. They both dominated Canadian Badminton for a decade and were the first husband and wife team in the BC Sports Hall of Fame (1970). Jack was an Electrical Engineer who worked for BC Electric Co. (BC Hydro) until 1967. During WWII, he served with the Royal Canadian Artillery with the National Defence Head Quarters where he was responsible for the coastal defence batteries on each side of Canada.[35]

Ward Channel was named for T. Ward. He was a member of the crew.

Margaret Bay (now officially known as Mustang Bay) could have been named for Margaret Elizabeth Gordon, who married Donald Bellinger Hart (a member of the crew) in 1927.

Turnbull Inlet was named for Frank A. Turnbull. At the time, he was a pre-med student at UBC. During his three successive summer breaks (5 months each) from University, he worked with Underhill & Underhill on the coast of BC. In his memoirs,[36] Frank refers to himself at the time as a ‘greenhorn’ and an ‘easy dupe for tall stories and practical jokes’. He considered himself naive as a young man, and on reflection later in life, he viewed his experiences with Underhill as valuable and formative.

Other than Turnbull Inlet, the only reference to Frank is a diary note by J.T. Underhill for Monday June 13th, 1921. After mentioning that it had rained very hard during the evening (soaking everone), J.T. adds, “Frank hurt his leg”. A week later (Sunday June 19th, 1921), J.T. writes, “fell on rocks on way back to triangulation stn. and put transit out of commission”.[37]

This parallels a story told by Frank Turnbull in his memoirs[36] about an adventure, promised by J.T., which turned out to be a more than anyone bargained for.

Frank Turnbull’s Unexpected Adventure

In the late summer of 1922, J.T. took his brother, Jack, and Frank to Ellerslie Lake north of Bella Bella to tie in a mineral claim. They took their fourteen foot cedar clinker boat, transit, equipment, and Evinrude up Elerslie Channel to a small lagoon and then portaged up to the top of Ellerslie Falls to Ellerslie Lake.

While motoring down the lake, J.T. spotted a hand logger working on the lake. He instructed Frank (who was operating the motor) to steer over to the logger. As they approach the logger, Frank shut down the engine. They drifted to a position below the logger and noticed he was just finishing his last chop of an undercut into a large cedar tree.

All eyes looked to the top of the tree to see it whipping to and fro. J.T. turned to Frank and shouted to get the motor started. Frank tried, and it stalled. Before he could pull it again, Frank saw J.T. and Jack jump overboard. Frank followed suit and leapt over the motor into the frigid waters. The tree crushed their boat and equipment.

The soaked survivors were taken in by the logger and his wife. Once they were dry and rested, they went back to their boat. The boat was destroyed, and almost nothing could be salvaged. Frank Turnbull recalls this as part of his adventurous youth.

In 1986, a then Dr. Turnbull visited Underhill & Underhill offices to borrow the old field books as he was working on his memoirs. His memoirs, published in 1996, are largely about his later life as Dr. Frank A.Turnbull, a pioneering physician, who became the first neurosurgeon to practice in western Canada and the first and only neurosurgeon to serve as president of the Canadian Medical Association.[36] [38]

More Names

On the plan, directly west of the Underhill Island (Plan 3Tu251),[34] there are a few more names that are easily identified with members of the crew and their families. Edna, the fiancée of Horace Fraser as mentioned above, and near her Islands were:

The Hart Group named for Donald Bellinger Hart, a member of the crew.

Ruth Island (now officially known as Spitfire Island). Ruth was the middle name of J.T.’s wife, Florence Ruth Underhill. Her father was a Land Surveyor, as were two of her brothers.[12]

The Lyte Group was named after survey member Bernard Cecil (Bill) Lewall’s great grandfather; Henry Francis Lyte, the author of a number of hymns written in Britain during the 1800’s, including his well-remembered “Abide With Me”. [60]

Ronald Island was named for Clare Underhill’s son Ronald Clare Underhill. Next to Ronald Island is the Anne Islands. Anne was Ronald’s twin sister. They were born in 1920, one year before the survey. Sgt. Ronald Underhill was killed in action, during WWII, in Italy.[21]

The Anne Islands, were named for Clare Underhill’s daughter Anne Barbara Underhill. Anne obtained her BA (hons) in Chemistry (1942), followed by a MA in 1944 at the University of British Columbia. She worked in Montreal, during the war, on Canada’s contribution to the Manhattan Project.

Anne Barbera Underhill

In 1946 Anne Barbera Underhill entered the University of Chicago to obtain her PhD. Her thesis was the first model computed for a multi-layered stellar atmosphere (1949). Her thesis supervisor was S. Chandrasekhar.

She was a long-standing fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1948. Anne held a Natural Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at Copenhagen Observatory from 1948–49 and joined the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory as a research scientist until 1962. In 1962, she became Professor of Stellar Astrophysics at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. She stayed there until 1970. Then she accepted a prestigious position at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as head of a new Laboratory for Optical Astronomy. For a short while, she was the US Project Scientist on the joint NASA–UK–ESA International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite. She was involved in the initial feasibility studies for what would eventually become the Hubble Space Telescope. She remained at Goddard as a senior scientist until her retirement in 1985.

She then returned to Canada as an emeritus professor at UBC. She was an internationally recognized expert on hot stars, with over 200 publications to her credit, and was a Life Member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.[39][40][41][42] In addition to the Islands named after her by her uncle Jim when she was just an infant, a 21km asteroid (2154 Underhill) was named after her after it was discovered by C.J. van Houten-Groenevald, and T. Gehrels, in 1960.[43][44]

There are other names on the surveys, since made official, that have not yet been associated with anyone: Rupert Island, Manley Island, Pattinson Group, Stopper Group, Stewart Inlet, Brydon Channel, Morris Channel, and Watt Harbour.

The Survey

This was a survey project, so something should be said about that. Prior to the advent of modern electronic instruments, distance measurement was accomplished by measuring with a steel tape or surveyors’ chain. Measuring distances accurately by this method was a slow and arduous process. For this reason, only a few distances would be measured (referred to as baselines) and the majority of the measurement would be accomplished via angles measured with a theodolite or transit.

Extending triangles off of the baselines and measuring their angles was referred to as triangulation. At the time of these surveys, angle measurement was accomplished with open plate transits. The ones used in the survey were apparently quite good as angles were read to five seconds of arc. 2Tu251 shows the triangles in red.

In the legend, there is a reference to inlets being measured (mapped) using “Compass and Evinrude”. The Evinrude outboard motor was first produced in 1909 and was still a fairly new technology; so much so, that its name was still used as a noun to describe outboard motors. From the notes it can be deduced that the Evinrude could move their boat along at about 4.5mph. By using a watch, they measured distance by knowing the speed of boat, and time between waypoints.

Although the coastline looks crudely drawn, it is very accurate at the triangulation points as can be seen above in Google Earth. Note how well the 1921 survey fits the modern orthophotography.

From J.T. Underhill’s diary notes in the field books, you can get a sense of just how difficult working on the coast of BC was (and still is). There were frequent storms and fog, they often got stuck and had to camp in the bush, and the rain was relentless. The day seemed to start at about 4:30AM and did not finish until 8 or 9PM.

Other Files:
Plan: 5TU251

C.S. Cryderman, P.Eng., CLS, BCLS