Almost anywhere that a casual glance falls on a map of western Canada, someone from the McElhanney group of surveying, engineering and mapping companies has been at work. McElhanney’s name is associated with pipelines and projects across the oil patch of British Columbia and Alberta, highways and bridges in both provinces, ferry terminals, airports, power projects, and the Sea to Sky Highway and other infrastructure required for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
McElhanney crews have also navigated ships and undertaken ice monitoring in the North Atlantic and Arctic, microwave transmission path surveys in Africa, and mapping of some of the remotest parts of the planet.
Throughout its one-hundred-year existence, the name McElhanney has been synonymous not only with adventure and innovation but with integrity, determination and achievement. It all started in Vancouver, B.C. in 1910.
With the dawn of the new decade, McElhanney celebrated one hundred years of being in business since William Gordon McElhanney first opened his surveying and engineering practice on West Pender Street in Vancouver in 1910.
By 1956, when W.G. McElhanney retired, he had three partners, George Smith, Fred Nash and Gordon McRae. Between them they had numerous employees and crews working on projects throughout the oil patch of Western Canada and had added some impressive projects to their corporate résumé, including the surveying required for the massive hydro generation plant at Kemano for the Aluminium Company of Canada.
From there the firm grew to incorporate extensive engineering, surveying and mapping work both at home and abroad. By 2010, McElhanney crews had undertaken work in more than 90 countries, and the organization had grown to more than 800 people working in numerous branch offices across western Canada and internationally.
McElhanney celebrated its centenary throughout 2010 with our staff, our clients and the people in the communities in which we live and work, in a variety of ways.
We asked Katherine to write our story in the same literary narrative way, bringing our stories and adventures to our employees and clients and to anyone with an interest in the history of western Canada in a compelling book with which we could celebrate our success throughout 2010 and beyond.
The result is Maps, Mountains and Mosquitoes: The McElhanney Story, 1910 - 2010, a beautiful hardback book packed with numerous colour photographs and illustrations which narrates our story from its inception in 1910 (including biographical information about our founder, W.G. McElhanney) right up to 2010.
William Gordon McElhanney may have inherited his independent streak, as well as his knack for survival against the odds, from his mother, Esther Gordon. In the early 1870s, she was a sixteen-year-old impoverished Irish immigrant arriving alone in New York City. Undeterred by her vulnerable status in the rough and bustling city, Esther promptly found herself a job in New York’s thriving garment industry. Soon afterwards, she met and married Robert McElhanney, another Irish immigrant, who worked for the city police force. Neither of them ever looked back towards Ireland...
To read the entire first chapter, click here.
Maps, Mountains and Mosquitoes is available for purchase in hard copy for $24.95 plus GST. To order a copy, please click here to email us. Please include information we can use to contact you to arrange for shipping (phone number or email address).
In 2007, McElhanney decided to sponsor two Canadian athletes as part of their contribution to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Two athletes were selected: 2006 silver medallist cross-country skier Sara Renner, based in Calgary, and Paralympian downhiller Matt Hallat in Whistler.
McElhanney is very proud of Matt and Sara and how hard they worked to attain Olympic status in representing their country. Sara has now retired from competition, and we continue to wish her all the best in her endeavours. We are now sponsoring Matt and Olympian Brad Spence for the Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2014.
To visit Matt Hallat's website and read his training diary,
Brad Spence can be reached through his website
Read on to see what the McElhanney branches have contributed:
Fort St. John, BC
Grande Prairie, AB
St. John's, NL
Come back to this page from time to time to check in on the latest legacy
McElhanney offers a number of annual scholarships to various tertiary institutions in Canada. In 2010, McElhanney Consulting Services doubled all of the scholarships it offers.
For more information about these and other scholarships offered by McElhanney, please contact Becky Milos (email@example.com).
McElhanney turned 100 years old in 2010, and it was quite a year.
All 22 branches celebrated in succession with their communities across BC and
It was, and still is, the celebration of a century.
Happy 100th birthday, McElhanney.
At the age of 33, William G. McElhanney began a long career as a British Columbia Land Surveyor, a career that would link him closely with the early development of the province. He opened his first office at 429 West Pender Street in Vancouver as “McElhanney, WG & Co., BC & Dominion Land Surveyors, Dyking & Civil Engineers.”
His first job as a BCLS was a timber licence survey in New Westminster. From 1912 to 1917, William’s brother Thomas, also a land surveyor, joined him in partnership as McElhanney Bros. They moved to 402 West Pender Street in 1912.
Their first major assignment, in the summers of 1912-1914, was the survey of 480 km of the 124th meridian and 55th parallel in central B.C.
1914-1918 – Difficult financial times for everyone during World War One saw the business closure of several of WG McElhanney’s clients, leaving the partners struggling to pay the bills.
1920: The firm moved to 744 West Hastings Street and W.G. McElhanney became a member of the newly formed Association of Professional Engineers of B.C.
1923: W.G. McElhanney served a term as President of the Corporation of B.C. Land Surveyors. He also bought his first car.
During this decade, W.G. McElhanney focused on resource industry work, garnering major clients like the H.R. McMillan Export Co. By 1927, the economy had turned around and business was booming until the stock market crash of 1929. The forestry work would carry the firm through the Great Depression.
Typical projects included legal surveys for reclamation of the Sumas Flats in the Fraser Valley and surveys for the National Harbours Board of the waterfront properties of Burrard Inlet and False Creek.
The early years of the decade were lean years for everyone, W.G. McElhanney included. He remained determined to pay his crews despite unpaid bills from clients.
1932: W.G. McElhanney rejoined the management board of the B.C. Land Surveyors’ Corporation. Demand for metals spikes a mining boom in B.C. and W.G. McElhanney picked up major mining survey work at Harrison Lake.
1933: Work began on construction of the Lions’ Gate Bridge between West Vancouver and Stanley Park. George Smith (a future partner of McElhanney) worked on the bridge crew as a survey assistant. In 1937, W.G. McElhanney was engaged to locate the main piers in the water.
Also in 1937, W.G. McElhanney located H.R. McMillan’s first logging railway which was in the vicinity of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.
1939: Gordon McRae, a future partner, was hired as a survey assistant for $1/day. McRae found it hard to keep up with his 62-year-old boss, who was still actively surveying in challenging country like the steep salal-clad slopes on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Many logging railway surveys were completed in this era for pioneer timber companies such as Bloedel, Stewart & Welch, Alaska Pine, H.R. McMillan and others working in the emerging forest industry.
1941: W.G. McElhanney became President of the BCLS Corporation once again (for the last time).
1946: The firm hired George Smith, who would later become a partner.
In 1947 Mr. McElhanney formed a partnership with Gordon McCrae. McElhanney & McCrae participated in the industrial upsurge after World War Two.
1949: The company’s surveyors began work on the Kemano generation plant, thereby playing a key role in the development of Alcan’s giant smelter at Kitimat B.C. McElhanney crews, led by George Smith, assisted in finding the Kenney dam site, and then carrying out the initial topographic surveys for the powerhouse site and survey control for driving of the 16-kilometre Kemano tunnel. It is noteworthy that drillers working towards each other from four headings met within a few centimeters of each other, both in alignment and grade.
Involvement in the development of Kemano was a major project that generated the income to allow investment in state-of-the-art surveying and mapping equipment.
McElhanney crews remain intensively involved in the Kemano project until 1954. Future partners Fred Nash and Doug Meredith were hired during this period of activity.
The company pioneered the use and applications of photogrammetry together with electronic equipment for precise measurement, computation and topographic mapping for engineering purposes. In 1957, McElhanney was one of the first firms in the country to buy an MRA-1 tellurometer, a revolutionary new piece of equipment.
More and more work poured in as the 1950s progressed, still centred on the Province’s resource industries for the most part, as well as highway and road surveys. Fred Nash spent 1953 – 1955 in northeast B.C. working on surveys for the burgeoning oil industry.
The company’s initial mapping project was the reconnaissance, route location and strip mapping for the 727 kilometre Stewart-Cassiar Road. The mapping for this project was produced on a Kelsh Plotting Machine.
In the mid-1950s McElhanney crews also surveyed portions of the 1,260 km Trans Mountain pipeline, the first of its kind in Canada, for Canadian Bechtel Ltd.
McElhanney’s Wild A7 Autograph stereoplotter was the first of its kind in British Columbia.
1953: the firm, growing ever larger, moved to new and expanded premises at 1240 West Pender Street. For the first time, McElhanney owns its own building. As the decade progressed, a series of subsidiary companies were created to provide different types of services.
1955: McElhanney was engaged to undertake a dam site and hydroelectric capability survey on the Fraser River.
In 1956, at 80 years of age, W.G. McElhanney retired from active participation in the firm. In the same year he was granted life membership in the Corporation of B.C. Land Surveyors and the Association of Professional Engineers B.C.
The company’s expertise in mapping combined with its strong background in surveying qualified it for international assignments beginning in 1959 with the survey of the Mekong River Delta under the Colombo Plan. Bill Papove was chief surveyor for the project.
The great upsurge in mining in the early 1960s provided opportunity for the growth of McElhanney’s mapping business to support exploration, site development and route location.
In 1960 McElhanney and Underwood McLellan (UMA) formed Western Photogrammetry Ltd. to jointly own and operate an aircraft and camera for aerial mapping services. The partnership lasted until 1964.
1961: McElhanney undertook its second international project, surveys and colour mapping Nigeria. The mapping project was a financial disaster because of early difficulties with colour mapping technology and cartographic techniques.
1961 - 1964 George Smith led a McElhanney team on the surveys required for the massive Granduc copper mine on the north coast of B.C.
1964 marked the year of the company’s first route location survey for a microwave telecommunication system. Before the end of the decade, McElhanney crews had surveyed close to 50,000 kilometres of microwave routes in more than a dozen countries. This work was a strong component of the company’s business for the next 20 years.
1964: Future president Robert Brocklebank accepts the job of McElhanney manager.
In a 1965 reorganization, the partnership known as McElhanney, McRae, Smith, Nash & Papove, Surveyors and Engineers was changed to McElhanney Associates. This partnership continues today and carries out legal surveying in British Columbia. At the same time McElhanney Surveying & Engineering Ltd. was formed to carry out mapping, engineering and engineering survey projects. The company’s first President, Bob Brocklebank, led the firm until his retirement in 1995.
The firm expanded in 1967 with the development of a broader range of civil and municipal engineering services and the establishment of a regional engineering office in Surrey. Early projects included land development and municipal infrastructure projects in Burnaby and Surrey. Under Lyle Staples, McElhanney also began what would become a leading highways and transportation engineering division.
In the same year two more branches were opened, one in Seattle providing engineering services to the Boeing Aircraft Co., and one in Terrace.
1969: a new in-house magazine called SURVENG was created, with news and staff information and photos. With women’s liberation becoming a household catch-phrase, more and more women started working in the previously male-dominated firm.
In the 1970s the company began to build its reputation in municipal design with the successful completion of street and drainage projects for the municipalities of Delta, Surrey and Burnaby. This market base eventually expanded to include all Lower Mainland municipalities. Computers and electronic distance measuring equipment had become well established.
With the acquisition of Dabbs Control Surveys in 1972, McElhanney established a presence in Calgary. Alberta and entered the Atlantic offshore marine survey business.
Contracted by Mobil Oil Canada Ltd., this new division of McElhanney pioneered the use of an Integrated Satellite Navigation and Positioning System for use in offshore drilling programs. The client base quickly expanded to include Shell Canada Ltd., Chevron Corp., and Canadian Marine Drilling.
It was also the beginning of McElhanney’s highly successful oil and gas surveying operations.
A further acquisition in 1972 of General Photogrammetric Services established a branch in Ottawa and access to the lucrative domestic and international markets for government mapping projects.
In the mid-1970s, as partial owners of McElhanney Offshore Surveying Ltd., the company was involved in the development of TROV (tethered remotely operated vehicle). The prototype gained international notice by photographing, with a closed circuit television camera, the sunken wrecks of two ships in the Great Lakes.
Also in the mid-1970s the company established additional branches in Chilliwack, Courtenay, Fort St. John, Edmonton, Mission and Lloydminster and (briefly) Regina, Saskatchewan and Whitehorse, Yukon. Future President Bruce Winton started work in Edmonton in 1976. A year later, future President Chris Newcomb began work in the Surrey branch.
In 1976 the company introduced radio positioning systems into Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Sable Island to support exploration operations which included Hibernia and Terra Nova.
The upgrade of Lougheed Highway to four lanes between North Road and the Cape Horn Interchange in 1977 was the company’s first major transportation engineering project for the Ministry of Highways.
1980: McElhanney moves its Vancouver office to 1166 Alberni Street and hires its first female professional, hydrographer Debbie Borris.
The company expanded its locations to include Campbell River and Prince George.
The National Energy Program is introduced in Canada, with negative impacts on oil production and pricing and a flow on slowdown on McElhanney’s oil and gas business. Its foray into the new world of digital mapping was also proving costly, with low returns on the new technology.
1981: McElhanney developed SIAM, its Shipboard Ice Alert and Monitoring System, for use by Dome Petroleum in the Beaufort Sea. It also opened branches in Chetwynd, Lethbridge and Nanaimo.
1982: McElhanney opens a branch office in Fernie, B.C.
Late in 1983 the company exhibited its computer-aided route design program, SURVOL, at the Roads and Transportation Association of Canada’s Annual Conference. The program provided route location, design, construction layout data and as-built quantities for access roads, highways, railroads, canals and airports. It was one of many computer programs McElhanney would continue to generate over the ensuing decades.
In 1984 McElhanney acquired two Global Positioning Navigators allowing the company direct access to satellites of the new Global Positioning System (GPS) being developed by the U.S. Department of Defense.
In the mid 1980s McElhanney established companies in Southeast Asia with locations in Singapore and Malaysia. Over the course of the decade various crews worked in Indonesia on all three phases of the Resource Evaluation Aerial Photography (REAP) project, a mapping and natural resource inventory project for the government of that country.
In 1985 as part of its 75th Anniversary program, the company established a scholarship at the University of Calgary in Surveying Engineering. The scholarship is based on academic merit and awarded to a student entering his or her fourth year.
The M.V. Arctic Prowler, initially leased and eventually purchased by McElhanney in 1985, carried over $1.5 million worth of equipment for use in precise navigation and positioning and in high resolution seismic, hydrographic and side scan sonar surveys.
In 1985 McElhanney led the consortium for the commencement of the B.C. TRIM 1:20 000 mapping program.
McElhanney received the 1985 British Columbia export award for achievements in international and export performance.
1987: Field offices were opened in Estevan, Saskatchewan and Cold Lake, Alberta.
McElhanney survey crews worked on the new company town of Tumbler Ridge, B.C. and the Quintette Coal Mine conveyor pipe bridge.
In the late 1980s the company completed a number of major highway design assignments in B.C., such as design of a section of the first phase of the Coquihalla highway, the design and construction supervision for the Nordel Way connector to the Alex Fraser Bridge, design and construction supervision for upgrading of Highway 97 to four lanes through Winfield and a road and alignment study for the David-Putnam arterial road in Coquitlam which established the foundation for development of Westwood Plateau.
Other typical assignments for the era included the mapping, survey and municipal infrastructure design for the Vancouver to New Westminster SkyTrain route, realignment of runway 18/36 at the Abbotsford Airport, legal surveys on the Expo 86 site the positioning of the new Omnimax Theatre Screen at Expo 86, a control survey for the Alex Fraser cable-stayed bridge and planning, preliminary engineering and detailed design for development of Port Moody’s North Shore Neighbourhood Development 2 and a variety of airspace surveys for new high rise building projects.
In 1988, the company underwent a restructuring that split it into three new operating companies under the umbrella of The McElhanney Group Ltd.: McElhanney Engineering Services Ltd., McElhanney Geosurveys Ltd., and McElhanney Petroleum Surveys Ltd.
At the beginning of the 1990s McElhanney worked on its first World Bank assignment. The project involved establishment of horizontal and vertical control using GPS and differential levelling for mapping at the scale of 1:10 000 covering 70,000 square kilometres in Northeast Brazil as part of a land tenure improvement project.
McElhanney also won the contract for the Kemano Completion Project, carrying out the work required to implement long-standing plans to double the capacity of the Kemano power generation plant. The work continued until mid-1991 when the project was terminated.
The company continued its involvement in major highway and municipal projects throughout British Columbia and expanded its services to Alberta in 1996 with a new branch in Edmonton and assignment of a traffic monitoring program from Alberta Infrastructure. The petroleum division maintained a business diversification strategy to minimize the impact of the recent oil crisis, taking on engineering surveys and mapping projects for the Alberta government.
Throughout the early 1990s, McElhanney continued to build on its strengths in a variety of fields, stamping its name on infrastructure and developments that were household names throughout the West and, in some cases, internationally. They included the expansion of the Skeena Cellulose pulp and paper plant near Prince Rupert; the extension of the Vancouver Port Authority’s Super Port at Delta, south of Vancouver; the surveying, design and construction of airport facilities across Canada; sea floor mapping and geotechnical surveys for the proposed new Hibernia mega–oil rig to be built off the coast of Newfoundland; and the positioning of the forty-four piers required for the fixed-link bridge that would, when completed, span Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
In 1994 the Vancouver Mapping branch was the beta test site for Heleva orthophoto soft copy workstations. This technology transferred traditional stereoplotter work onto the PC computer.
The same year, the offshore oil and gas division closed. The mapping operations were folded into the engineering division.
The company’s Southeast Asia operations were relocated to Indonesia in 1994. A new company, PT McElhanney Indonesia, was incorporated and began an annual air-photo mapping program for Freeport McMoran, owners of the world’s largest open pit copper/gold operation: the Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
In 1995, long time manager and president Bob Brocklebank retired after thirty years with the company.
In the late 1990s the company opened new branches in Grande Prairie and in Smithers.
In 1995 the company was successful in procuring its first design-build project in partnership with B.A. Blacktop. The project was the South Sumas Improvements, Tyson St. to Wiltshire St., in Chilliwack and was completed in 1996 for final construction costs of $896,500. McElhanney’s involvement included topographic surveying, detailed design, survey layout, construction inspection, innovative sidewalk installation and landscaping. Another successful design-build project was the South Surrey Interchange at Highway 99 and 32nd Avenue for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways.
In 1998 the company developed its website, www.mcelhanney.com, and in 1999 began retail sales of B.C. orthophoto maps via the Internet.
1999: McElhanney was hired to work on the survey of the Nisga’a treaty land boundaries, more than 2,000 square kilometers in the Nass Valley in B.C.
In 2000, the company was awarded its first international design-build project, 40 kilometres of upgrading in Nassau, Bahamas.
Also in 2000, with the acquisition of Terratech Mapping Services, McElhanney strengthened its GIS services and added the capability to provide training in the use of GIS software.
The oil and gas division continues to go from strength to strength in the early-mid-2000s with increasing demands for surveying and mapping services and associated work.
In 2002, McElhanney initiated an award-winning project in Cambodia to develop a land administration system that would work safely and effectively in land mine infested terrain. The highly successful program included land mine decontamination by the Halo Trust and developed a surveying and mapping system for properties. It also included a process for adjudication of boundary disputes and a training program for local Cambodian citizens to carry on the program after McElhanney’s departure.
2005: Following the Boxing Day tsunami in Southeast Asia in December 2004, McElhanney crews undertook the mapping, surveying, environmental and land titling required to build 2,400 new homes in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Subsequently, McElhanney undertook an extensive community planning project in Aceh Jaya district in Indonesia.
2007: McElhanney sponsors Sara Renner, an Olympic cross-country skier, and Matt Hallat, a Paralympian downhill skier, supporting them in their 2010 Winter Olympics participation goals.
2008: McElhanney purchases a $1.5 million Leica LiDAR laser mapping system.
Late 2000s: A worldwide economic downturn challenges McElhanney, but a strong stable of steady client work in McElhanney’s proven areas of expertise, including oil and gas transportation, carries the company through. New branch offices continue to be opened, including in Canmore, AB, Cranbrook, B.C., and Penticton.