© Neil Bennett Photography 2022.

A little bit about my survey career, so far.

(Written in 2004)
Surveying can certainly be a multifaceted career path. Since 1968 I have worked as far north as Little Cornwallis Island in the Canadian Arctic, as far east as Saudi Arabia, as far south as Colombia in South America and as far west as you can go in Canada - Langara Island in Haida Gwaii.

My experiences pale in comparison to those of many of my fellow surveyors, such as a friend who, due to a certain intestinal problem, claims that he saw most of South Korea seated on a toilet seat. And, people who have worked in central Africa tell me that the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy, isn’t very far from the truth.

I did not go directly into surveying after high school. After some university math and physics and a few seasonal surveying jobs, surveying seemed like it might be a good career choice. I would be outside; I would use math and logic; I enjoyed challenges. And, if I so chose, I could run a business one day … exactly the things my dad had suggested - and I had turned down - when I completed high school and the brand new BCIT opened.

As time goes by I’m not outside nearly as much; I use the telephone much more than math and logic; the challenges are still there but they are much different than when I started surveying. I did, in fact, get to run a business. Over time, the perception of surveying has changed too. What started as “Are you one of those guys who holds a stick in the road?” has changed to “It’s going to cost how much???”.

Broadly speaking, surveying can be broken down into two groups: in-town projects and out-of-town projects. In-town projects can include all the complex projects being completed in the urban core and out-of-town projects can be as broad and exciting as the world is big. Out-of-town projects can include offshore surveys, mineral claim surveys and projects accessed by helicopter and float planes. Of course, some out-of-town projects include the aspect of not being able to have a shower, sometimes for extended periods, but that isn’t advertised very much.

Both in-town and out-of-town projects have their own particular charms but sometimes that charm isn’t understood until the project is over. As a friend says - same guy as in the Korea story - sometimes the best part of an out-of-town project is the feeling of the wheels of the plane leaving the ground at the end of the project.

A couple of in-town stories:

One simple project, locating some buildings on a lot slated for development, became much more “exciting” and probably dangerous, when we noticed that the whole garage was full of pot plants.

A few years ago, a client of ours was building a high-rise project in downtown Vancouver. Next to the site was a small low-rise building in which there was a lawyer’s office. The lawyers had a saltwater fish tank, containing many expensive tropical fish, next to the wall adjacent to the construction. There was a battery operated clock on the wall over the fish tank. Unfortunately the construction vibration knocked the clock off the wall into the fish tank and all of a sudden all the fish were sushi material. Doubly unfortunate for the developer, the lawyers were litigation lawyers.

A few out-of-town stories:

Nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline. The short winter days in the north provide their own special brand of excitement, like being dropped off at the bottom of a hill with a powersaw and can of gas to create a helicopter pad at the top of the hill by nightfall - nightfall being around 3:30pm. Had I not finished the pad I would have spent the night there at something like -20C. I finished it.

On Little Cornwallis Island one July, the winter snow was melting daily and the Arctic foxes were having a great time feeding on lemmings. Eventually we began giving the foxes our leftover porridge, which vanished in seconds, and we eventually made sport of trying to hold onto a large kippered herring and getting the foxes to take it without taking any fingers. I still have all mine. For a few days it turned into summer (+15C) and the whole barren island turned into yellow and purple flowers. Just as suddenly, they were gone.

Oh, and the scotch that was smuggled into Saudi Arabia for Christmas Eve, after we had been dry for quite a while - I’d just as soon forget that one.

Being ushered into a small concrete block room in the internal security building in Bogota, past a guard who appeared to have a room temperature IQ but who also carried an Uzi, certainly had its own “charm”. The company for which I was working had failed to obtain the correct visa for me but they said it was no problema. Turns out it was a big problema. Adios muchachos.

Through it all I have had some wonderful experiences, worked with some great people (well, the guy who, upon hearing of an employee’s tribulations, said that sympathy was in the dictionary between shi* and syphilis would be an exception), caught some great fish, taken some pictures I like, and have learned some skills that I apply in everyday life and the current part of my career. For someone searching for a career with a lot of potential variety, surveying has much to offer.

- Neil Bennett
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