The Surveying Business in Canada

Land surveying in Canada falls under 11 different jurisdictions— one for each of the 10 provinces and one for "Canada Lands," which are loosely defined as all Indian reserves and national parks wherever they are located in Canada, the three northern territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut), and the offshore.

Each jurisdiction has a legislated self-regulated land surveyors' association that regulates cadastral surveying (property boundary surveying) within its jurisdiction. The associations take care of the full range of licensing responsibilities including entrance requirements, examinations, discipline and complaints, and continuing education, with the overriding mandate of public protection.

Canada has many post-secondary programs across the country preparing students for a career in land surveying. Two of these programs, one in New Brunswick and one in Calgary, specifically turn out survey engineers. The other programs are university degree programs (three to four years) or technology level programs (two to three years) in "geomatics."

Once a student has completed an academic program, depending on where he/she wants to practice, the graduate can apply to one of the land surveying associations or a regional board of examiners to become a candidate for a commission as a licensed land surveyor in the association's jurisdiction. This normally involves writing scientific and professional exams and a period of articles. In Canada, many associations have delegated the responsibility of certifying applicants on what is called a Common Core Syllabus (pre-professional) to two regional boards of examiners who cover the following jurisdictions:

  • Canadian Board of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS): British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and "Canada Lands," and
  • Atlantic Provinces Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors (APBELS): Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

The provinces of Ontario and Québec have their own entry processes. Candidates who go through one of the regional board routes have to obtain a certificate of completion from the board before applying with an association to write professional exams and articles.

In all Canadian jurisdictions except Québec, land surveyors can incorporate for the purpose of land surveying, including cadastral surveying. This will be possible in Québec early next year.

Canada's economy has been strong in the last few years, and a number of large projects were, and are, undertaken across the country. Canada has provided a number of large to very large projects for land surveyors in the past decade, and the trend is continuing, including:

  • the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia;
  • the oil sands in Alberta;
  • oil and gas development in western Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba);
  • mineral resources development in Manitoba;
  • transportation, power, and mineral resources development in Ontario (De Beers Victor Diamond Mine);
  • LNG port facility and pipeline in Québec;
  • offshore oil and gas for Nova Scotia;
  • mining and offshore oil and gas development in Newfoundland development in Newfoundland and Labrador;
  • the confederation bridge linking Prince Edward Island to the mainland;
  • natural resources development in New Brunswick;
  • power and mineral development in the Yukon;
  • deep sea port, military training facility, and mineral exploration and development in Nunavut; and
  • oil and gas and mineral exploration and development in the Northwest Territories.

At this point there seems to be more work than there are land surveyors; there are fewer than 3,000 licensed land surveyors in Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia. Moreover, the baby boomers have started retiring last year, and as this trend accelerates, it will be felt acutely in the land surveying profession. The broad field of geomatics has expanded the business of Canadian land surveyors over the last decades while at the same time enhancing recruitment activities in every aspect of geomatics. However the expansion of the economy and workforce shortages at all levels have created a conundrum: the more we expand our services, the more people we require, but where will they come from?

The largest jurisdiction, in terms of geographic size for surveyors in Canada, is "Canada Lands" and covers a territory of approximately 10,900,000 square kilometres, which is about seven times the surface area of the province of Québec. The cadastral surveying profession on this vast area is governed by the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS) which is the third largest professional surveyors association with 560 members. The ACLS is unique in many ways:

  • It is the only federally enacted self-governing professional association (all others are under provincial jurisdiction).
  • Members are spread out all over Canada.
  • Its territory is vast (Indian Reserves, national parks, the three northern territories, and the offshore).
  • Since it was officially constituted only in 1985, it's the youngest surveying association.
  • Most ACLS members also have one or two provincial surveying commissions.
  • It's officially bilingual (English and French).
  • The CLS profession is truly multidisciplinary. The name of the association means surveyors of all kinds (land surveyors, photogrammetrists, hydrographers, etc.) who practice on "Canada Lands."

Despite its youth, the ACLS was able to distinguish itself by its dynamism and achievements. In June of 2007, the ACLS hosted the third national surveyors' conference in Québec City, which was open to all professional surveyors. It introduced the new David Thompson National Geomatics Awards Program in cooperation with all professional surveying associations across Canada through the Canadian Council of Land Surveyors (CCLS). The inaugural awards have been presented at the gala dinner of the last national surveyors' conference. The ACLS was instrumental in setting up the new Canadian Council of Examiners for Professional Surveyors (CBEPS), which is responsible for the certification of candidates for the four western provinces and "Canada Lands" since May 8th, 2006. Be sure not to miss the article on CBEPS in the February issue of this magazine.

The fourth national surveyors' conference will be held in the Victoria Conference Centre on May 5 to May 8, 2008. It will be held in conjunction with the CHC 2008. The theme is: "Bringing Land and Sea Together." For details visit

Since the offshore is the largest part of its territory, the ACLS has shown leadership by putting forth the following initiatives:

  • promotion of a Marine Cadastre for Canada,
  • promotion of the ACLS national certification program for hydrographers, and
  • publication and promotion of the new book Canada's Offshore: Jurisdiction, Rights, and Management (copies can be purchased from: or

Because Indian reserves are an important part of the ACLS's jurisdiction (there are over 630 Indian reserves in Canada), the relationship the ACLS has with the aboriginal community is crucial. We have shown leadership in this area by helping the National Aboriginal Land Managers Association (NALMA) to set up its certification program for aboriginal land managers. The ACLS and NALMA are now working together to investigate the possibility of establishing survey-related course content and develop training-delivery approaches that will meet the needs of the Aboriginal communities across the country, including isolated and/or remote communities. The ACLS has also established working relationships with the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Land Advisory Board.

The survey industry is thriving in Canada but it faces a serious challenge: a shortage of professional surveyors and technologists. This situation is likely to get worse. Most surveying associations, including the ACLS, are taking steps to attract more students to the profession. Despite its relatively young age, in its present form (its predecessors date back to 1874) the ACLS has taken large steps in the professional world and has maintained its place as a leader in the geomatics sector.

About the Author

Marie Robidoux, CLS, LL.M. is the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors' first female president. She has a law degree from Laval University, a survey technology diploma from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and a Master of Laws in Information Technology from the Robert Kennedy University in Switzerland. She obtained her Canada Lands Surveyor Commission in 1993. Marie is responsible for Aboriginal and northern projects as well as business development in northern Canada for Challenger Geomatics Ltd. She has been involved with the ACLS for years, serving on several committees as well as serving as a council member.

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