Member Biography

R.C. Laurie

Richard Carney Laurie

(1858.01.31 - 1938.01.20)
Commission #012

An Engineer, Land Surveyor, Contractor, Civil servant, Entrepreneur, Newspaper owner and a military career that involved his participation in three wars. This outlines the life that Major Richard Carney Laurie lived prior to his demise on January 20, 1938 in Battleford, Saskatchewan.

His obituary in the Saskatchewan Herald on January 26, 1938 outlines in detail his outstanding life. In part it stated:

He has left a record of loyalty to the empire and services to the community which has few equals in the annals of the West.

Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, on January 31, 1858, he attended public school in Windsor, Ontario, until the family moved to Winnipeg in 1871, along with his three sisters. He attended Winnipeg College in 1873, graduating in 1876 with the distinction of mathematical medallist. In 1877, he joined the Winnipeg Free Press and at the same time he became a cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario from 1877 to 1880.

In 1881, he chose to use his profession as a surveyor and civil engineer and became a topographer on a survey party locating the Canadian Pacific Railway between Brandon and Moose Jaw in the North West Territories. When he returned to Winnipeg he articled as a land surveyor with Mr. George McPhillips, Dominion and Manitoba Land Surveyor and obtained his commissions in 1882 as a Dominion and Provincial Land Surveyor. It was Mr. Laurie, as an articled student, who came to Battleford in 1882 and surveyed the property of Mr. Alex MacDonald, which was to become the village of Battleford. Mr. McPhillips was in charge of the survey party.

Mr. Laurie hung out his shingle as a Surveyor and Engineer in Battleford on July 8, 1882. In conjunction with his private practice, he accepted the position of engineer and inspector of Public Works in the Battleford Public Works District in February 1897.

He started working under contract for the Dominion Government doing townsite surveys in the Battleford area in 1883. As early as 1884, as an entrepreneur, he and a Mr. J.A. Gowanlock erected a combined grist and saw mill at Frog Lake, N.W.T..

This was also the same area that saw the masacre at Frog Lake, in April 1885. In fact, Mr. Gowanlock died in the Frog Lake uprising.

Because of Mr. Lauries previous military training at the Royal Military College in Kingston, he volunteered his services to General Middleton as a Lieutenant to “F” Company, 90th Winnipeg Rifles. They were soon engaged in the battles at Fish Creek and Batoche. They returned to Battleford and were there on May 26, 1885, when Chief Poundmaker surrendered. They then went to Fort Pitt where Chief Big Bear was captured and this basically terminated the rebellion.

Various articles in the Saskatchewan Herald mentions many escapades by Mr. Laurie. One such story relates to his problem when someone stole quite a few of his horses while surveying. There are other notable events found in the paper.

August 18, 1888 - The span of horses lost by R.C.Laurie on the 27th of June turned up at Medicine Hat the other day, having been delivered to the Mounted Police by a couple of Indians.

May 2, 1887 - R.C.Laurie, Civil Engineer, has the contract for putting up the bridge across the Battle River.

Dec. 30, 1898 - R.C.Laurie, Dominion Land Surveyor has closed his office at MacLeod and gone to Regina for the winter.

Mr. R.C.Laurie depicted in his many writings the early days of Battleford, his early surveys, and stories about the NorthWest Rebellion along with hardships that the early pioneers had to endure on the prairies. One such article was written in 1935, and headlines stated “Reminiscences of Early days in Battleford and with Middleton’s Column”. This series of articles by Mr. Laurie should be preserved and placed along with other notable issues of early Canada. He took over his fathers newspaper, the “Saskatchewan Herald”, in 1903, when his father “Patrick Gammie Laurie” died.

In 1900, Mr. Laurie again volunteered, this time he joined the Strathcona Horse in Winnipeg for service in South Africa as a Major. While overseas he contacted “enteric fever” and after a long illness was invalid home.

When World War I broke out, he again volunteered and went overseas with the First Canadian Contingent returning home in 1918.

While with the North West Territorial Government from 1897 to 1903, he was a District Engineer at MacLeod, Regina and Red Deer. While in Red Deer he was elected as a town councilor for the year 1903. Evidently the house he built on 59th street in Red Deer was used as a “Habitat for Humanity” project a few years ago and is still in good shape.

When Battleford became a town in 1904, Mr. R.C.Laurie became a member of the first council. However, in 1905 he resigned to become the Secretary-Treasurer and Assessor for the town. He held this position until he resigned in April 1907. When the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association was formed in 1910 Mr. Laurie became one of the original 17 Dominion Land Surveyors to have their Saskatchewan Land Surveyor’s Commissions issued to them on the 9th of May 1910. His Commission was number 012.

It is noted that he again went on council for the years 1910, 1911 and 1913. After returning home from World War 1, he again sought leadership in the community and was elected to council in 1920 and 1921.

In later life, Mr. Laurie received honorary positions and tributes for his dedication to many organizations and the community. Some of them are as follows:

  • Life Member Board of Trade, Battleford, 1933.
  • Life Member Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association, 1931.
  • Honorary Member of the Royal Military College Club.
  • Life Member of Saskatchewan Press Association, 1933.

Other interesting details of Mr. Laurie’s life taken from Patrick Gammie Lauries North West Herald:

In 1878 the first public school in the Battleford area was opened. That same year saw the first newspaper published in what would become part of Saskatchewan.

A few of his early legal surveys consisted of surveying the trail from Battleford to Swift Current in 1904.

A party under Mr. R.C.Laurie left here (Battleford) on September 23rd, 1882 for the purpose of laying out Messr’s Oliver and Coleridges’ lumber limits on Turtle Lake.

R.C.Laurie contracted to complete the school building. (Oct, 1905).

R.C.Laurie on June 24, 1903 resigned as manager of the Presbyterian Church in Red Deer and was praised in the highest terms as a public man and citizen.

It is noted that Mr. Laurie’s field notes were submitted to the Chief Surveyors Office in Regina in 1941 and then re-directed to the Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources

An unprecedented honour was bestowed on Mr. Laurie when he died. Flags in Battleford were at half mast at the Memorial Park, Town Hall and the Armory.

He was a bachelor - in religion a Presbyterian – in politics a staunch Conservative – holding fast to his ideals in all he did.

Acknowledgement for this biography.
- Mr. Mike Waschuk S.L.S., North Battleford.
- Mr. Don Early from North Battleford who loaned me articles about Mr. Laurie.
- Red Deer, Alberta

By J.H. Webb, SLS (LM)