Member Biography

J.E. Underwood

Joseph Edwin Underwood

(1882.11.03 – 1960.04.01)
Commission #049

Mr. Underwood along with Mr. R.A. McLellan S.L.S. carried on a unique partnership which is known today as the UMA group in Canada. The original partnership started in 1911 by Mr. Franklin McArthur and Mr. A.A. Murphy both graduate engineers from Queen's University. Mr. Murphy went on to form a radio and eventually a Television station in Saskatoon.

Mr. Underwood was not only a fine surveyor but was community minded. He was a Saskatoon alderman and then elected Mayor of Saskatoon in 1932. He had obtained his commissions as a Dominion and Saskatchewan Land Surveyor in 1912.

Mr. Underwood was elected President of the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association in 1932 and again in 1947. He was made a Life member in 1957.

The following biography of Mr. Underwood was published in the Fall, 2005 issue of "SLSA Comer Post."
These gentlemen carried on a unique Engineering and Surveying partnership that had it’s beginning with the original firm of “McArthur and Murphy”.

Due to the opening of Western Canada in the early 1900’s the demand for new town sites, along with the infrastructure therein, created many consulting firms. The original early engineers and surveyors came from the east and thus the two Queen’s University graduates, Franklin McArthur a civil engineer and A.A.Murphy an electrical engineer, commenced operations in the old “Bottomley Block” in Saskatoon in 1911.

The final episode is still being played out by “Underwood, McLellan & Associates Limited”, known as the UMA Group.

Mr. Fred L. Small, Civil Engineer and President of UMA, gathered material for the book “A Consulting Engineers Partnership” which was published in 1958 by UMA. The book outlines in detail the history of the firms from 1911 to 1955.

In 1911, Mr. Underwood’s first assignment with the original firm was the supervision, as field engineer, of the construction of a power plant and water system at Wilkie and Scott Saskatchewan. In 1913, Mr. McArthur left the firm and the new letterhead read “Murphy and Underwood” until 1920. In 1920, Mr. A.A. Murphy left the firm and entered the retail and wholesale electrical business in Saskatoon. Eventually he operated a radio station and then a television station in Saskatoon, which are still in operation.

In these early days, the staff consisted, along with others, Saskatchewan Land Surveyors such as James E. Gray, W.A. McMaster, G.L. McKenzie and R.W.Clark.

From 1921 to 1927, the firm was known as “J.E. Underwood and Associates” with their letterhead changing again in 1928 to “Underwood and McLellan”. It was during this time that Mr. Underwood, after being a Saskatoon city alderman from 1927 to 1931, was elected Mayor of Saskatoon in 1932. This was a full time job. Much of the mayor’s time was taken up with listening to the personal problems of many citizens in distress.

This proved particularly trying to Mr. Underwood’s sympathetic nature. The Broadway bridge was constructed during his term of office and the firm was barred from any part in it. Dean C.J. McKenzie designed the bridge.

In the fall of 1912, Mr. Roy McLellan joined the firm to complete some land surveys and engineering projects that were undertaken by the firm. Incidentally Mr. McLellan was loaned to another Saskatoon engineering firm, “Brown and Loucks” that same year to complete contour work on the new Riverside Golf and Country Club.

The firm performed hundreds of mineral claim surveys along with engineering projects in the north. Many of these jobs had sidelines attached to the work, which the engineer in charge had to perform. For example, when they acquired a contract, in 1913, to construct a waterworks program at The Pas, Manitoba, Mr. McLellan also had to be the Town Engineer. The top remuneration for the combined offices was $125 per month with no expense allowance or other fringe benefit. He even had to furnish his own instruments. During the period from 1928 to 1932, Mr. McLellan was in charge of a branch office in The Pas, Manitoba.

An interesting survey story, by Mr. McLellan, circa 1938, was the legal survey of the newly constructed road between Flin Flon, Manitoba and Beaver Lake, Saskatchewan. The road had been located by a real estate agent, which amounted to 160 deflections in the 14 miles of road. I had the unfortunate experience of travelling this road many times in 1947-48.

In 1936 Mr. McLellan was commissioned to survey the Manitoba – Saskatchewan boundary near Flin Flon, Manitoba. The survey became necessary due to the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting mine site which straddled the then theoretic boundary. Mr. C.D. Brown, DLS, SLS, MLS, was also on the crew. The final legal boundary was placed through the mill building, the smelter and the open pit, which created some interesting problems.

In 1935, Mr. O.W. Martyn (#44) joined the firm and was engaged in northern survey work at Goldfields and near Lake Athabaska. He eventually became the Director of Surveys, Province of Saskatchewan.

Another interesting story revolves around unpaid accounts in the North. In one case a mining promoter was allowed to build up a twenty-five hundred-dollar debt. The mining company had overspent and therefore the surveyors would have to wait for payment. After waiting seven years the survey firm took court action to acquire the “Don Jon” claim and won, notwithstanding other larger outstanding accounts against the promoter. Evidently Mr. Underwood became a director of the mining company, which was also a subsidiary of the large Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Mr. McLellan served four years with the Royal Canadian Engineers and the Canadian Railway Troop in Canada, in France and Belgium during World War 1. In World War 11 he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force with the rank of Squadron Leader. He was responsible for water supplies and sanitary engineering at all the Canadian training stations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He was also a consultant on water and sewage services out of the Eastern Air Command in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He then assisted in the development of air bases on the Alaska staging route. As a result he was awarded the “Member of Order of The British Empire” (M.B.E) in 1945 for outstanding service over a long period of time.

Mr. McLellan was born at Harrison, Ontario in 1889 where he received his early education. In 1911, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Civil Engineering. As a surveyor, he articled with Mr. R.C. Laurie, D.L.S. S.L.S. to obtain his commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor in 1913. He then received his Manitoba Commission in 1914 and his Saskatchewan Commission, number 69, in 1920.

Roy was President of the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association in 1936 and again in 1952. In 1957, he was made a Life Member of our Association. He was a member of Knox United church in Saskatoon, member of Lodge 16, AF & AM, 32nd degree Scottish Rite member and member of the Saskatoon Rotary club. He married Hope Rankin of Chatham, Ontario in 1916. Mr. McLellan died on Friday March 30, 1962 at the age of 72.

Mr. Joseph Edwin Underwood was born in the Huron District, Wroxeter, Ontario on November 3, 1882, son of Joseph and Mary Underwood, (agriculturists). Edwin graduated from the University of Toronto in 1909, in civil engineering and immediately went to work for the Federal Government doing land surveys in western Canada. In 1911, he obtained his commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor and his Saskatchewan Commission, number 49 in 1912.

During his career as an engineer and land surveyor Mr. Underwood took time out to be engaged in community affairs. He was elected as an alderman and mayor of Saskatoon. He was a Mason, President of the Nutana Curling Club and on the building committee of the Hub curling club. He was certainly involved with our association, being President in 1932 and again in 1947. The members made him a Life Member of the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association in 1957. As an Engineer he was a member of the Association of Professional Engineers in Saskatchewan and Canada, member of the Canadian Institute of Surveying, member Community Planning Association of Canada, on the Town Planning Board of Saskatoon and on the executive of the Saskatoon Exhibition Board. He led a full life.

One of Mr. Underwood’s experiences happened in 1921 when he was commissioned to subdivide, into sections, the Mistawassis and Muskeg Indian Reserves near Leask, Saskatchewan. He recalls the excellent crews and in particular his cook, who was very neat and very particular about his job. Evidently Mr. Underwood had purchased a large threshing caboose for the cook as a kitchen. On one moving day, in the bush, it was found that the wheel gauge was much too wide for the trails. Since the horses were unsteady for moving the caboose, it was arranged to bring in four black oxen to carry out the move. Oxen do not move fast. The cook was so pleased he donned a fresh white uniform and rode on top of the caboose singing at the top of his voice. A sketch showing this episode is shown in the UMA book.

Mr. Underwood married Lina Case in 1911, and they had three children, Bruce (SLS, ALS), Edith and Elizabeth. Mrs. Underwood died in 1931 and in 1937 Mr. Underwood married Mrs. Ethel Kershaw.

Here are a few quotes from the book “A Consulting Engineer’s Partnership”:

Without a written agreement the Partners maintained good relations over the same double desk throughout.

The land surveyor also benefited greatly from the new trends and developments. Many new town sites and subdivisions were required. The original road allowances mostly proved too narrow for modern highway construction and surveys of additional widths were required. Surveys of hundreds of mineral claims were necessary. In addition to the right-of-way surveys for pipelines the oil companies required well sites to be located by a land surveyor.

One of their larger projects was the legal survey covering the Interprovincial Oil Pipeline, from Edmonton, Alberta to southern Manitoba. The enormous task for this project dictated that various survey crews had to come from other land survey companies in the West. Saskatchewan Land Surveyors, other than those employed by Underwood and McLellan, who worked on the Interprovincial Pipe line were T.G. Tyrer, Sid Harding, J.H. Webb, R.A. Webster, G.R. George, Bill Jones, John Bellamy, R. Vossen and surveyors from Phillips, Hamilton & Associates, to name a few.

The UMA book lists the staff of Saskatchewan Land Surveyors who worked for Underwood and McLellan between 1911 and 1954 with their SLS commission number:


1. Wes Jamieson S.L.S. who loaned me the book “A Consulting Engineers Partnership”.

2. The SLS Association records.

Compiled by J.H. Webb, SLS (L/M), CLS - Sept, 2005