Edouard Gaston Deville is recognized for his part in the Dominion survey of the newly acquired North West Territories, as well as becoming Inspector of Surveys for Canada in 1881 and Surveyor General in 1885. He was the first to perfect practical photogammetry, the making of maps based on photography. Today, Mount Deville in Yoho National Park bears his name and the E.G. Deville commemorative plaque is located in Yoho National Park near the entrance to Monarch Campground.
Born in La Charite sur Loire, Nievre, France, on February 21st, 1849, Deville attended naval school and went on to serve as a hydrographer with the French Navy. In this position, he conducted hydrographic surveys in the South Sea Islands and on the coast of Peru. In 1874, he immigrated to Canada and shortly thereafter began working as a surveyor and astronomer in Quebec, Canada. Very quickly, he rose to the province’s top surveying position, Inspector of Surveys. In 1880, he joined the Department of the Interior in Ottawa to survey homesteads and in 1881, he was appointed inspector for Dominion Land Surveys.
Deville used innovative techniques to deal with the challenges of surveying Canada’s vast topography. He expanded upon French army engineer, Aimé Laussedat’s principle of elevated photography and created large-scale maps from these photographs. This special method of mapping was called photogammetry and Deville perfected the technique between 1888 and 1896 to more accurately map the Canadian Rockies.
The photography required in photogammetry was beyond the capabilities of most photography equipment of the time. Deville designed a rugged, lightweight field camera that could be carried long distances, while still taking an accurate photo. Surveyors could take this camera to the top of a mountain, point the lens at the horizon, and take panoramic shots of the surrounding peaks. Each photo would be measured in relation to the survey station and the surrounding peaks and valleys. This produced more accurate topographical maps, was inexpensive, and allowed larger areas to be surveyed in less time than conventional surveying methods.
When Lindsay Russell resigned as Surveyor General in 1885, Captain Deville’s innovation and ability in photogammetry led to his appointment to the position in March of the same year. Deville would hold the position until the early part of 1921, when he was made Director General of Surveys. In this position, he was in charge of the different surveying branches of the Department of the Interior, topographical, geodetic and international boundary surveys.
In 1924, Deville travelled to Rome, Italy to represent Canada at the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, and his expertise on mountain surveys became sought after internationally. His photogammetry technology was adopted by the Geological Survey of Canada and the International Boundary Commission. A copy of Deville’s camera and his research methods were also used to map the north slope of Mount Everest.
During his lifetime, Canadian surveyors had used Deville’s photogammetry techniques to map 83,678 square kilometres of land. His methods were expanded with the invention of aircraft, which could carry his camera over any topography. This allowed the application of Deville’s techniques to create maps of flat, prairie land as well as mountains.
In 1905, Edouard Gaston Deville was awarded a Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Toronto.
In 1922, Edouard Gaston Deville was presented with a Gold Medal Honourary Membership to the Engineering Institute of Canada.
Alberta’s Land Surveying History Website, “Edouard Deville,”
Natural Resources Canada website, ‘Trailblazers,”