ALS News: A WWI Story - A.J. Tremblay’s Transit

Gord Olsson, ALS (Hon. Life)
This is the twenty-fourth of a series of articles about objects in the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association historical survey artifact collection.
One hundred and three years ago on June 28, 1919, Germany and the Allied Nations (including Britain, France, Italy and Russia) signed the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending World War I. The war had claimed the life’s of nearly 70,000 Canadian service men and women. One of the lives lost was that of Albert Jacques Tremblay ALS#074.

Lieutenant Albert Jacques Tremblay was born at Les Eboulements, in the Province of Quebec, on July 25th, 1887. He was educated at the Commercial Academy, Quebec, and at Ottawa University and McGill University. He obtained his commission as a Dominion Land Surveyor in 1912 and as an Alberta Land Surveyor the same year. He surveyed for the Dominion Government in Alberta near Mirror Landing and Fort McMurray and was a member of the survey firm Cote, Tremblay and Pearson in Edmonton. He enlisted at Quebec on February 1st, 1916, and became a lieutenant in the 58th Infantry Battalion, from which he was transferred to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. In July 1918, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, with the rank of lieutenant observer. He was wounded in the winter of 1917 and was killed on August 31st, 1918, in an airplane accident at Winchester, England. He was laid to rest nearby at the West End (St. James) Church Cemetery, Southampton, England.
On February 22, 2012 (94 years after A.J. Tremblay’s death) Robert Szkaluba contacted the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association office by email He had a transit that came in a leather covered case with the words "A J TREMBLAY DLS” embossed on it. He also had the original tripod for the transit. He thought the items would be of historical significance to surveying in Alberta and asked if the ALSA would like to purchase them. He had previously contacted the ALSA office, around 2007 and was told that the Association did not purchase artifacts but, at that time, he had not mentioned its historical interest.

In April 2012 Monroe Kinloch and Gord Olsson met with Mr. Szkaluba in south Edmonton to look at the two items. It was determined that the items were authentic. The transit was a Topley transit which was marketed by the Topley Company in the early 1900s. (See Article 8, ALS News “The Topley Company – a Canadian Supplier of Survey Instruments”). The embossed letters "A J TREMBLAY DLS' on the case was that of an Alberta Land Surveyor. A. J. Tremblay's name was on several township survey plans in the Edmonton area.
On Friday March 22, 2013, Monroe drove to the Martin - Deerline dealership in Warburg, Alberta where Mr. Szkaluba worked. It is there that the sale for the transit acquisition was completed. Mr. Szkaluba had driven a hard bargain. After a long and hard negotiation, the ALSA in addition to paying Mr. Szkaluba $1,000 also included in the deal a Dietzgen transit (ALSA 2013.01.01) donated by Lou Breton, and a tripod (ALSA2008.03.34) donated by Monroe Kinloch. It was a tall price but worth it to the collection given the history of its owner and the historical significance of the Topley Company.
Monroe obtained the following information verbally from Robert Szkaluba: “The transit and tripod came into Robert's possession as an inheritance from the estate of his father, Leon Szkaluba, in the 1990s. Leon had bought the items from Art Drader of Drader Construction of Buck Lake, Alberta, sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. Leon had them at his own farm for 25 - 30 years and Robert had them at his farm in Township 46-7-W5M for the last ten years, using it to run fence lines and check field drainage. After initially contacting the ALSA and being told that the Association did not purchase artifacts, he searched the name Tremblay on the internet and discovered Tremblay was a township surveyor. Thinking it would be of some historical interest to the ALSA, he contacted the Association again on February 22, 2012.” This contact led to the eventual purchase of the transit and tripod in 2013 as outlined above.
As a footnote to the story, in May 2022, Robert Szkaluba gave the Dietzgen transit and tripod that he had obtained in the transaction to Katie Hunter, ALS. Mr. Szkaluba was Katie’s neighbour in the hamlet of Alder Flats after he moved there from his farm. Katie intends to keep the objects for display purposes.

Topley Transit and tripod owned by A.J. Tremblay DLS, ALS#075 
Although the transit has the name Topley on it there is some evidence that it was made by Bausch & Lomb as some other instruments imported and sold by the Topley Company were made by Bausch & Lomb. Bausch & Lomb also manufactured and sold survey transits under its own name.
Purchased by the ALSA
ALSA 2013.02.01
Tripod ALSA 2013.02.02

Topley logo labeled “ The Topley Company Ottawa Canada”
and serial number “No 11086”
The next article will be on stereoscopes.

Sources of Information:
  • Alberta Land Survey History, Alberta Land Surveyors, Tremblay, Albert ALS#074
  • Government of Canada, The Canadian Virtual War Museum, Albert Jacques Tremblay.

Notes and Acknowledgements:
The purpose of these articles is to share the history of objects in the ALSA historical survey artifact collection and their relationship to Alberta land surveys and surveyors. The articles are possible because of the donations by ALS’s and others. Also acknowledged are past and present members of the Collections Group of the Historical and Biographical Committee: Lou Breton ALS (Hon. Life), Don George ALS (Hon. Life), Les Frederick ALS (Ret.), Monroe Kinloch ALS (Hon. Life), Gord Olsson ALS (Hon. Life); who documented, photographed the objects and prepared exhibits for museums and other venues in the province. Thanks also to Les Frederick and Monroe Kinloch who reviewed this article.

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-regulating professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public.