DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

GLIONNA, FRANCESCO – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 9 Dec. 1918 in Toronto


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

DEVINE, THOMAS, surveyor and cartographer; b. in County Westmeath (Republic of Ireland), probably in 1818; m. Jane Molloy, probably in 1866, and they had two sons, including James Arthur, a prominent physician and playwright in Winnipeg, Man.; d. 14 Nov. 1888 in Montreal, Que.

Thomas Devine was to state that he had acquired practical knowledge of his profession on the Ordnance Survey of Ireland under the Royal Engineers, and he may have attended an engineers’ academy. After immigrating to Canada, he was appointed a provincial land surveyor on 11 June 1846, becoming a surveyor and draftsman in the Crown Lands Department, Upper Canada surveys branch, on 7 July 1846. However, he made only one field survey, of the York branch of the Madawaska River in 1847. Afterwards he was employed in the office which, as part of the peripatetic government, relocated six times during the union period. By 1857 he had succeeded Andrew Russell in charge of the branch although his position as head of surveys, Upper Canada, was not confirmed until 22 July 1859. His duties, which remained substantially unchanged until his retirement, required him to project surveys of crown lands, to supervise the work and reports of the surveyors, to copy and compile plans for district agents, municipal councils, and the public, and to see to the preservation of original plans, field books, and reports.

From 1857 Devine was responsible for the compilation and publication of an important group of maps. His Map of the north west part of Canada, Indian territories & Hudson’s Bay (1857) was the first map of the west compiled and printed in Canada and has been described as “an outstanding consolidation of cartographic material on the West.” Portraying the topography, geology, and climatic zones as then known, the map stressed the capacity of the land for agriculture and settlement. It accompanied the annual report of the Crown Lands Department for 1856 by Joseph-Édouard Cauchon and was intended to support claims for Canadian expansion into the prairies. Devine’s Government map of Canada, from Red River to the Gulf of StLawrence (1859), the first official map of the province, has been shown to be the first reasonably accurate map of the area, and more accurate than those that followed in the 1860s. Three other important maps, Topographical plan of the north shore of Lake Huron (1858), Plan of the north shore of Lake Superior . . . (Toronto, 1860), and the Government map of part of the Huron and Ottawa territory . . . (New York, 1861), each went into several editions and were designed to provide information for intending settlers, lumbermen, and emigration agents.

Devine did not ignore the surveying side of his responsibilities. In 1859 he submitted a new form of field notebook for surveyors employing the “split-line method” in which the important distance measurements were placed clearly between the lines and more space was provided for pictographic and written representations of landmarks, the intention being to provide a clear, standardized system of describing a surveyed line. He noted in his report for 1861 that much surveying was of a low calibre and recommended various improvements, including examination of surveyors’ work in the field. To speed up the publication of maps he had recommended in 1860 that a lithograph press be installed in his office, but the department rejected his suggestion. In 1864 he was called before the committee examining the suitability of the region between the Ottawa River and Georgian Bay for settlement and lumbering; he provided the first land classification map of the area which he compiled from surveyors’ reports on timber and soil. Though he admitted that these reports were inclined to be more accurate in estimating timber, he indicated that the value of the land for settlement had always been underrated and that “in numerous instances the lands condemned by the surveyors as unfit for settlement have since been settled with a thriving population.”

Devine continued with the Ontario Crown Lands Department after confederation and in 1872 he became deputy surveyor general of Ontario. In 1877 he produced his last major map, covering North America and designed to show all historical boundaries that would have a bearing upon the impending decision on Ontario’s northern and western boundaries. This map, compiled from the analysis of 186 earlier maps acquired by the federal and provincial governments, was referred to by representatives of both during the arbitration proceedings of 1878. Although the matter was finally decided in Ontario’s favour, it was not resolved until 1889 [see James Andrews Miller].

Before poor health forced him to retire in 1879 Devine had also given of his time to provincial and local matters. After 1858 he was a member of the board of examiners of land surveyors for the Province of Canada and was chairman of the Ontario board at his retirement. He also became a member of the Toronto Separate School Board in 1867 and was its chairman in 1877 at the height of the struggle for control of school property between the board, consisting of laymen, and Archbishop John Joseph Lynch.

Devine returned to Ireland on retirement but came back to Canada in 1884, settling in Montreal where he remained until his death. During the union period the government had rewarded his efforts by paying him, at times, less than his predecessor and his counterpart in Canada East, despite his accomplishments. In 1860 these were acknowledged when he was elected a member of the Royal Geographical Society; he was also a corresponding member of the Geographical Society of Berlin and the American Geographical and Statistical Society.

Joan Winearls

Thomas Devine was the author of “Description of a new Trilobite from the Quebec group,” Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, 8 (1863): 210–11, and the compiler of Government map of Canada, from Red River to the Gulf of StLawrence (Quebec and Toronto, 1859); Map of the north west part of Canada, Indian territories & Hudson’s Bay (Toronto, 1857); Official documents relating to the early survey & settlement of Ontario [U.C.] from the Treaty of Peace in 1783 to the separation of Ontario (UC) from the province of Quebec in 1792 (n.p., [1873?]) (copy at AO); Ont., Ministry of Natural Resources, Survey Records Branch (Toronto), “Map of part of North America, designed to illustrate the reports and discussions relating to the boundaries of the province of Ontario . . . , 1877”; Topographical plan of the north shore of Lake Huron shewing P.L.S. Albert P. Salter’s recent survey (Toronto, 1858).

AO, RG 1, A-I-2, 49: 118; 50: 28, 375–76, 399–400; A-I-4, 34; A-II-2, 5; A-II-6, 3, 12–14; A-VII, 49. Ont., Ministry of Natural Resources, Survey Records Office, Instructions to land surveyors, 5: 58–60, 397–98 (mfm. at AO). PAC, RG 31, A1, 1871, Toronto, St George’s Ward (mfm. at AO). “Biographical sketch of the late Thomas Devine, F.R.G.S.,” Assoc. of Provincial Land Surveyors of Ontario, Proc. (Toronto), 1889: 129–30. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1857–59, Reports of the commissioner of crown lands of Canada; 1859, III: app.19; Journals, 1860, app.4; 1861, app.1; 1862, app.1; February–May 1863, app. 3; August–October 1863, app.1; 1864, apps.7, 8; August–September 1865, app.6; Parl., Sessional papers, 1860–66, Reports of the commissioner of crown lands of Canada; 1862, III: no.11, app.26. Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1879, V, no.31: 133–40, 417. Report of proceedings before the arbitrators, in the matter of the boundaries of the province of Ontario (Toronto, 1880). Gazette (Montreal), 16 Nov. 1888. Globe, 16 Nov. 1888. Toronto Daily Mail, 16 Nov. 1888. Manitoba historical atlas: a selection of facsimile maps, plans, and sketches from 1612 to 1969, ed. J. [H.] Warkentin and R. I. Ruggles (Winnipeg, 1970). Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. R. S. Lambert and Paul Pross, Renewing nature’s wealth; a centennial history of the public management of lands, forests & wildlife in Ontario, 1763–1967 ([Toronto], 1967), 61–149. M. B. MacK. Olsen, “Aspects of the mapping of southern Ontario, 1783–1867” (mphil thesis, Univ. of London, 1968). W. F. Weaver, Crown surveys in Ontario ([Toronto], 1962), 15.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Joan Winearls, “DEVINE, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 9, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/devine_thomas_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/devine_thomas_11E.html
Author of Article:   Joan Winearls
Title of Article:   DEVINE, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   December 9, 2023