Steven M. Drew
SLS, P. Surv.
Well it has almost been a year on council, and I have found it to be an enjoyable time. One of the things I did to get prepared for the council discussions was to go through the annual meeting reports from the present day, all the way back to 1956. There were a lot of interesting dialogues over the years. When I got to the years 1974-1977 I expected to find a considerable amount of information on metrification. Metrification was discussed briefly in the minutes, but I imagine there was a fair amount of heated debate over this issue. Most of the folks we deal with in this industry talk in acres, feet, feet/inches, or the like, yet we now work in metric. We are “bilingual” in both systems, at least in some aspects. Most of us are not 100% metric. I do not weigh myself in kilograms, and I would never state my height in centimetres. That being said I am not 100% imperial. 32 degrees is warm to me yet freezing to others. It has been 40 years since Canada converted (or some would say forced us) to the metric system, and we have made strides implementing it, but there have been a number of “hiccups” along the way. The “Gimli Glider” comes to mind. This was a case where the amount of fuel on Air Canada Flight 183 was incorrectly calculated. The flight path for AC183 was from Montreal to Edmonton, with a stopover in Ottawa. While in Montreal, the ground crew noticed a wire to the computer (and gauge) which calculates the amount of fuel required was damaged, hence the ground crew calculated how much fuel was required. Unfortunately, the plane was filled with Imperial units of fuel (in pounds), yet the formulae called for metric units (kilograms). The result was that the flight ran out of fuel between Ottawa and Edmonton, as there was 2.205 times less fuel on board. Fortunately the pilot (also a glider pilot) was able to avert disaster by gliding the plane safely to an airstrip in Gimli, Manitoba. This was a pretty intense “hiccup”; some of the other mishaps are far less dramatic.
Over the past 10 years I have noticed that when you buy a steak or a roast, only the metric units are displayed. My wife, Jacinda, uses a formula to cook roast beef: A certain amount of minutes per pound. One day, approximately 10 years ago, I thought I would be a nice guy and try cooking a roast all by myself. I cooked the 1 pound roast for 20 minutes. 20 minutes per pound. Who ever heard of a one pound roast? My one pound roast was still “moo-ing” at me when I took it out of the oven. Upon further investigation, I realised the roast was 1 kilogram. Maybe it would have all worked out if I had a metric oven, which gets me thinking about temperatures.
The other day, I was speaking with my fellow land surveyor Tom Sansom who had arrived back from a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. I asked Tom, “How was the weather?” to which Tom responded, “It was hot ….It was 90-100 degrees out every afternoon!” I immediately started thinking about the conversion to metric…. now do I multiply this by 5/9 or 9/5 and add 32 or subtract 32, or do I subtract 32 then multiply by 5/9……. I then remembered that you run a fever at temperatures higher than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius and ultimately concurred that it must have been hot. One can also correlate temperatures with varying “degrees” of accuracy by knowing that 68 degrees Fahrenheit equals 20 degrees Celsius (standard temperature for a steel chain) and that oddly enough, minus 40 Degrees Fahrenheit is in fact minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Albeit, my “bilingualism” with respect to the temperature and weight conversions is at the tourist level, I know that all Saskatchewan Land Surveyors are experts with respect to the linear conversions. We are constantly reviewing pre-Metrification plans, maps, and field notes dating back to the 1800’s. We all know that 1 foot equals 0.3048 metres, that 40 chains equal 804.672 metres, that a rod equals 5.0292 metres, and so on. Few of us like to calculate pile layouts when they are supplied in feet and fractions of an inch thereof, yet we are all capable of doing just that with the utmost precision. Sometimes it is more convenient to think in imperial, yet on other occasions metric is the way to go. These conversions are second nature to us and I suspect we, and future generations of surveyors, will always be (and need to be) “bilingual” in both imperial and metric.