BRIDGLAND, JAMES WILLIAM, surveyor and civil servant; b. 9 April 1817 at or near York (now Toronto), U.C., second son of James W. Bridgland and Eleanor Beaton; d. 22 Oct. 1880, at Toronto, Ont.
James William Bridgland’s parents came to York from Kent County in England in 1816. For some years the family remained in York, the father having obtained the position of keeper of the Court of King’s Bench, and young James attended Thomas Appleton’s common school. In 1828 the family purchased property at Downsview (now in Metropolitan Toronto), where the sons and daughters grew up. Young James decided to become a land surveyor, and in 1842 attended the summer term at Victoria College, Cobourg. He was apprenticed to John Stoughton Dennis* and qualified as a provincial land surveyor on 6 May 1844.
Soon after he commenced to practise, James Bridgland was employed by the Crown Lands Department in making surveys in Canada West, and he became a member of the staff of the Crown Lands Office on 22 Jan. 1856. His more important surveys were in the townships of Mornington (1848), Kincardine (1850), and Carden (1852); along the Muskoka River (1852) and Indian River (1853); on Rama Island (1860); and in the Huron and Ottawa territory (1861–62). His reports frequently have a distinct literary flavour. To describe land near the Muskoka River, he wrote, “would only be to repeat the tedious monotony, of rocky barrens, swamps, marshes, and burnt regions; destitute of good water, good timber, in short of every-thing, necessary to make settlement desirable, or life supportable; regions where even the foraging partridge, and the provident squirrel, seem from their scarcity – scarcely able to exist.” These reports were eminently sensible and won the approval of his superiors, as did no doubt his attitude towards employees who attempted to gain an increase in pay. To one of his subordinates he wrote: “The Strike you speak of should have been the immediate occasion for you to have discharged every man . . . , I will not sanction a farthing of increase in wages.”
After 1860 Bridgland’s duties lay chiefly in the field of colonization roads, roads built by the government to attract settlers to the Georgian Bay–Ottawa area. His duties led him also to the mining districts and Indian lands north of Lake Superior. In 1864, when the superintendent of colonization roads in Canada West, David Gibson*, died, that office was discontinued but the duties were transferred to Bridgland. After confederation Bridgland continued to perform the duties connected with the oversight of colonization roads in Ontario – duties he could be relied on to perform with diligence and economy.
Bridgland married 16-year-old Maria Dennis, sister of John, in 1849. After her death in 1857 he married Martha Anne Jones. There was one daughter from his first marriage, and there were four children from the second.
Ontario, Department of Lands and Forests, Surveys Office, instructions to land surveyors, 1848; reports of surveys, 1848–62. PAC, RG 1, E1, 88, pp.504–5 (copy at PAO in State and Landbooks of Upper Canada and Canada, Z, pp.504–5). PAO, RG 14, A, ser. V(b), 5 (J. W. Bridgland, memoranda, statements, and letters, 1862–67). Christian Guardian (Toronto), 23 Oct. 1844; 28 Oct., 9 Dec. 1857; 13 Jan. 1858; 27 Oct. 1880. Colonial Advocate (York), 20 Sept. 1827. Muskoka and Haliburton (Murray). W. P. Bull, From Oxford to Ontario: a history of the Downsview community (Toronto, ), 72. “James W. Bridgland,” Ont. Land Surveyors Assoc., Annual Report (Toronto), no.42 (1927), 94–96. G. W. Spragge, “Colonization roads in Canada West, 1850–1867,” Ont. Hist., XLIX (1957),1–17.