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Alfred Hugh Phipps was born on 27 December 1899 in Victoria, British Columbia. As a teen, he dropped out of high school to enlist as a soldier in World War I; however as he was still underage at the time, he served his tour in Canada instead of being deployed overseas. After the War, Phipps worked in the woods as a logger and in 1928 he began his surveying career as a transit man for professional provincial surveyor Frank C. Swannell. Apparently Swannell found Phipps to be a capable surveying assistant, axe man, huntsman and fisherman of amiable character, and so took him on as an articled student (a three year apprenticeship). While Phipps became a good field surveyor, because he had dropped out of high school he just didn’t have the education required to pass has BCLS (BC Land Surveyor’s) exams. Despite possession of official credentials, Swannell continued to hire Phipps on various expeditions both in 1931 and in the late 1930’s.
Not much is known about Phipps other surveying activities before the Bedaux expedition in 1934, but according to Swannell, Phipps worked for an unidentified surveyor in 1933, and in early 1934 did surveys for a mining company in the southern Interior of British Columbia. In his correspondences to Jack Bocock, the organizer of the Bedaux Expedition in 1934, Swannell spoke highly of Phipps’ skills and this endorsement may have led to Phipps being hired as a third surveyor for the Bedaux Sub-Arctic Expedition in 1934. This was a cross-country expedition from Edmonton to the west coast of BC, traversing across vast tracts of wilderness via (then) state of the art Citroon vehicles. Four months later the expedition was cancelled as the crew was unable to reach their objective owing to problems related to weather, gumbo, and hoof rot. After the Pearl Harbor attack of World War II, the surveying information gathered through the failed Bedaux expedition of 1934 was used to construct a road through BC to Alaska.
On the Beduax Sub-Arctic Expedition, Al Phipps made a very positive impression on Charles Bedaux, the initiator of the Expedition. Upon the conclusion of the expedition Bedaux offered Phipps a position in the Bedaux Company in South Africa. On 4 June 1935, Phipps left for South Africa to assume his new position of Assistant to the Engineers and was thereafter engaged in various consulting projects for Witwatersrand Gold Mines. During his time in South Africa, Phipps met his future wife, Dorothy Summers, the daughter of a wealthy local family. A few years later, Phipps worked for Bedaux’s in Glasgow, Scotland and eventually became Bedaux’s chief supervisor for pottery businesses in England that employed the “Bedaux system”: a factory efficiency system invented by Charles Bedaux. Phipps left the Bedaux Company upon the expiry of his contract, and returned to Canada on 10 December 1936 with his South African born wife.
In 1937 Phipps again worked with the Frank Swannell’s crew surveying land tracts on Vancouver Island. Two years later, Phipps was also part of the crew which accompanied Swannell on his last surveying expedition into northern BC. Phipps Lake in British Columbia was named after A.H. Phipps by Frank Swannell in 1936; Swannell later remarked that the survey of Phipps Lake was done in a day from their camp around Lamprey Lake. It is of note that Swannell also set up a triangulation station on the bluff that he called Phipps’ Bluff.
With the advent of World War II, Phipps served as a captain in the Canadian Intelligence branch, again within Canadian boundaries. In his later years Phipps was employed by the British Columbia Civil Service from which he retired in 1964. Alfred H. Phipps died in August 1974 at the age of 74.