Today we’ll take a look at maps of Canada. Some might ask “why?”, but I think the better question is, “why not?” I think Americans in general don’t pay enough attention to Canada, even though the U.S. and Canada share the longest continuous land border in the world. As occupants of the same continent, possessing similar economic and political interests, it makes good sense for Americans to learn more about our neighbors to the North. Canada has a long, rich history, from its colonization by France in the early 17th century, to its acquisition by the British Empire in the wake of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, and finally to self-governance as a constitutional monarchy while retaining Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
Let’s check out just a few of the fascinating maps of Canada from its early days as a French colony.
Starting off, there is the first map with the name Canada on it. This was made in 1566 by Italian cartographer Paolo Forlani, before France had set up any permanent settlements in the region. Even at this early date, however, you can still see some familiar names, such as Florida, Bermuda, Nova Franza (New France), Larcadia (Arcadia), Laborador (Labrador), and of course, Canada Pro, or proper, written in the space underneath a mountain range to the east of “Nova Franza”. It is remarkable how even in vast expanses of terrain where European colonizers had not yet established settlements, they still managed to fill up the land with placenames.
Second, there is one dating from 1613, shortly after Quebec City had been founded in 1608. Produced by the explorer Samuel de Champlain, it features the latest geographical discoveries in the land that would become Canada. The map serves partly as an advertisement to encourage settlement; it includes pictures of local flora and fauna, depicting the new territory as bursting with natural resources that are waiting to be enjoyed. Notice how the map includes parts of the coastline of what would become upper New England, but it is difficult to recognize because there have not yet been any settlements. We are still a few years ahead of Plymouth and the First Thanksgiving.
Finally, we have a map created by British cartographer John Barrow in 1759. At this time, Britain and France were still fighting the Seven Years’ War, and Canada was still in French hands, though not for long. The map shows the extent of Canadian possessions in the east, as well as some of the Northern territories of the thirteen American colonies, which would be shaking off British control a couple of decades in the future. Barrow probably did not realize that the world he was depicting on the map would not last long, with the French lands turning British, and most of the British lands becoming independent.
Thanks for joining me on this brief cartography journey through early Canadian history. For more on these maps, check out these sources: All About Canadian History Blog, The Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Map Archive, and Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.