- Derek Hayes (Author)
Historical Atlas of Canada: Canada's History Illustrated with Original Maps. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Heinz Antor
In his famous "Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada" Northrop Frye wrote about the features of Canadian culture, and he listed among them "its fixation on its own past" and its perplexed reaction to the question of "Where is here?" There is plenty of material to be found in Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of Canada that is relevant in this context. In this richly illustrated volume, the reader finds more than 420 maps dating from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century: these map the history as well as the geography of Canada, from the mythic journey of Saint Brendan around 570 AD to the evolution of Canada’s provincial boundaries.
Hayes’s volume is the first to rely exclusively on original historical maps rather than on modern redrawn ones. This approach has the advantage of greater immediacy and of providing the reader with a fascinating glimpse into the development of geographical knowledge about Canada. It also affords us direct access to the various ways in which formative events in the country’s history were conceptualized in their period. Unfortunately Hayes must depend on the sources that have survived and so the ephemeral quality of native maps, such as those drawn on birchbark or on the ground, results in an inevitable emphasis on European examples. But this is an unavoidable shortcoming that Hayes frankly acknowledges, and he does produce maps of Beothuk, Blackfoot or Cree origin where he can.
All of the maps are arranged in short thematic chapters and are presented both with a concise historical comment on the chapter topic and detailed explanations referring to the individual maps. The various chapters are frequently cross-referenced so that the reader can discover interesting connections and differences between maps. The material collected by Hayes comes from libraries around the world, and it reflects perceptions of Canada from the point of view of explorers and imperialists, settlers and natives, and many other groups. Indigenous maps are represented by a nineteenth-century birchbark map of the Ottawa-Lake Huron watershed, for example, and by a map drawn by Shanawdithit, the last of the Beothuk. Some of the maps reproduced are of doubtful authenticity, such as the famous Vinland map, based on Norse voyages and supposedly dating back to 1440 but considered by many to be a fake. Its inclusion here is justified on grounds of the heated debate it has sparked off about the origins of Canadian cartography. There are many other maps in this splendid volume that make for intriguing mysteries, such as that of the Spanish cartographer Juan de la Cosa, which raises important questions as to what happened to John Cabot on his fateful second voyage of 1498 and points in the direction of Cabot not only having made a landfall at Newfoundland but possibly even having sailed as far as the Caribbean before he disappeared.
Hayes’s maps provide fascinating evidence of how early cartographers tried to fill, through a mixture of speculation and rumours, the blanks left by their lack of knowledge. A map published in 1752 by the French cartographer Joseph-Nicolas de L’Isle, for example, actually shows an enormous mythic Sea of the West and many northwestern rivers based on the wish for a Northwest Passage. Many other maps reproduced here also clearly reflect the wishes and interests of the people they were made for and thus provide evidence for the constructivist aspects of cartography. Thus, the Venetian Zeno map of 1558 reflects Venice’s attempt to claim a role in the discovery of the New World in competition with Christopher Columbus’s home town of Genoa; Joseph La France, in 1742, produced a map with a totally hypothetical "unknown western coast" linked to Hudson’s Bay in order to cater to the needs of Arthus Dobbs, a merchant obsessed with the idea of a Northwest Passage and the imperial and commercial advantages it could bring him.
The Historical Atlas of Canada discusses the origin of geographical names such as Repulse Bay, and we are told about the ideological (ab)uses of maps for imperialist and other purposes. It is a pleasure indeed to browse through this lavishly illustrated volume. The excellent reproductions of historical maps are aesthetically pleasing, and the concise text is very helpful in interpreting them. The book is fully indexed so that it can also be used by the reader interested in a specific aspect of Canadian history.
- Recovering Voices by Rocío G. Davis
Books reviewed: Where Are the Voices Coming From?: Canadian Culture and the Legacies of History by Coral Ann Howell
- The Production of Space by David Nally
Books reviewed: Textures of Place: Exploring Humanist Geographies by Paul C. Adams, Steven Hoelscher, and Karen Till and Maps and the Writing of Space in Early Modern England and Ireland by Bernhard Klein
- Method and Material by Bart Vautour
Books reviewed: The Wrong World: Selected Stories & Essays of Bertram Brooker by Gregory Betts and Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 by Ian McKay
- More Northern Indices by Sherrill Grace
Books reviewed: Gamblers and Dreamers: Women, Men, and Community in the Klondike by Charlene Porsild, True North: The Yukon and the Northwest Territories by William R. Morrison, Un/Covering the North: News, Media, and Aboriginal People by Valerie Alia, and Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage by James P. Delgado
- Disaplacements by Sherry Simon
Books reviewed: Making a Difference : Canadian Multicultural Literature by Smaro Kamboureli
MLA: Antor, Heinz. Splendid Mappings. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #181 (Summer 2004), (Wiseman, Livesay, Sime, Connelly, Robinson). (pg. 140 - 141)
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