A His­tory of Canada in Ten Maps: Epic Sto­ries of Chart­ing a Mys­te­ri­ous Land

Canada's History - - BOOKS -

by Adam Shoalts Allen Lane, 368 pages, $36

Map­maker: Philip Turnor in Ru­pert’s Land in the Age of En­light­en­ment

by Bar­bara Mitchell Univer­sity of Regina Press, 351 pages, $39.95

Adam Shoalts is a well-known Cana­dian ex­plorer who has doc­u­mented his trav­els through re­mote land­scapes via a se­ries of pop­u­lar nar­ra­tives. In A His­tory of

Canada in Ten Maps, he draws on pub­lished pri­mary ac­counts and fo­cuses on a se­ries of his­tor­i­cal maps pro­duced by early Eu­ro­pean trav­ellers to what is now Canada. These in­clude Vik­ings, early Por­tuguese and French ex­plor­ers, Bri­tish map-mak­ers of the Hud­son’s Bay and North West com­pa­nies, car­tog­ra­phers of the siege of Fort Erie of 1814, and those who mapped “Canada’s heart of dark­ness,” as he calls what was seen as the coun­try’s Arc­tic fron­tier. The sto­ries of these Eu­ro­pean ac­tors, their ex­pe­ri­ences, and the ten maps are pre­sented as con­sti­tut­ing a his­tory of Canada.

Ex­plo­ration of Canada’s wide-open spa­ces largely de­fines the tem­po­ral and spa­tial boundaries of Shoalts’s ap­proach to Cana­dian his­tory. The maps se­lected for at­ten­tion are dis­played in a full­colour bound sig­na­ture at the heart of the book. Plac­ing the maps to­gether was a sound de­ci­sion. By leaf­ing through them se­quen­tially, read­ers can trace the grad­ual fill­ing out of the map of Canada from early spec­u­la­tive and in­ac­cu­rate renderings to the much more com­plete and ac­cu­rate car­to­graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the nine­teenth cen­tury. Viewed from the per­spec­tives of Eu­ro­pean ex­plor­ers, the book is a cred­itable sur­vey of key mo­ments in the ge­o­graph­i­cal chart­ing of the vast ex­panse of mod­ern­day Canada.

Ap­pro­pri­ately, Shoalts cred­its In­dige­nous peo­ple who greatly as­sisted in­di­vid­u­als such as Sa­muel de Cham­plain and Alexan­der Mackenzie in their ex­ten­sive trav­els and whose knowl­edge was rep­re­sented in their ac­com­plished car­tog­ra­phy. He also ac­knowl­edges the map-mak­ing of In­dige­nous peo­ple but de­cided not to in­clude any such ex­am­ples in his book.

Cov­er­ing the di­verse field of Cana­dian his­tory through ten maps is per­haps a very am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing, and Shoalts claims too much when he states that ex­plor­ers, voyageurs, and fur traders “cre­ated the mod­ern Canada we know to­day.” This gen­er­al­iza­tion over­looks much of the coun­try’s his­tory — the fur­ther and con­tin­u­ing roles of In­dige­nous peo­ple, the de­vel­op­ment of the found­ing fran­co­phone and an­glo- phone set­tler so­ci­eties, sub­se­quent im­mi­grants, eth­no­cul­tural communities, and many other groups that shaped the coun­try we know to­day — as mapped, for ex­am­ple, in the His­tor­i­cal

At­las of Canada. Us­ing Shoalts’s cho­sen struc­ture, another ob­server might have se­lected ten al­ter­na­tive maps focusing on com­pletely dif­fer­ent as­pects of the coun­try’s his­tory and yield­ing a very dif­fer­ent book.

Some­what prob­lem­atic is his no­tion of wilder­ness, which the au­thor de­scribes as “the one con­stant through­out Canada’s his­tory.” Wilder­ness is cur­rently de­fined as “an area es­sen­tially undis­turbed by hu­man ac­tiv­ity.” The ar­eas through which Shoalts and pre­de­ces­sor ex­plor­ers have trav­elled are of­ten very re­mote and chal­leng­ing re­gions, but in­nu­mer­able In­dige­nous pre­de­ces­sors suc­cess­fully moved through these spa­ces over many gen­er­a­tions with­out the ad­van­tages of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. To In­dige­nous peo­ple, the lands where they lived were not “un­spoiled wilder­ness” but home­lands that sus­tained their pop­u­la­tions through care­ful study and the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal knowl­edge over many gen­er­a­tions.

Within his Eu­ro­pean or Euro-Cana­dian frame, Shoalts’s chap­ters are well­cho­sen — with per­haps one ex­cep­tion. The in­clu­sion of a chap­ter de­voted to the siege of Fort Erie dur­ing the War of 1812 seems anoma­lous in an oth­er­wise co­he­sive book on ex­plor­ers and maps.

Au­thor and for­mer Trent Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of English lit­er­a­ture Bar­bara Mitchell came to her sub­ject via a dif­fer­ent route. Her book Map­maker is not so much about maps but, as the ti­tle in­di­cates, about a car­tog­ra­pher: Philip Turnor. Mitchell es­tab­lishes her in­ter­est in Turnor through ge­neal­ogy — she is a di­rect de­scen­dent of the map-maker and, like him, is de­scended from Orkney Scot­tish and Cree an­ces­tors from the eigh­teenth cen­tury.

Rather than zoom­ing in on the his­tory of a coun­try through the panoramic lenses of con­ti­nen­tal maps drawn by ex­plor­ers at in­ter­vals over the course of centuries, Mitchell uses mi­cro­film copies of Turnor’s orig­i­nal jour­nals to take

a bi­o­graph­i­cal ap­proach to his­tory. Via a suc­ces­sion of personal tableaux and ex­pe­ri­ences, she fo­cuses on Turnor, his early life in Bri­tain, his activities as a trader and map-maker, and his in­ter­ac­tions with both In­dige­nous and Eu­ro­pean peo­ple as they tra­versed the rugged ter­rain of north­west Canada in the late- eigh­teenth cen­tury. Mitchell shows the hu­man side of map-mak­ing through re­con­struc­tions of Turnor’s daily life and of the nat­u­ral and so­cial en­vi­ron­ments in which he and his as­so­ciates op­er­ated. The re­sult is a won­der­fully de­tailed and con­vinc­ing por­trait of early Cana­dian life in the era of In­dige­nous-Eu­ro­pean trade.

Mitchell’s nar­ra­tive also helps to ex­plain the cir­cum­stances of Turnor’s map- mak­ing; she in­cludes a care­ful de­scrip­tion of his trav­els and field­work lead­ing up to and bear­ing upon the pro­duc­tion of his first map. Be­sides her use of Turnor’s jour­nals, this re­con­struc­tion was pieced to­gether through ex­ten­sive pri­mary re­search in­volv­ing doc­u­ments held in the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany Ar­chives, Bri­tish archival sources, and many books and ar­ti­cles.

Mitchell places her sub­ject within the eigh­teenth-cen­tury En­light­en­ment, an age of sci­ence and em­pir­i­cal en­quiry de­voted to progress through ex­pand­ing knowl­edge of the world. She ably shows his con­tri­bu­tions to En­light­en­ment ideals, as re­vealed in his map­mak­ing, while imag­i­na­tively us­ing her own em­pir­i­cal re­search and in­fer­ences to draw as com­plete a por­trait of her an­ces­tor as the ev­i­dence per­mits.

These two well-writ­ten books of­fer an in­ter­est­ing con­trast. With a bird’seye per­spec­tive, Shoalts shows how the cross-con­ti­nen­tal out­lines of the coun­try were cu­mu­la­tively traced in maps from the ground up. Mitchell shows how a map-maker’s own life and personal in­ter­ac­tions can trans­form car­to­graphic ab­strac­tions into com­pelling hu­man his­tory.

Re­viewed by Lyle Dick, a pub­lic his­to­rian spe­cial­iz­ing in Arc­tic and Cana­dian his­tory. A for­mer pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, he has been the prin­ci­pal of Lyle Dick His­tory and Her­itage since 2012.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.