Digital Map Exploration

The task this week for Digital History was to look into online map archives and examine their collections. While conducting research it became evident that there are numerous online collections, and that particular websites have created virtual exhibits through the utilization of maps. For example, one can trace the route of Samuel de Champlain, following him from France to the New World, where he manoeuvres his way along the Canadian rivers. Then examine the original map Champlain was using and compare his route with what we know today and what he was seeing of the landscape at the time. I find it very interesting to see the progression of development over the years, through looking at historical maps. These were the tools used for centuries to understand nation boundaries, to devise plans of attack during times of conflict and to navigate the seas.

The Virtual Museum of New France, an online exhibition from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, allows the viewer to follow a variety of early explorers to Canada, from Jacques Cartier in 1534, to Pierre Gaultier in 1732. The site also provides historical background on the men, their journey and original documents that have been archived on the explorations. It is interesting to see the advancement made each time a new explorer tries to make a path into the New World; probably through the use of maps that their predecessors have developed on their journeys.

The Historical Atlas of Canada, uses maps as a great educational tool. They have complied maps into different themes of history   in chronological order. Through this a user can select a chapter (ie. Ecological Regions ca. 1500 CE), and look at the different maps of that period. It is interesting that they provide the original copy along with a revised vision of what the creator was actually trying to convey.

Samuel de Champlain’s original 1632 map:


A revised version of Samuel’s map:


Similarly to The Virtual Museum of New France, The Historical Atlas of Canada also has an interactive map that lets you see the routes explorers took during the journeys throughout our region.

The County Atlas Digital Project, produced by McGill University, is an online map that I find really interesting as it provides lot information for each township in Ontario in 1880. I used this site for a project in my Understanding Archives’ class to find a particular family who had a farm in Oro Township in the mid-nineteenth century. It was pretty cool locating the name of the family on their lot in Oro. For me the city of London is really neat to look at, as one can see the amount of farm land that was located around the city, but now is mostly city and suburbia. Also looking at the early names on the plots, one can gain an understanding of where street names are derived from, for example Issac Hellmuth and the now Hellmuth Street off of Oxford Street. Although, it is strange that there are not more names appearing on the Township of Tiny Map, as there were many farmers taking up plots between the 1850s and 1880s. I am guessing further research was conducted into the township at a later time as more rectory maps were developed.

Through examining these websites and maps, the importance GIS for our society today is clear. We don’t have to ask for directions anymore, we can simply key an address into our smartphones and be provided almost instantly with a map and directions. We can also travel the world through Google Earth and walk along the virtual streets of countries around the world on street view. It will definitely be interesting to see where mapping is taken into the future with increasing developments in technology, and how are current map of the world will change.


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