Exhibit opening image - Canada Before Confederation. Photo taken by author

Hi everyone! Stephanie here. I recently had the chance to attend the  Canada Before Confederation: An Exhibition of Maps conference.  The conference itself was held at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we were surrounded by large model ships (and a giant squid) for all of our talks – I can’t think of a more perfect setting, considering most of the talks featured early modern European explorers and mariners.  Organized by Lauren Beck, associate professor of Hispanic Studies at Mount Allison and editor of Terrae Incognitae, and Chet Van Duzer of the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the conference itself was the culmination of an enormous effort that involved organizing pre-confederation map exhibits across Canada as part of Canada 150. These maps were included in a book written and edited by Lauren and Chet. The volume was published by Vernon Books and includes full-colour images of the maps, essays contextualizing them, and amazing bibliographies, all of which I can easily see using as a teaching tool in the future. Oh, and the best part – these books were handed out for free to conference attendees! Handing out free books with pretty pictures of old maps is definitely the best way to get my attention at a conference, it turns out. (If you’d like to check out the book for yourself you can find it here.)

Cover of Canada before Confederation

Cover of the book written and edited to accompany the exhibit, Canada Before Confederation: Maps at the Exhibition. Vernon Press, 2017.

The conference was absolutely wonderful. But since most of you couldn’t be there with me, I put together this blog post so that you too can experience some of the fantastic presentations I saw! I’d like to thank Lauren Beck for going out of her way to invite me to this conference, Carolyn Prodruchny for sending me her and Alan’s paper, and Sarah Beanlands, for sending me her entire powerpoint presentation when I requested some images to include in this summary. This just proved once again how amazingly supportive the historical community can be! Finally, I’d especially like to think Elizabeth Mancke, my supervisor, for sponsoring my attendance at this conference. Ok, without any further ado, let’s get to the history!

Note: Except where noted, the images of this blog post are published with the permission of their creators. Please do not reproduce.


Day One

“Exploration and Mapping in the Sixteenth Century”

Day one opened with a panel focused on the theme “Exploration and Mapping in the Sixteenth Century,” by Margaret Small of the University of Birmingham, Greg McKintosh of Piri Reis University in Turkey, and Lydia Towns of the University of Texas. Small’s talk was about how Cartier’s maps and discoveries had an instant impact on European ideas of Canada, and expanded the early modern European notion of the “oikumene,” that is, the inhabitable world, by not only living in the St Lawrence Valley (unlike the seasonal fishers who simply stayed during the summer season), but showing without a doubt that it was inhabited by humans.

Towns centred on sixteenth-century English ideals of how the British should be seizing the opportunity brought to them by Jean Cabot, discussing the writings of various religious writers who espoused the notion of Cabot’s discovery as a gift to the English from God, and that if the English did not seize upon the gifts of the “new world,” they would be punished by God for not having accepted this gift.

McKintosh’s talk discussed the Kunstman maps, which I had never seen, or even heard of, but are very similar in style and content to the Cantino planisphere, and were produced around the same time.

Expert Tip: The Cantino planisphere is one of the first maps to include Europe, Africa, the middle east, India, and parts of South and North America on a single map. It dates from 1502, and shows Portuguese knowledge of the world at that point.

The main difference is that the Kunstman maps have place names on the North Atlantic islands, particularly Newfoundland. McKintosh used these place names to trace the voyages of the Corte Real brothers, as some of the places had been named for days on the liturgical calendar, allowing for us to surmise what day they had visited what cove.

Expert Tip: The Corte Real brothers were Portuguese explorers who mapped and explored much of Newfoundland coast, as well as many of the islands of the North Atlantic which currently make up Canada’s east coast. For more information, you can consult the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Many of the names even survive to this day – Conception Bay, for example, which is the oldest European place name in North America, Cape St Francis, Cape Freels, Cape Bonavista. Rose River is descended from Ria de Rosa, while Lewis Island is possibly descended from Illha de Frey Luis. When asked why these maps are so little known, McKintosh pointed out that they have been hidden away in Turkey for most of modern history (story to appear in his forthcoming book!), whereas other portolan maps, such as the Cantino, have been widely distributed in the western world.


Cod: Luring Explorers to Canada

Image of conference attendees surrounded by ships at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic taken by Author.

Conference attendance surrounded by ships’ sails.

The second session was on the role that cod played in luring newcomers to the North Atlantic. Jack Bouchard, a PhD Candidate from the University of Pittsburg, had a smart and rather hilarious take on how Newfoundland got its name, and how it related to mariners’ understanding of space and geography. He argues that “Terra Nova” was a way to convey an idea, a subversion of official cartographers who focused on land, while mariners had much more accurate ways to consistently and accurately measure how to get to fishing grounds season after season. While Terra Nova was the term most often used in notary documents to discuss where vessels and fishermen were going for a season, mariners used it ironically as it was neither “terra” nor “nova” but water and had been known amongst them for quite some time. (By far, favourite quote of the conference.)

Next was Miren Egãna of Aranzadi Society of Sciences, Basque Country, Spain. Egãna presented a series of Basque maps which showed not only a strong Basque presence on the Canadian east coast dating back to the early sixteenth century, they also recorded some Mi’kmaq place names (such as Cheticamp, my own home town, and Pasbébiac, in Gaspésie). These place names were extremely important, as they showed fishing stations. In fact, place names and their importance sort of become a prominent theme later in the day, as we’ll see. Egãna also featured a Basque map which Elizabeth and I have featured in our own research, but had never been able to trace the origin of. Elizabeth found it in the London Colonial archives in a file on the treaty of Utrecht without any attribution.

The last speaker of this session was Ariane Urus, whose topic was the post-Utrecht dispute between the English and the French over fishing rights in Newfoundland.

Expert Tip: The Treaty of Utrecht was a 1713 European treaty which ceded many North American French territories to the British, including Newfoundland and Acadia. However, because of the poor state of European cartography at the time and the general result of European statesmen who had never set foot on North American soil negotiating borders, the result was years of conflict between English, French, and indigenous peoples.

Geographers and their maps were used as a sort of propaganda tool (a subject covered in more detail on the second day by Jeffers Lennox), as both the English and the French tried to prove their respective claims over the better fishing locations.


Map Exhibit

Image of a map of Louisbourg exhibited at the Conference, taken by author.

Full image of Map of Louisbourg, 1758 (taken by author)

Over lunch, I had a chance to take in the map exhibit, which was held on the second floor of the Museum. The exhibit was of facsimiles of the original maps themselves, which allowed me to take as many photos as I want – which I can now post for you here. My favourite by far was this gigantic map of Louisbourg during the siege of 1758 (click to embiggen); the detail included is amazing. (You should also check out this talk with Lauren Beck about the exhibition!)

Image of an exhibited map, taken by author.

More maps on exhibit; seriously I’m in danger of making a whole blog post of exhibited maps.


Indigenous Geographies of Canada I

After lunch, Anthony Mullan of the Library of Congress gave us a delightful talk on the Canadian map collection held in Washington, and the discoveries that can be made in the thousands of uncatalogued maps. One of these uncatalogued maps was of New Brunswick, 1845, which was made with the aim of laying a railway through the province to connect Halifax and Québec. Three possible routes were noted, with the observation that it should not be too close to the US border should they decide to invade. I know quite a few uses for that map, and quite a few people who would be interested in it, considering the ongoing border dispute between Maine, New Brunswick, and Québec at the time.

Next was Lauren Beck, who spoke on Indigenous Authority and Knowledge on European maps of Canada. Honestly Lauren’s talk was a bit of fresh air, as Indigenous content was rather non-existent up til this point, considering the conference topic. The talk focused on how Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous voices could be found and focused on in early modern European maps of America. The answer is mostly found in the toponomy, such as Ochelaga, the Iroquois word for beaver path or rapids. An example given was Champlain’s 1613 map, which included an inset of two Montagnais and two Abenakis people meant as a display to Europeans. Yet the map itself is textually rich in toponomy, such as Gaspé (Gaspay/gespeq/kespe’k), Mi’kmaqi for “end of our territory.” This led to a discussion of the European use of names to claim space, and the use of Indigenous names to acknowledge Indigenous space.


Exploration and Mapping: 17th Century

Image of Samuel de Champlain's 1613 map of New France, from Wikipedia Commons

Samuel de Champlain’s 1613 map of New France. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The fourth session featured a talk by Joan Dawson, who spoke of the detailed cartographic surveys of Acadie by Samuel de Champlain, and the features included in the details. She discussed Champlain’s accuracy compared to other maps of the era, and his scientific method as explained in his own detailed instructions on how to draw a chart, take latitude, and so on. The second speaker of the panel was Danial Duda of Memorial University Newfoundland, who discussed the Mason map of Newfoundland and the impact of Newfoundland mapping on island nationalism.


Exploration and Mapping: 18th Century I

The last session of the day focused on the eighteenth century. The first speaker, Jeff Turner, discussed Charles Morris and the impact of his detailed surveys on British knowledge of Acadia, suggesting that Morris did not necessarily agree with the deportation project but was simply following orders (I’m not sure I agree with him on that point, as Morris clearly wanted to displace the Acadians in order to claim their lands, he just wasn’t necessarily in favour of deporting them from Nova Scotia entirely. It’s a pretty fine line. But anyhow.)

Expert Tip: Charles Morris was a New England surveyor and mapmaker who was tasked with the surveying, mapping, and census of the Acadian communities of Nova Scotia in the mid-eighteenth century. You can find out more about him from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Another speaker on this panel, David Flaherty, also spoke of the early efforts to map Nova Scotia, but from the viewpoint of Cyprian Southack – a cartographer and surveyor who preceded Morris by a few decades, and who concentrated almost entirely on the coasts of Nova Scotia without gathering any information on the interior, leaving the British entirely blind to the population and conditions of the Acadians and Mi’kmaq.

The third presenter, Michael Gunter of Georgia Gwinnett College, discussed the Hudson-Champlain corridor and the woeful lack of British knowledge of the land, even after the area was ceded to the British by the French. In fact, the whole panel could be summed up by one sentence: “The British didn’t know anything about local cartography ‘cause they refused to take indigenous mapping seriously.” (Paraphrasing mine.) Every talk had the same refrain in common – the British could map out coastlines fine on their own, but when it came to interior land spaces, they were hopeless without Indigenous knowledge.

The evening included a dinner and a keynote by Barbara Belyea of the University of Calgary (along with tours of Citadel Hill), but being a Nova Scotia native, and having been absent from Halifax for far too long, I had some family stuff to take care off  — sushi with my sister took precedence!


Day Two

The Archaeology of European Exploration of Canada

The second day started with a panel of archaeologists. I love hearing archaeologists talk about their work, yet my opportunities to do so are so infrequent. The first speaker was Katie Cottreau-Robins, an archaeologist for the province of Nova Scotia who spoke about her work at the old Fort Saint Louis site (also known as Cape Sable), and the study of the site as an ancient Mi’kmaq site rather than a French colonial site. She spoke of how French colonial maps informed her work, in helping determine where possible sites might be located, and the long drawn-out debate over the actual site of Fort Saint Louis, a fortified trading post that operated from 1627 to 1641, developed by Charles La Tour.

Map of Chignecto showing three Mi'kmaq communities, overlaying an important portage route between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St Lawrence. Provided by Sarah Beanlands.

Map of Chignecto showing three Mi’kmaq communities, overlaying an important portage route between the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St Lawrence. Provided by Sarah Beanlands.

Sarah Beanlands, the next speaker on the panel, continued in much the same vein, discussing her project in the Chignecto isthmus and her discovery of three important Mi’kmaq settlements in the area, which mirror almost exactly the placement of the French and British forts in the mid-eighteenth century. Her archaeological discoveries place the Acadian settlement of the Chignecto region in an entirely new light, showing that the isthmus was not only an important meeting ground for the Mi’kmaq, but was also very well populated when Beaubassin was established in 1678. This indicates that the traditional narrative of Acadian and Mi’kmaq friendship may be pretty far from the truth – in fact, evidence in Chignecto shows significant displacement of the Mi’kmaq due to Acadian settlement and drainage of the marshlands. (In fact, we’re hoping to feature Sarah’s work on Unwritten Histories in 2018!)

The third speaker, David Jones, spoke of a rough map by John Gorham recently digitized by the Nova Scotia archives, and talked about why he thought the archival categorization of it being a map of Lennox Passage, Cape Breton, was wrong, naming in detail all the possible features and proper names which traced it back to the Minas Basin region of mainland Nova Scotia.


Exploration and Mapping: 18th Century II

The second panel of the day focused on eighteenth-century mapping. Jonathan Fowler of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, spoke of the Etic and Emic features of Acadian mapping – that is to say, topographical features of maps of Acadia which indicated insider or outsider status. There were no Acadian cartographers, which Fowler rightly indicates was a problem. How do we then interpret maps of the era? He compared maps drawn by outsiders and information collected by “insiders” (that is to say, Acadian community delegates) to show that most information was, in fact, reliable, even if it was collected for somewhat nefarious purposes.

Jeffers Lennox was the second speaker on this panel. His paper focused on the various ways geographers during the Seven Years’ War maligned each other in the name of patriotism, despite their own internal determination to be scientific and above reproach. Much like the maps used by France and England during the Newfoundland dispute discussed by Urus, geographical surveys and maps were key in the negotiations leading up to the Seven Years’ War, and in some cases, the nationalistic interpretation of some geographers were thought to be too incendiary for public consumption.

Finally, Jean-François Palomino of the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec spoke to us of a series of new maps received by the archives, and the efforts put in by the archivists to identify the author of anonymous maps of the Saint Lawrence river. He also spoke of the difficulties of mapping river navigation, and the dangers of doing such, as navigation maps could easily be captured and used by enemy British ships (and were, in fact).


Day Two Postscript

I’m sorry to say that my term at this fantastic conference came to an end at lunchtime.  The road back to Fredericton was calling for snow, and our car was decidedly lacking in snow tires. I was really disappointed to have missed a paper co-authored by Carolyn Podruchny and Alan Corbiere called “Our Stories are Our Maps: Anishinaabe Cartography as Storied Places Visited by Nenabosho on Manitoulin Island,” discussing the geographical, cartographical, and environmental knowledge contained within Anishinaabe oral history. I also missed the second keynote, by Bruce McIvor on Early Cartography and Indigenous Title.


Isn’t it strange how conference can be both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time? In any case, I hope you enjoyed my summary of the Canada Before Confederation Conference! I want to commend the conference organizers and participants for a fantastic conference! This was only a small taste of a really fascinating two-day experience. If you did enjoy this blog post, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice! And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a brand new Canadian history roundup. See you then!

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