Sunday, November 29, 2009

Digitized Arctic Charts at Library & Archives Canada

A major new digital initiative of the Library and Archives of Canada has recently been completed: the digital scanning of all the British Admiralty Charts of Canadian waters. It's an impressive feat, the more so in an era when the Library has had severe cutbacks in staff and funding; perhaps the present Government's interest in the Northwest Passage and issues of Canadian sovereignty helped ensure that the project would be funded. Whatever the reason, it's cause for celebration among Arctic researchers. Among the digitized, zoomable charts is the original full-colour version of Rupert Thomas Gould's map of King William Island, officially known as Admiralty Chart No. 5101. To help users of the map weigh the evidence from different sources, map indications based on Naval observers were given in red ink, while Inuit testimony was shown in blue. You can now zoom in on any detail, and drag the zoomed image to show adjacent areas; it's almost as good as having the chart in your hands.

The only drawback of the project is that, vaster (or at least as vast as) Empires, it moves more slow -- much more slow. Even on a high-speed internet connection, searches seem to take a minute or more to run, and the full map image can take up to five minutes to finish loading. The search indicators and limiters are few, and are also slow to run, making it difficult to navigate that especially treacherous strait between too many and too few (or no) hits. Searching by name provides a potential shortcut, but this search option looks through all digitized materials, not just the maps; for places where there is a lot of other material, such as photographs, this can mean searching for the same needle in an even bigger haystack. Nevertheless, the results, when one does locate the chart wanted, are spectacular indeed, and will certainly reward the patient searcher.


  1. Russell:

    Yes the digital archives are a great find.

    You say it has only recently been completed. I've looked at digital maps of the Canadian Arctic online at the Canadian Archive and Library, which is not inconsistent with it being recently completed. But when was it completed? I didn't see any announcement of any sort.

    And the searching is a tedious. You really have to know with some precision what you are looking for to be able to find it. It is not very good for browsing.

    For those interested in the map Russell posts a portion of here, you can see the full thing here.

    I wonder if you could tell us a bit about that map, Russell, or at least the information in it. There seem to be so few truly detailed maps that have consolidated all of the relic, grave and cairn finds. This is the first one I have seen that suggests they made it as far south as to make it past Montreal Island or that relics have been found that far south.

  2. Hi Ted,

    I learned about this collection from a blog for librarians to which I subscribe -- the person who posted it described the project as "recently completed." Some part of these materials may indeed have been online for a while by now.

    I actually did a posting on this blog about Gould's chart a few months ago -- I've now hyperlinked it to his name in this present posting. It has quite a history! I have a black-and-white version only.

    Gould's method in drawing up this map was to list *all* evidence -- this is why Franklin's ship(s) are shown at multiple, and mutually exclusive, locations. I believe this was at the request of Burwash, who used this chart to guide his own searches.

    The Montreal Island relics, including a piece of wood with "STANLEY" written or carved upon it, were the fruit of the Anderson expedition, which is very well documented in William Barr's volume for the Hakluyt Society. It was Burwash who tracked down accounts by two guides who had travelled with Anderson, who claimed they'd seen a ship's masts on the horizon, but had not told Anderson because they were afraid it would lead to their having to remain far longer in the vicinity.

  3. Very interesting. I recently made of copy of the map which I found in one of Burwash's books. THe map is a reallty important resource for people investigating the Franklin Expedition. I do however think it might be a good idea to up dayte the map.