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The EvidenceWeb

A Tale from the Map Vault: There is More to Maps than Meets the Eye

Test Yourself: Can You Spot the Lies?


Figure 7.
During the Second World War, maps helped to bolster home support for the war effort. This General Motors map used pictures of bombs and factories to suggest a massive assault by the Allies against German industry, including that in the Ruhr valley (see insert). But the map does not tell us what the bombs represent. Do they measure the number of bombing raids flown or of bombs dropped, for example? Perhaps they only represent planned air strikes rather than the actual thing. More importantly, there is no comparative information on Germany's bombing of England and France. Without this comparison, we don't know whether the bombing pictured here represents more or less than what Germany was throwing against the Allies.

Figure 8.
This map uses two different scales, but provides no indication as to what they are or where they meet. The eastern half of the map shows Jasper National Park (the home of Jasper Park Lodge, which is owned by the railway) and the northern half of Banff National Park as far south as Bow Lake, a few miles west of Calgary. The western half of the map, on the other hand, shows the entire British Columbian coast, from Prince Rupert in the north to Vancouver and the American border in the south. In other words, the mapmaker has eliminated the entire southeastern corner of British Columbia and adjacent Alberta, and filled it in with an enlarged map of the central portion of the Rocky Mountains. In doing so, the mapmaker completely eliminated its major competitor, the Canadian Pacific Railway and its hotel at Lake Louise. The map suggests that the only way for a visitor to travel the mountains and waters of British Columbia is to take one of the trains or steamers operated by Canadian National Railways.

This map is a good example of how we easily accept cartographic images as faithful representations of reality. Several years ago, the map was used in a major exhibition in Ottawa. Such is our faith in the accuracy of maps that neither the curator nor any of the exhibition's 20 000 visitors noticed how it cleverly omitted its competitor and drew attention to Canadian National Railways as the only way for tourists to see scenic British Columbia. If the deception is difficult for Canadians to notice, foreign visitors with little knowledge of our geography would be even easier prey to such a distorted message.

Figure 9.
Symbols are the chief means by which features on the earth's surface are represented on a map. Over the years, cartographers have developed a number of standard symbols -- waterways are generally coloured blue and forests are green, for example. Maps of the British Empire traditionally show all the member states in "British red." But today, red also has strong connotations with communism and aggression, so if mapmakers want to create a negative impression about certain countries or suggest that regions might be unfriendly, they will frequently colour them bright red. At the height of the Cold War, the Jewish National Fund of Canada used this technique to show the countries hostile to "little" Israel. It coloured all the surrounding "big" Arab states a bright red and, just in case the reader missed the point, it put a clenched fist in each state along with figures showing the size of its army, the amount of military equipment at its disposal, the size of its land base, and the huge oil reserves available to it. The map asks the reader how a small country like Israel could possibly be an aggressor when it is surrounded by much larger nations. The map's geographical facts are probably correct, but the mapmaker has conveniently forgotten to tell us about Israel's access to huge financial reserves and the latest military technology through its alliances with Western nations.

Figure 10.
George R. Parkin had just finished two books promoting British Imperialism when he approached the Scottish map publisher John R. Bartholomew to produce a special wall map that could be hung in schools and public libraries. Parkin wanted the new map to illustrate his enthusiasm for a united British Empire, and to counter skeptics who felt that the Empire was too scattered to be worth the trouble of Britons. As far as Parkin and his associates were concerned, 19th-century technological advances in transportation and communication had transformed the Empire into a single geographical entity, linked through the oceans by steamship lines and underwater telegraph cables. For Parkin, a small town New Brunswick high-school teacher, Canada was to play a pivotal role in holding together the Pacific and Atlantic nations of the Empire.

Parkin's special wall map supported his message in several ways. It is an impressive 1.5 m x 2.5 m -- the perfect size to be used as a visual aid in his public lectures. He used a strong red and pink to represent the nations of the Empire and a neutral tone to represent non-Empire states. A combination of colour and symbols also distinguish between trans-oceanic British and non-British steamship routes and coaling stations. Most importantly, however, he chose a Mercator projection, which progressively enlarges lands the further they are from the equator and exaggerates the size of Canada by some 250 percent. To underline his message regarding the pivotal role to be played by Canada in the Empire, the centre top of the map is shared by both Canada and Britain (they are the same distance from the map's central line). And to ensure that the map is properly framed in "British red," Australia appears twice!

Figure 11.
The map uses the Mercator projection, which dramatically increases the size of Canada by some 250 percent; thereby, exaggerating Britain's influence throughout the world. But the enhanced size of Canada was not enough. The authors also marked the smaller island naval stations, such as those in the Caribbean, with large Union Jacks, which visually enhances the size of the islands and their British connection. Of course, the countries of the Empire have been coloured "British red" so as to make their association all the more obvious.

Figure 12.
When countries covet territory claimed by others, governments will often turn to their mapmakers for help in moving boundaries. It is much easier to assert sovereignty by drawing lines on paper than it is to take physical possession of land belonging to somebody else. Published at the beginning of the Seven Years' War, this map claims the territory around the Great Lakes for Britain by colouring the region "British red." A reduced New France is squeezed into an area along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Tadoussac, plus Anticosti Island, Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), Cape Breton and the north shore of Newfoundland, all of which are shown without colour.

Nowhere is the map a more powerful weapon than in disputes over territory and Canada has seen its share of such disputes. During much of the Klondike gold rush, for instance, Canada's boundary with Alaska was unsettled and open to interpretation (it was not formally settled until 1901). The Americans wanted to place the boundary further east than the Canadian claim, which would have sliced off a large portion of present-day northwestern Canada, and they prepared maps to this effect. "Every Canadian newspaper," wrote an indignant columnist in an 1897 issue of Toronto Saturday Night on seeing some of these American maps, "should keep drumming it into the ears of the Canadian people ... that an attempt is being made, through a multiplicity of incorrect maps, to fasten the United States contention upon the world's mind as the correct and tacitly accepted one."

We can only imagine the indignation that the Iroquois Confederacy might have felt if it had an opportunity to view the map published by the Society of Anti-Gallicans. It extended British sovereignty over a large part of the North American interior, a country that had been under the influence of traders from New France for more than a century. The British claim projected into the lands of the Iroquois Confederacy solely on the basis of England's friendship with the Iroquois nations.