Online Help - Maps, Plans and Charts - ArchiviaNet - Library and Archives Canada
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ArchiviaNet: On-line Research Tool
Maps, Plans and Charts - Online Help

Cartographic Records History

Since its inception in 1872, the National Archives of Canada has acquired, preserved and commemorated the cartographic heritage of Canada. Today, these holdings include some of the earliest known visual representations of Canada and constitute the largest cartographic description of our country. Researchers have access to these records through a variety of finding aids including the widely consulted "old card catalogue." The database presented here provides access to this catalogue. Researchers interested in other aspects of our cartographic holdings should contact the Library and Archives of Canada to obtain more information on the collection and its finding aids.

The Database

This database provides item-level descriptions on approximately 40,000 maps, plans, charts and drawings from what the Library and Archives of Canada commonly refers to as the "old card catalogue." The maps described here are both published and unpublished, and are generally limited to single discrete (monographic) records. Not included in this database are item-level descriptions of atlases, globes, more recently acquired monographic maps, plans and charts, and series maps (maps of several sheets which share common specifications, a uniform format, and a collective title and numbering system). The latter are described in the "new catalogue," which at present is only available to researchers in the main reference room of the Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

This database updates, and in some cases replaces, the card entries that were reproduced in the 16-volume catalogue published in 1976 by G.K. Hall and Company (Boston). It is important to note that the catalogue entries were simply converted from their original card format to a searchable database. In other words, the original maps and plans that these entries describe were not re-catalogued. The original card entries were completed over a fifty-year period using a variety of cataloguing standards. For this reason, some items are described differently from current descriptive cataloguing outlined in the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2) and used to describe maps and plans in the Library and Archives' "new catalogue." Although the "old card catalogue" has been closed to new entries since the mid 1980s, its descriptive records are updated regularly as research brings new information to light on these national treasures.

Search Screens

Two search screens allow users to browse the database: the default General Search screen and the Geographical Browse screen which appears by clicking on a separate button. Check boxes and multiple-choice lists allow researchers to refine their search.

General Search Screen

The general search screen allows researchers to search the database using one of three fields:

A search by Author allows researchers to find maps, plans, and charts created by a particular person or corporate body.

A search by Title allows researchers to find maps, plans, and charts when the title is known.

A search by keyword allows users to search all fields within the database.

For example:
Type Bellin, the 18th century French hydrographer, for hits to this name whether as an author, a name in the title, or as a place name, etc. Or type Toronto to find all maps where the word Toronto appears in the title, author, or call number fields.

Place a check next to Descriptions with a digitized image to limit your search to digitized maps that are available online.

Geographical Browse
(to be added in phase 2)

Search Tips

Enter the terms that best describe the document in the appropriate field. It can be a work's title, a general description, the creator's name, copyist, a place name, etc.

Unless you are looking for a specific work, conduct your search using limited terms. Truncate if necessary, ? replaces a character, and $ replaces a chain of characters, to allow for possible misspelling. If the search brings up too many references, you can reduce the number of hits by using the appropriate logical connectors.

For example:
If you type Sm?th, you will obtain Smith and Smyth.

If you type patriot$, you will obtain patriote, patriotes, patriotisme, patriotique, patriotic, patriotism, etc.

Logical connectors AND, OR, ADJ allow more precision (follow The Search Syntax link to learn more).

For example:
Typing in Lord Dorchester OR Guy Carleton, will broaden your search to provide a listing of records associated with this person, those that use either his title or his name.

If you type Toronto AND harbour, you will get all descriptions combining these two words.

Type in Toronto ADJ harbour, and you will obtain all occurrences of these two words together, in the order you typed them.

If possible, search in English and in French. Descriptions are currently produced in the language of the creator-donor, but this has not always been the case. Most descriptions are in English only. However, titles remain in their original language, and are only rarely translated.

For example:
If you type ship and then navire, the results will not cancel each other out.

Be careful with dates. Researchers will only retrieve dates that correspond strictly to what they have specified.

For example:
Type 1790-1810 to obtain only descriptions with this specific phrase, if there are any. You will not get anything for the years 1791, 1792, 1793, etc. Use truncation to improve your results.

Type 179$ for better results.

Since the database contains descriptions of old documents, do not use only modern or current words and terms when entering your search. It may be necessary to use outdated expressions and words whose meanings have changed over time to improve your results:

For example:
Sauvage, savage, indien, Indian
Great War, European War, First World War, World War I
Klondike, Klondyke, Clondyke

Be aware of official place name changes:
Fort Frontenac, Cataraqui or Cataracoui = Kingston
Ville-Marie = Montreal
Bytown = Ottawa
York = Toronto; etc.

Note that publishers of older maps often changed French place names to an English equivalent:
Île-aux-Grues changed to Crane Island
Pointe-Lévis changed to Point Levi
St-Jean-sur-Richelieu changed to St. John's

The Geographical Names Board of Canada acts as the national coordinating body for the designation and use geographical names. Since 1897 the Board has maintained a database of approved names for all geographical features (towns, cities, lakes, mountains, etc.). The database notes the authorized spelling and the location of the feature. Researchers may find it useful to use official names and spellings when querying the "old card catalogue" database.

How to Interpret the Results

The search results will be posted as a results summary list (or hit list) from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.

Results Summary List

The results summary list, sorted by column, contains information that will allow users to assess whether or not the documents that were found are relevant. Information within square brackets has been supplied by staff at the Library and Archives of Canada and is based on clues found on the map, plan, or chart. Each page of the list provides 20 references (this default value can be changed). Users can export the results to diskette or download to their own personal computer.

The first column is linked to the detailed description (see below). Clicking on the icon will bring you to the detailed description.

The Author column provides the name of the individual(s) and/or corporate body that is credited with creating the map, plan or chart.

The Title column provides the title of the map, plan, or chart; in some cases it will be abbreviated. The complete title appears in the detailed description.

The Date column provides the map's exact or approximate date.

A cross-mark under the Available On-line column indicates that a digitized copy of the map, plan, or chart is included with the detailed description.

Detailed Description
From the results summary list, you may consult one detailed description at a time. Some of the descriptions will contain a thumb-size image that can be expanded to see a more detailed image of the map, plan, or chart. These images have been compressed using MrSID (Multi-resolution Seamless Image Database) software. The first time you request an image, your computer will prompt you to download a free plug-in for your browser called MrSID (you will only be prompted if this plug-in is not already installed). Please note that depending on your internet connection speed this process could take up to five minutes to download. MrSID will allow you to view the image and magnify portions of it without any loss of resolution. Researchers should consult our help document for using MrSID for further information on this browser plug-in.

Researchers should note that when they click on a second or third page, the new images will be retrieved to a second browser window. Please note that this second browser will not maximize automatically and the user will have to maximize the browser from his/her Taskbar.

The detailed description includes all or some of the sections described below. If the information seems insufficient or unclear – for example, because of misspellings or other errors – users should contact Reference Services at the Library and Archives of Canada for more information.

This is the complete title appearing on the map, plan, or chart. Usually, the title has been transcribed exactly as it appears in order to maintain the language, wording, order, and spelling (but not necessarily the punctuation and capitalization). Earlier forms of letters (e.g., ƒ = ss) and earlier forms of diacritical marks have been transcribed to their modern form. More specific title information is sometimes provided in square brackets by archival staff and is based on information that appears on the item.

This is the date of publication, distribution, printing, copyright, etc. Dates enclosed in square brackets do not appear on the item but have been inferred by staff from other sources. Double dates, for example 1755 (1803), indicate that an item was re-published. The first date indicates the first date of publication, and the second date indicates when the item was republished. The term n.d. refers to items for which no date can be assigned.

This is the name of the creator of the document (if known). It may be an individual or a corporate body. Author information enclosed in square brackets indicates that the information can not be found in a statement on the item itself and has been taken from other sources.

Surveyed By:
Often a map's creator, surveyor, draftsman, engraver and printer were different individuals or corporate bodies and are identified as such on the map. If the name of the surveyor was recorded on the map, the information is sometimes noted in this field.

Drafted By:
Often a creator, surveyor, draftsman, engraver and printer were different individuals or corporate bodies and are identified as such on the map, plan, or chart. If the name of the draftsman was recorded on the map, the information is sometimes noted in this field.

Other Signees:
Sometimes a creator, surveyor, draftsman, engraver and printer were different individuals or corporate bodies and are identified as such on the map, plan, or chart. If individuals other than the author, surveyor, and draftsman are noted, the names are sometimes recorded in this field.

Microfiche Number:
Most of the maps, plans, and charts listed in this database have been reproduced in black and white (and some in colour) onto a single, large-format (105 mm), microfiche. Each microfiche is given a unique number with the prefix "NMC". This "NMC" number can use to order photographic reproductions and/or digital images. The "NMC" number should be included by authors and publishers in their credit line (for example, credit: Library and Archives of Canada, NMC-123456). This number, along with the call number and title, should also be used when placing a request to consult original documents or when ordering reproductions.

C Number:
In the past, some maps, plans, and charts were photographed in black and white using a high-quality, large-format, film and the negatives were assigned a "C" number. This number, along with the title, call number, and microfiche number, should be included in orders for black and white prints. In cases where there is no existing "C" number or negative, black and white prints can be made from the microfiche.

Accession Number:
This is an administrative control number assigned to individual items or a group of documents acquired by the Library and Archives of Canada at a specific time and from the same source.

Not all the items featured in this catalogue are original documents. Some of the maps, plans and charts consist of photographic copies of original documents held by other institutions. In such cases, the institution holding the original item is noted in this field. In other instances, this field is used to note the original atlas or book from which a plate may have been removed.

This field sometimes notes the subject matter of a map.

Insets & Views:
If smaller maps and views exist within a larger map or chart, the area name and/or subject matter or title of the inset or view is sometimes noted in this field.

This is a graduate measurement that indicates the relationship between distances on the map, plan, or chart and the corresponding distance on the ground. Sometimes the scale will be expressed as a representative fraction (e.g., 1 : 100,000); other times it is expressed as it appears on the original document (e.g., 1 inch equals 1 mile; 1 inch to 80 chains; 6 toises au pouce).

This field notes the dimensions (length by width) of the map, plan, or chart. In some cases dimensions are expressed in inches; in other cases in centimetres. The information is not available for all documents in the collection.

This field describes some of the map's basic elements: published or unpublished; with or without colour; original or reproduction; etc. The information is not available for all maps, plans, or charts in the collection.

Call Number:
This number allows the Library and Archives of Canada to locate the original map, plan, or chart and should be included, along with the microfiche number and title, in requests to consult original documents.

This field provides researchers with information on any restrictions that might exist concerning access to original documents and/or the use of original maps, plans, or charts and their images. For conservation reasons, some original documents cannot be copied or examined. As well, in cases where the Library and Archives of Canada owns only a photographic reproduction of an original item held in another archival institution, the map, plan or chart may be consulted (and in some cases copied) for research purposes only. If researchers should wish to use the item for any other purpose, they should obtain the permission of the institution that owns the original item.

This field provides researchers with information on the copyright of the original map, plan, or chart.

How to Consult a Record or Order a Copy

Several thousand digitized maps are available on-line, and this number will gradually increase. Some conditions govern the utilization of digital images.

It may not be possible to consult original documents for conservation reasons. Where possible, consultation is done at the Library and Archives in Ottawa by appointment.

For more information about the reproduction and consultation services offered by the Library and Archives of Canada, please follow the Obtain copies and Consult records links.

Reproduction of archival material is subject to the Copyright Act and its regulations. This is a highly complex area for both archives and researchers and has a profound effect on the way that the Library and Archives of Canada delivers its services to researchers for protected material.

Copyright can be owned or held by an individual or a group of individuals, a corporation, the Crown, or the public. The terms of protection can vary subject to the author, the nature and the disposition of the material in question, and other considerations. The Library and Archives of Canada holds a variety of material for which the ownership of copyright may be uncertain due to the mixture of public and private material, or published and unpublished works. One of the major difficulties for both archives and researchers is in identifying and locating the copyright owners.

It is recommended that researchers consult the Copyright Act and seek legal advice where questions regarding the interpretation of copyright arise.

It is not the role of the Library and Archives of Canada to interpret the Copyright Act for researchers, and researchers must accept responsibility for determining any copyright obligations. Researchers should allow adequate lead-time for researching ownership and obtaining permission, as required.

We also gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose Canadian Cultural Online Program (CCOP) made this work possible.