Friday, May 20, 2011

The Map with no Name and Donations in an Academic Map Library

Figure 1. Toronto Harbour Map of "1881"
One of the really great benefits of being a Map and Geograhic Information S ystems librarian in a large academic library is the interaction with people who understand the importance of maps and who use maps in their research.  Many faculty, researchers, and students continue to use our paper map collection for their research. (Yes, that's right, the paper maps are still in use!)  Even before the advent of Geographic Information Systems and Google Earth, many even made maps themselves or had cartographers make maps for their research. 

Many faculty are retiring these days and with their retirement comes the clearing out of office space. With the spring cleaning comes the inevitable question of what to do with accumulated material.  A number of faculty are in this position right now and are donating their material to the Robarts Library. The phenomenon is not new, it just seems new every spring when the semester slows down for everyone and office clearing time starts. Although, having been without a map cataloguer for nearly six months, the piles of accumulated non-catalogued maps in the map room make it feel as though there are more donations of maps than ever from faculty this spring.

Spring is also a time when map librarians start looking for special projects and I thought a great way of getting some ideas would be to have a look at our stock pile of donations from the last few years. Nothing gets a map librarian's juices flowing like going through a pile of uncatalogued maps! 

Some of these stockpiled maps, we've never dealt with for a variety of reasons. Some are duplicates and don't really require any specific attention (rainy day?); some are in foreign script and too difficult to deal with (wait for funding to hire a specialist?); some are in terrible physical condition and require more than description and incorporation in the collection (pray you can salvage them and worry that you are too clumsy to them yourself?). But some maps you keep putting aside simply because you're baffled with what to do with them.

One donated map in particular has been vexing me for years and not until I stumbled upon another map by accident did I realize what I was dealing with (sort of anyway) and how unique and important the map is.  While I still don't really know what to do with it, I can however write about it!

Figure 2. Scale, date, provenance, and notes
You see, the map has no title, it is hand-drawn, unique, and was never published (Figure 1). At least I don't believe it was ever published. From the start, you wonder about a few things with this map. The paper is a wax-like covered drafting parchment.  It is not an ancient parchment, nor is it a modern parchment. It's an old-type and old-feeling to the touch parchment. The date written on the map also seems odd. It doesn't say the date of the map is 1881, instead it states: "Soundings 1881" (Figure 2).  Soundings are the measured depths of water, (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Soundings of the depths of Lake Ontario
The map is clearly old, but not 1881 old. Further information includes the fact that the map originates from the Department of Geology, University of Toronto (Figure 2), and numbered 1341. I have no clue what the number means. This may have been a classification or indexing system within the geology department. The map also states, in different hand writing from the date and the scale, which are also different from each other, that the map is "reduced from P. W maps..." (Figure 2).  The end of the statement is illegible.

A few weeks ago while rooting through some microfiche of reproduced maps from Library and Archives Canada, I stumbled upon a map I thought looked familiar (Figure 4). I scanned it and realized the map was basically the same as my previously ignored paper map of the Toronto Harbour that has been baffling me for years. The original is an 1881 manuscript map made by Joseph-Charles Taché who lived between 1820 and 1894.This map, held at Library and Archives Canada, is 23 1/4 inches high by 29 inches wide. The U of T map is 23 inches high by 30.5 inches side.  A pretty good match in terms of size.
Figure 4. 1881 National Map Collection map 22850 

At first glance, the map looks like an exact reproduction, but it is obvious when looking at it more closely that it is not exactly the same.  The neatlines are different. The LAC copy has more of an ornate neatline, while the neatline on the new map is simply a rectangle.  There are also contours (lines showing depths) drawn on the map here at the Map and Data Library. Although these seem to have been added later and in colour. The inner harbour contour lines are in blue and the lines beyond the islands are in red.  The north arrow is in a different location, the original has it nearer to the western side of the islands rather than the eastern side near the mouth of the Don River. The placement of the scale bar is at opposite ends of the map. The scale notation is different in that there is not only a scale bar on the U of T map, but also a statement of scale, which the Taché map does not have.  The original has a title, Plan of Toronto Harbour Lake Ontario Survey July and August 1881, while our map does not.

The bathymetry points vary somewhat in both the readings and placement between the two maps. On the western side of the map near Queen's Wharf, for example (Figure 5), there are fewer columns of readings on the U of T Map. 

Figue 5 Bathymetric readings on both maps

Figure 5.5 scan at 600dpi
 Unfortunately it's not possible to tell if the bathymetric readings are the same on both maps because of the image resolution of the fiche. The scan of the microfiche is as detailed as we can get it at 300dpi multiplied in size 300 times. Having tried it at 600dpi, there is no difference in readability (Figure 5.5).  A better, colour image could be ordered from LAC but this would cost money, as most institutions still charge for reproductions of images such as these, which we make available for free through the Map and Data Library server.

Figure 6 Section of both maps overlayed on top of each other
What is very similar between the two maps, however, are the scale (which LAC have listed at 600ft = 1 inch as well); the city shoreline which are exactly the same, including the buildings; the outline of the small part of Ashbridges Bay shown on both maps; the placement of the label for Lake Ontario, etc.  Most importantly though, what makes it clear the map was traced over to create this second map is the formation of the Toronto Islands. Anyone who has examined a few maps of the Toronto Islands over time has seen them transformed time and time again by both natural and human forces. Simply have a look at Sanford Fleming's famous: To Illustrate a Paper on the Formation of Toronto harbour which depicts the islands over time and you will see what I mean.  With the help of Jordan Hale, one of our student assistants, we overlayed the two maps in Google Earth, GIS software, and Photoshop and we were able to match the two maps almost identically. A few areas matched more than others, but for the most part, the maps matched identically. From all these observations, it is clear that the Taché map was the basis for the Dept. of Geology map (Figure 6).

Figure 7. Verso of Geology Department map
The bizarreness of this map does not end with its similarities to the Taché map. While showing the map to a colleague recently, I flipped the map over;  something I had oddly never done before.  Or at least, something I'd never done before while paying attention to what the back looked like. What I discovered was quite an innovative cartographic flare (Figure 7).  To create the shading on the map (front), the cartographer had coloured the islands and the shoreline from the back, giving the map itself a nice subtle tone where the land masses are located. I am not completely clear why they did this, other than to make the map look attractive. The colouring on the back looks like it was done using a pencil, but the effect on the front is quite attractive, especially with the darker outlines of the islands and the shoreline.

 My predecessor, Joan Winearls, who was Map Librarian at the U of T from the early 60's until the end of the 90's, does not remember this map or where it came from either. The full story of this map will most likely never be known. She was baffled by it as well when I recently showed it to her.

The next step -- cataloguing the map!  It should make for an interesting experience. The full record for this map as well as download information can be found here: Further information on the original from 1881 can be found here at Library and Archives Canada

Marcel Fortin
GIS and Map Librarian
Map and Data Library
University of Toronto

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