The Island of Codfish

Cartography Series: Because who doesn’t love looking at old maps? This blog series looks at the cartographic development of Canada.

Johannes Ruysch’s Map of the World (1508).

I debated whether or not to include this map, as it predates the Paolo Forlani map. However, I thought I should show what is seen as one of the earliest, if not the earliest depiction of Canada on a map. Sort of. If you click the image, zoom in, and look at the middle, you will see the word Grvenlant (Greenland). The little piece of land to the immediate left called Terra Nova is Newfoundland. We know the image is meant to be Newfoundland and not just the “New World” as its name implicates because the words, Insula Baccalauras (Island of Codfish) appear along the coastline. That’s where Baccalieu Island gets its name from.

Ruysch blended Ptolemy’s map of the world with information from the discoveries made by John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, and Marco Polo. Given that the extent of the New World had yet to be realized, Newfoundland is connected to Asia and the rest of North America is missing. Amongst researchers, there appears to be some controversy over whether Grvenlant actually refers to Greenland as we know it, or if it is Labrador.

Directly below Newfoundland is Spaginola or Hispaniola (today’s Dominican Republic and Haiti), and then upper portion of South America appears just below that. Cuba is missing. Japan is also missing. Sort of. This is my favorite part of the map. Apparently  when Ruysch compared the Polo’s account of Zipangu (Japan) and Columbus’s account of Hispanola, he came to the conclusion that they were the same place.

For Further Reading:

Thomas Suárez, Shedding the Veil: Mapping the European Discovery of America and the World, World Scientific Publishing (1994).


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