Two Maps in One: Philippe Buache on Western Canada

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

Carte Physique des Terreins les plus élevés de la Partie Occidentale du Canada (Physical map of the highest elevations in the Western part of Canada) by Philippe Buache (1754).

*Blows dust off Cartography series.* It has been a while since I talked about maps so today we’re looking at Buache’s 1754 map. If you are totally confused by it, trust me  you’re not alone. He had a habit of drawing interesting maps. Similar to the Arthur Dobbs and Joseph La France 1744 map, A New Map of Part of North America, it is best described as a stab in the dark at what Western Canada looked in.

Born in 1700 in Neuville-en-Pont, France, Philippe Buache originally studied architecture, but Guilleaume Delisle (who I featured earlier on), took him under his wing and trained him in cartography. Buache actually married Delisle’s daughter. Although he went on to become the official cartographer and geographer for the French king Louis XV and joined the Academy of Sciences in 1730, historian George Kish contends that Buache is largely forgotten today. Overshadowed by his father-in-law and his successor, d’Anville, Kish argued this is a shame because Buache was a pioneer in thematic physical maps.

Fun Fact: This image that Google likes to show is not Philippe Buache, but rather his nephew, Jean Nicolas Buache, who was also the premier géographe du Roi.

In the mid-18th century, the area west of Lake Superior was relatively unknown to Europeans. There were two competing theories about the geography of Western Canada at the time and this map was an attempt to show both. As such, the map above is actually a two-in-one. The top is the east-west river flow as reported and mapped out by Ouchagah, a Cree man, for La Vérendrye, a French Canadian military officer, fur trader, and explorer. The bottom is supposed to be the northwest-southeast flow and a look at the possible geographic terrain. Despite the confusing nature of this map, not all of Buache’s geographic speculations were wrong. If you look at the second, bottom map you can see Buache has drawn both Alaska and the Bering Strait. Nevertheless, these two clashing maps illustrate the difficulty Europeans had in theorizing the shape and scope of Western Canada.


“French West Indies Collection. Collection 219.” The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Kish, George and Buache, Philippe. “Early Thematic Mapping: The Work of Philippe Buache.” Imago Mundi 28 (1976): 129-36.

Murray, Jeffrey S. Terra Nostra: The Stories Behind Canada’s Maps. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Press. (2006).

“Western Canada, 1754” CKA. (2007). Retrieved from

“Western Canada 1754, by Philippe Buache – The Canadian West” Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved from

How to Draw a Map of New France Without Ever Visiting

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

Carte du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France et des Decouvertes qui y ont été faites (Map of Canada or New France and the Discoveries Made There) by Guillaume Delisle (c. post-1703)

Guillaume Delisle’s 1703 map of New France is an example of how the colony contributed to making Paris the center of cartography in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Also, it is considered a landmark in map-making for three reasons:

  1. It is the first map of New France to depict the lines of latitude and longitude pretty accurately.
  2. It became an evolving map as it was updated up until 1790, despite the fact that Delisle died in 1726.
  3. Delisle drew it without ever setting foot on the North American continent.

So who was Delisle and how exactly did he go about drawing his map? Continue reading

Maps and Monopolies

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

A New Map of Part of North America by Arthur Dobbs and Joseph La France (1744). Please click the image for a larger version of the map. Click here for a redrawn/easier to read map. “The blurb reads, “From the latitude of 40 to 67 degrees. Including the late discoveries made on board of the Furnace Bomb Ketch in 1742. And the western rivers and lakes falling into Nelson River in Hudson’s Bay as described by Joseph La France, a French Canadese Indian, who traveled thro those countries and lakes for 3 Years from 1739-1742.”

Before it was discovered in 1850, the search for the elusive Northwest Passage stretched all the way back to 1497, when King Henry VII of England sent John Cabot to find a direct route to the Orient. Countless individuals sought its discovery over the centuries, including Arthur Dobbs (1689 – 1765). He was not an explorer, rather he was a Member of Parliament for Ireland. He never set foot anywhere near Hudson’s Bay. So why did this Irish politician want to find the Northwest Passage? Continue reading

New Scotland?!

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

Bay of Fundy and Harbour of Annapolis Royal (as observed by Nathaniel Blackmore in 1711-1712) by Herman Moll (1732). [Source] Please click on the image for a bigger/better resolution.

The first half of the 18th century was a crazy time for Nova Scotia. Technically the trouble started in the previous century; from 1688 to 1763 Nova Scotia underwent six wars! However, given that the above map depicts the future province around the time of 1711-1712, we are going to take a closer look at the major changes that were underway at that time brought, as well as the man behind the map. Continue reading

Acadia at the Beginning of the 18th Century

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

Carte De L'AcadieCarte De L’Acadie Contenant by Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin (1702). [Source] Please click on the image for a better resolution.

This map from 1702 by Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin depicts the area that would become New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. A part of Quebec is shown too. At the time this area was known as Acadia, a French colony. The map shows all the ports, harbours, forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers along the banks of the St. Lawrence. (In case you were wondering what the little French blurb in the corner says). Franquelin was actually the first official cartographer of Canada. Continue reading

The Inaccuracy of “Accurate” Maps

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

La Canada ou Partie de la Nouvelle France, contenant la Terre de Labrador la Nouvelle France, les Isles de Terre neuve, de Nostre Dame by Pierre Mortier (c. 1700).

If you look through the early days of historical Canadian cartography, you will notice that most of the mapmakers are French. The reason for this isn’t just because a large part of North America fell under the French empire at the time; rather during the 17th century France was the preeminent force in global cartography. The French cartographers of the time were known producing the most up-to-date works. Mapmakers came from all over, but given the idea that French maps were the most accurate, they were immensely popular, sold world wide, and got reproduced over time. As such, they are the ones that last to this day and give us our best look at how cartographers of that time viewed their world. Continue reading

When Ontario was Western Canada

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

Partie Occidentale du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France… (Western Part of Canada or New France) by Vincenzo Coronelli (1688).

Vincenzo Coronelli (1650-1718) was a talented Franciscan monk, cartographer, and cosmographer, renowned for his atlases and globes. He was commissioned by Louis XIV to create a pair of globes and afterwards Coronelli soon found his craft in high demand across northern and central European courts.

The terrestrial globe (left) and the celestial globe (right) that Coronelli made for Louis XIV.

It was during the construction of Louis XIV’s globes that Coronelli came into contract with cartographic material from New France. The globes contained the latest information from French explorations in North America, based on René-Robert Cavelier’s, and Sieur de La Salle’s expeditions. As a result, when his New France map was published in 1688, it was “the first printed map of Canada to incorporate information from the explorations of Allouez, La Salle, Hennepin, and Jolliet.”

If you look at the bottom right corner, you can see that the map has a super long subtitle. The part that stands out is: “…ou sont les Nations de Ilinois de Tracy, les Iroquois, et plusieurs autres Peuples.” To me, this is really a map about people. Might be hard to imagine, but at one point Ontario and Eastern Manitoba were considered to be “Western Canada.” The fancy blurb at the bottom talks about how aside from this region being called “Western Canada” or “New France,” this area is also referred to as “the nations of the Illinois, Iroquois, and many other peoples.” All along the Great Lakes, you can see the names of various Indigenous nations. I did a rough count and there are about 50 different ones mentioned. Some of the names are familiar, but most aren’t. Sadly, the majority of these nations would be wiped off the map over the course of the next century.


“Coronelli map, 1688,” Historical Atlas of Canada Online Learning Project. Accessed from:

“Coronelli, Vincenzo, 1650-1718,” Yale University Map Department. Accessed from:


The Great Lakes Originally Had Some Weird Names

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

Nicolas Sanson’s Le Canada ou Nouvelle France (1656).
Click here for an easier to view, redrawn map.

Before Nicolas Sanson became the “Father of French Geography,” he was a history student who grew up in Abbeville, France. Despite his fascination with ancient history, it is said that Sanson turned to cartography “only as a means of illustrating his historical work.” Regardless, Sanson was skilled as a cartographer and his 1627 map of Gaul caught the attention of Cardinal Richelieu. He began to tutor Louis XIII in geography and was later appointed Geographe Ordinaire du Roi by the French King. (Sanson would later tutor Louis XIV as well).

During his life, Sanson founded the French School of Cartography and produced about 300 maps. Interestingly, his two most influential were of North America. The first, Amerique Septentrionale (1650), gave viewers the most extensive map of the continent to date. You will notice though that California is depicted as an island. The second, Le Canada ou Nouvelle France (1656), was the first map to show all the Great Lakes. Moreover, the portions and positions of the Great Lakes are more or less accurate. Sanson improved upon Champlain’s map (and dismantled the “Grand Lac” belief—aka the idea that Lake Michagan and Superior were cojoined and formed a massive lake) by using Jesuit accounts of the area, in addition to observations made by Aboriginals, Étienne Brûlé, and Jean Nicollet. What I found interesting though are the names attributed to the lakes:

Ontario ou Lac du St. Louis
Erie ou Du Chat
Lac du Puans
Lac Superieur

Karegnondi was a Huron word for “big lake.” When translated from french, Puans means bad odor or stink. I saw a website refer to it as the Lake of Stinking Water. What a name! However, others argue the name Puans came from a mistranslation during a conversation between the French and the Algonquins who lived in the area. Lake Michigan went through a number of name changes before it got its final one. My favorite though is Lac Du Chat. Lake Cat? What?! Apparently the “Erielhonan” or “Long-Tails” Nation used to reside by the lake. They themselves were named after the mountain lions who used to live in the region.


“Sanson, Nicolas,” MapHist: An Open Project for Map History, (Mar 2011) Accessed from:

“Sanson map, 1656,” Historical Atlas of Canada: Online Learning Project. Accessed from:

Champlain’s Final Map

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

Samuel de Champlain’s Carte de la Nouvelle France (1632).

In what would be his last map, Samuel de Champlain sought to bring together his personal observations, accounts from Aboriginals, and pieces of information provided by other European explorers and cartographers into one map. In doing so, Champlain summarized his life’s work and created the most comprehensive cartographic representation of the Great Lakes area in his day. This map depicts North America from Virginia to Newfoundland to northwestern Ontario. Given that Champlain retired from exploring in 1616, the personal observations he drew from came from his Ottawa River and Lake Huron expeditions in 1613 and 1615, respectively.

Champlain was 58 years old by the time it was made available to the public through his book Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada. At the time, New France was under the control of the English Kirke Brothers. Champlain, having been kicked out of Quebec three years prior, had been going back and forth between residing in France and working in London to get Quebec back. He got his wish in 1632 when the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye restored New France to the French.

Unlike the previous map of his that I took a look at, this one itself contains no groundbreaking/new information. As you can see, there are two glaring errors: his representation of Ontario and the Great Lakes. Given that Europeans had yet to properly explore northern Ontario, the future province is missing its top half. With the Great Lakes, Champlain combined the different accounts provided by Aboriginals and Etienne Brûlé in regards to Lakes Michigan and Superior to create the ‘Grand Lac’. In despite of this, Champlain’s last map was still a milestone in Canada’s cartographic history. Champlain’s revisions, (largely thanks to the accounts of the ill-fated Brûlé), made this map invaluable to future explorers and mapmakers. He died in Quebec on December 25, 1635 at the age of 61.


Canadian Museum of History, “Champlain, the Cartographer,” (Sept 2009). Accessed from:

Historical Atlas of Canada: Online Learning Project, “Champlain map, 1632,” Accessed from:

An Ex-Pirate’s Newfoundland

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

Newfound Land (1625), described by Captain John Mason. Published in William Vaughan’s Cambrensium Caroleia.

Captain John Mason was a busy man—or as the map says, an “Industrious Gent.” Before he founded New Hampshire in 1629, had a career in the British Navy and found himself in jail twice. Once by the Scots for being part of King James I’s attempt to reclaim the Hebrides. (an island off the west coast of Scotland), the other for piracy. Despite this, he succeeded John Guy as the appointed Governor of Cuper’s Cove (now Cupid’s Cove) in 1615. An explorer at heart, he traveled around the area during his tenure and helped to draw up the first map of Newfoundland. Mason would later grow tired of managing the fighting between the settlers and the fishermen over their respective rights and cut his ties with Newfoundland in 1621.

You will notice that the map is upside-down, which is why Nova Scotia appears to be above Newfoundland. The “Gulf of the River of Canada” is the beginning of the St. Lawrence. The map includes same familiar established place names, mainly towards the top left corner such as Placentia and St. John’s (look just above C.S. Francis). There are also some new names, such as Bristol’s Hope and Butter Pots, near Renews. Also, forget gold, explorers seeking wealth should check out the Ile of Diamonds towards the bottom, middle part of the map.*

* Actually, no. Diamond mining in Canada did not really exist until the 1990s and it is based up in the Northwest Territories.


“Mason, John. Governor of Cuper’s Cove, 1615-1621.” Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2000. Accessed from: