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


Yet Another Five Haunted Places in Canada

Halloween is around the corner so that can only mean one thing for this blog: time for me to smash Canadian history and ghost stories together yet again! For round three, some of the stories we’re going to explore include a haunted military fortress, a love-struck New France governor, and even a flaming ghost ship that people have reported seeing for over two centuries! Continue reading

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

Was the Acadian Expulsion Justified?

Expulsion of the Acadians by Lewis Parker (c. 2011)

The Acadian Expulsion (1755–1764) was the forced deportation of the citizens of Acadia (an area that was spread out across modern day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) by British soldiers. Although it was part of the British military campaign against France during the Seven Years’ War, the expulsion was the result of long-term hostility between the two sides. Approximately 10,000-11,500 Acadian refugees fled to Louisiana, New France, the English colonies, and some went as far as Europe or the Caribbean. Thousands died of starvation, disease, or from drowning and those who survived weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

So how exactly did British colonial government justify their actions? This post looks at the different positions on the Expulsion from both the British and Acadian points of view. Continue reading

The Seven Years War: Causes and Perspectives

This post is the first installment of my seven-part series on the Seven Years’ War.
Interested in more? The second installment looks at the Acadian Expulsion.Map of the Belligerents and Areas of Conflict During the Seven Years’ War [Source]

When the Seven Years’ War  (1754-1763) broke out in the Ohio River Valley, guess how many people were surprised? Somewhere in the range of…zero. Also known as the French and Indian War, the conflict was the culmination of over a century’s worth of fighting between Britain and France over North American supremacy. Two years later, the conflict made its way across the Atlantic. As a result, the Seven Years’ War was essentially two simultaneous conflicts, that extended across five continents, with the British and French Empires at the center. This has led some to label it as the first “real” world war, but that is debatable. Ultimately, the Seven Years’ War was a watershed event in history but before we get to all that, we have to start at the beginning. This post will look at the major and immediate causes of the Seven Years’ War in North America. Continue reading

Another Five Haunted Places in Canada

The Haunted House (1929)

I had a lot of fun writing about Five Haunted Places in Canada last year, so I figured why not do it again for this Halloween? Ghost stories fit really well into a history blog. After all, when you’re looking into haunted matters generally it has some historical context to sort through. Also the list of supposedly haunted places across the country is actually a lot longer than these two lists combined so there’s no shortage of stories to tell. This year we’re going to explore the spirits who haunt a famous hotel, well-known landmarks, and a breathtaking national park. (On a latter note, I’m still working at that museum and I still haven’t seen a ghost. Not cool). 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

Health Care in New France

Note: This is a two-part post on Health Care in New France. Part 1 will explore diseases, hygiene issues, and how to survive in New France. Part 2 will discuss health care professionals, treatments, and theories.

A General System of Surgery by Laurence Heister (1743). Amputation was the most common major surgical procedure.

Last week we learned that unless you were a highly lucky individual, at some point during your 40 years of life (the average age expectancy in New France), you were bound to catch some sort of infectious disease.  So what happened if you got sick? As noted before, New France’s health care was quite diverse. Who were some of the medical professionals that settlers in New France could seek out? What guided medical theory and what sort of medicines existed? If you had to get surgery done, were you screwed? Essentially, how effective were 17th and 18th century medical practitioners? Continue reading

Disease and Hygiene in New France

Note: This is a two-part post on Health Care in New France. Part 1 will explore diseases, hygiene issues, and how to survive in New France. Part 2 will discuss health care professionals, treatments, and theories.

A sketch of Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal (by H. Giroux, date unknown). Founded by Jeanne Mance (co-founder of Montreal) in 1642, the hospital is still in use today, making it the oldest hospital in Canada. Click here to see what it looks like nowadays.

In New France during the 17th and 18th centuries, illnesses were a part of daily life—even more so than today. Hospitals and doctors existed; often medical practitioners worked in conjunction with religious congregations to administer care for sick individuals. However, as you can imagine health care was much, much different back then. So what exactly happened if you were living in New France and got sick? Continue reading

Pirates of the Maritimes

Imagine living in a fishing port in the Maritimes during the early 18th century. You’re poor and spend your time working in the harbour. One day you see a large fleet of ships on the horizon. They’re not flying British or French colours, rather their flags are black with a skull and cutlasses on them. What would you do? Run? Warn others? Or wait until they dock and ask the first pirate you see, “Where do I sign up?”

This actually happened in Trepassey, Newfoundland in 1720. Legendary pirate Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Black Bart, attacked the small fishing port over the course of two weeks. When he left, Black Bart had gained a lot more than plunder; numerous fishermen joined his crew and together they would sail off to ransack and terrorize other seaside communities. This was not just a one-off incident. Rather, the history of Canada’s maritime provinces are steeped in piracy. Continue reading