The Klondike Bone Rush

“Stampeders” Pose with Mammoth Tusks (Weighing 125 and 200 lbs Each) at Sulphur Creek (c. 1900). [Source: MacBride Museum/Yukon News]

The thing about gold rushes is that they all have one thing in common…

Most people go home disappointed.

Out of the 100,000 who made the trek between 1897 and 1899 up to the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory, only a couple hundred struck it rich. However, while all prospectors may have not found a lot of gold, some got quite the surprise instead. Many fortune seekers discovered fossilized remains of various ice age-era beasts. In the same way that the American gold rushes of the mid 1800s greatly benefited dinosaur paleontology, the thirst for gold in northwestern Canada jump-started ice age paleontology. These artifacts went on to help shape our conception of the last glacial period (roughly 120,000 years ago to 11,500 years ago) and continues to do so today. Continue reading

Leif Erikson and Vikings in Canada

Leif Eriksson Discovers America by Hans Dahl (1849-1937)

Last Thursday, a new exhibition on Vikings opened at the Canadian Museum of History. On a ten month international tour, aside from showing off over 500 artifacts rarely seen outside Sweden, those behind the traveling exhibition hope to change some of the stereotypes modern audiences have about viking culture. However, the perception that Vikings were sea-faring explorers is definitely true and that brings us to their connection to Canada.

Almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his appearance in North America, Leif Erikson (also spelled Ericsson, Erickson, or Eiriksson) “discovered” the continent. As such is considered to be the first European to set foot on North American soil. Erikson was an Norse explorer who established a settlement called Vinland, located on the northern tip of Newfoundland. But why didn’t the Vikings stay? What happened to the settlement? Also, why is Canada’s history of vikings so seldom discussed, especially in comparison to later European explorers? Continue reading

The History of Canadian Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for Google Image Search. You never disappoint me.

To those who are celebrating this long weekend, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ever wonder how this holiday even got started in this country given that the Mayflower, Pilgrims, and whatnot have pretty much nothing to do with Canada? Why do we celebrate in October and not later on in November? Also, if our celebration isn’t based off the American one, why does our holiday meal similar to theirs? Well, good news! I have some answers for you. Continue reading

Why is the Beaver Canada’s National Symbol?

Animals have long been utilized as cultural symbols by people to represent countries and their citizens. (A very long time indeed! The Lion has been England’s national animal since the 12th century. Warriors who served under Richard I or ‘Richard the Lionheart’ were nicknamed lions). These symbols are intended to bring about a sense of national community, which can inspire feelings of unity and patriotism. Due to nationalistic undertones, generally the animals chosen are often majestic, sometimes even mythical, which is why our buck-toothed, semi-aquatic rodent raises questions every now and then. So why exactly did Canada pick the beaver as its national symbol? Continue reading

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).

Canada Makes an Appearance

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

 Il designo del discoperto della Nova Franza by Paolo Forlani (1566)

Finally, something a bit more familiar! Library and Archives Canada notes that this is “one of the first maps to show North America only and to include the name “Canada.”

Paolo Forlani was an cartographer from Venice and thus the map is in Italian. If you look closely you can see some of the names of Canada Pro. (Proper) including La Nova Franza (New France), Terra De Laborador (Labrador), Larcadia (would become Acadia), Stadacone (the future site of Quebec City), and Ochelaga (the future site of Montreal). This map also includes the Apalchen (Appalachian) Mountains. Stadacone or Stadacona was a 16th century Iroquoian village located near present-day Quebec City. Ochelaga or Hochelaga was also a Iroquoian village, however this one was located on Mont Royal in present-day Montreal. These village names were made known to European mapmakers as a result of Jacques Cartier visits to them.

Among other firsts on the map is the Anian Strait between North America and Asia. Meant to represent the Bering Strait, this is an early map that correctly does not connect the two continents. With this is in mind, what I find the most curious is that just a year prior, Forlani published a world map that has some major differences. In his world map, Forlani has Canada and Asia smashed together to form a super continent. No voyages set sail up there at the time to confirm or dispute this, so I wonder what made him change his mind a year later?


Library and Archives Canada, North America, ca. 1566, Ref. No.: NMC 022901 Accessed from:

New World, New Map

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

Juan de la Cosa’s Mappa Mundi (Map of the World) (1500) [Source]

Above is the earliest European cartographic work to depict the Americas. (Okay, so, it doesn’t really show Canada, per say, but if you are going to start somewhere you might as well start at the very beginning!) This is only part of the map, click here to see the rest of it.

As opposed to the highly visual Europe and Africa imagery, North and South America are mostly green and sparse on this map. St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel (and possibly a reference to de la Cosa’s fellow explorer, Christopher Columbus), separates the two continents and the Caribbean is right in the middle of the two. North America is marked with blue and red flags and the title, “discovered by the English.” De la Cosa himself explored the Caribbean and the northern parts of South America. Meanwhile, the North American coastline is vastly inaccurate because it was based off of details of John Cabot’s voyages to Newfoundland, which de la Cosa was not a part of. Unfortunately, if Cabot or his sailors made their own maps of their voyages, none are known to have survived.

De la Cosa was a Spanish navigator and cartographer as well as the owner and captain of the Santa María—the famed ship Christopher Columbus ~discovered America~ with. He joined Columbus on his first three voyages to the New World and did his own exploring of South America (particularly Colombia and Panama) afterwards. While in Turbaco, Colombia, de la Cosa was shot and killed with poisoned arrows from locals who were angry at the Spanish’s intrusion into their village. The men who survived the attack came back later on and murdered every single inhabitant of Turbaco to avenge his death.


Olin and Uris Libraries, “First Maps of the New World,” Cornell University Library. Last modified: March 22, 2012. Accessed from:

Luis A. Robles Macias, “Juan de la Cosa’s Projection: A Fresh Analysis of the Earliest Preserved Map of the Americas,” ALA Map and Geography Roundtable, Series A, no. 9, May 24, 2010. Accessed from: