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Book Reviews

Historical Atlas of Canada

by Derek Hayes

A unique undertaking by geologist, author, and map collector , the Historical Atlas of Canada claims to be the first Canadian atlas to exclusively use “historical maps rather than modern redrawn ones.” Such a claim would not be of much interest outside of specialist circles if many of those maps weren’t so beautiful and illuminating of the country’s history, and if Hayes did not have a broader agenda in mind. By laying out the historical maps in chronological order, Hayes has created an unfolding history of the European presence on the northern part of the continent, a history he supplements with extensive captions and summaries of major historical events and trends.

The book also demonstrates the importance of maps in defining the British and French claims to the land that was to become Canada, as an aid to trade and military excursions, and a means of winning fame for individual explorers and surveyors. One of those surveyors was James Cook, whose rise through the British navy was largely achieved on the strength of his unmatched surveying and mapmaking skills. As Hayes notes, a Cook map is “as much a work of art as it is a practical guide to navigation.” The same could be said of many of the maps lavishly reproduced here, which range from the strictly cartographic to highly speculative interpretations of lands still not fully explored (many of which insist on the existence of a “Western Sea” in what is now Alberta and B.C.).