Friday, May 28, 2010

Canada's Online Atlas

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

When researching ancestors in Canada, you may find records that state they lived in Upper Canada or in Lower Canada. Where are those places? The Atlas of Canada can tell you.

Natural Resources Canada has a Web site with many maps, including today's political divisions, ecology, rivers, population, agriculture, mining, climate change, relief maps and much, much more. However, genealogists will be attracted to the Map Archives and historical maps.

I spent some time looking at pre-Confederation maps, namely 1740 and 1823. Both were fascinating as they showed the border changes before and after the British kicked the French out of North America (with the exception of St. Pierre and Miquelon). British North America circa 1823 was comprised of Lower Canada, Upper Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland (including the Labrador Coast). The Northwest Territories were considered British possessions, while the Hudson’s Bay Company controlled Rupert’s Land. The United States and Britain jointly administered the Oregon Territory. I also noted the area called "Russian America." We normally do not think today of Russian territory within North America. Instead, we call it Alaska.

When you first see a map, it typically shows all of present-day Canada. However, using the mouse, you can click on points in the map to zoom in and out. You can also pan to the east, west, north, or south. I was able to zoom in until small areas of just a few miles across were displayed on the screen. The 1823 map also shows the locations of all Hudson's Bay Company Posts and King's Post Company locations, as well as other traders' locations and all significant European settlements. Best of all, it is easy to print any of the maps on your local printer.

I experimented with the site's search capabilities. I entered the name of "Miramichi," a town in which a few of my ancestors lived. The site reported that it was located at a latitude of 47 degrees 0 minutes 0 seconds north, longitude 65 degrees 28 minutes 0 seconds west.

I then clicked on a link, and a map appeared on the screen with an arrow pointing directly to the town. I then right-clicked on the map, selected "Save Picture As…" and saved the map image onto my hard drive. I later inserted that image into my ancestors' records in my favorite genealogy program's multimedia section. The mouseclicks required were simple; it is easier to do it than to describe it here. When I now create Web sites or books of my genealogy data, a map appears in my records, showing the location where these individuals lived.

Natural Resources Canada has provided a valuable service to genealogists and others. If you have Canadian ancestry, you will be interested in this site. You may also enjoy exploring Canada's history by use of these maps.

Here is the trivia question of the day: Where is Saint-Pierre et Miquelon? Hint: this territory does not belong to Canada but does appear on these maps.

The Atlas of Canada is available at