25 April 2011

what's in a name?

Originally published in Gilles Robert de Vaugondy, Atlas Paratif, universel et militaire, 1748/49

There have been some exciting things happening in the Nova Scotia Provincial Archives virtual collections lately!  And much to my glee, pleasure, and delight - a lot of those archives activities are about their maps. NSARM has digitized a new set of maps ranging from 1748 (such as the beauty above) to the early 1900's, right before the Halifax explosion.  When I was originally checking out these maps, I wanted to find the Halifax Harbour, Bedford Basin, or Dartmouth so I could locate myself on the map - seeking out the 'YOU ARE HERE' moment - except with a 200 year old guidemap.  This is how we orient ourselves, by finding where we are.  Even the word orient takes its origins from late Middle English modes of understanding place in relation to the sun, the word is adapted from the Latin term oriri - 'to rise'.  

I soon found that I couldn't immediately locate myself in many of these maps because the names for the places I call home at this moment have changed drastically over the past few centuries.  In the de Vaugondy map above, the area where Halifax and Dartmouth are situated is called the Baie de Chebouctou (and is fairly misformed).  The map locations are also spelled with French tendencies - lending to a few more vowels, which makes sense given that the map is titled L'Acadie.

Map by Mr. Bellin Ingenieur du Roy et de la Marine
1745, by Thomas Jefferys, after the 1744 original by Monsr. N. Bellin

1759, Dedicated to His Excellency Edw'd Cornwallis, Esq.

In translating maps from French to English, across places and eras, the subtleties of maps change greatly, but in some cases remain the same - such as the Sincembre Bank above, featured in all three maps above from the 1700's.  In looking at the three maps above, the 1745 map by Thomas Jefferys pays tribute to Monsieur N. Bellin (Engineer to the King of France) who had mapped the Acadian region before Jefferys, but had done so in French, which wasn't of much use to Brittish explorers who were not bilingual.  And so it was trend of the time to copy maps, often drafted by hand and then reproduced by the dozens or hundreds using engraving, etching, and stone lithography techniques.  In the Victorian era, families who were wealthy enough to collect, but not necessarily able to travel, often collected maps as a form of armchair traveling, experiencing a kind of international voyeurism through the interpretation of explorers and cartographers.

1750, Cartographer: Moses Harris, printed for Thomas Jefferys in London

So how does this relate to Point Pleasant Park? -  you may ask... Well, how would you feel if Point Pleasant Park was named Sandwich Point Park?  Not quite the same enticing moniker is it?  The above detail is from a 1750 map drafted by Moses Harris in cooperation with Monsieur D'Anville (Geographer to the French King) who drafted the larger map of Nova Scotia inset in this map.  The titles of bays, places and islands in this map is truly fascinating: McNabs Island is labelled as Cornwallis Island, Halifax Harbour is named Harbour of Chebucto, the Bedford Basin is called Torrington Bay, there's even a place at the mouth of the Basin titled America Point.  While I know single trees in this style of mapping are used to describe large wooded areas, it's funny to see Point Pleasant Park depicted as home of precisely 27 trees!

1829 Map Detail of Halifax Township

1908 Map of Halifax Region, featuring granite quarries

As we enter into the 20th Century, maps of this region begin to take on familiar appearances; the Northwest Arm is no longer titled Sandwich River (as it was thought to be a large river about the width of the Thames - and as it's previous name suggests, sandwiched between Halifax mainland and the area titled Jollimore in the above map), and Point Pleasant Park is attributed with several of its historical features of the time, such at Steele Pond, Black Rock Point, and its Martello Tower.  It is also worth noting that at the time of this maps' publicationin 1908, Point Pleasant has become a park - no longer a military site or blanketed woods.

I hope you have a chance to check out the fabulous new collection of regional maps online with NSARM and have your own 'YOU ARE HERE' moment.  As I'm finessing the next set of research for my end-of-April project in the park I'll be sure to share juicy tidbits here!

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