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Library and Archives Canada has completed a major project to catalogue and scan its collection of original navigation charts published in London by the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty. The 3,400 documents, which cover a 150-year period ending in the mid-20th century, represent the largest historical description of Canada's three major oceans and the inland waters of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Many of the charts were prepared from surveys undertaken by the elite of the British navy: Admiral Henry Bayfield, Captain James Cook, Lieutenant George Vancouver, Sir John Franklin and Admiral William Parry.
The charts provided mariners with a detailed description of coastal waters, plotted the contours of the ocean floor and located important navigational aids, such as lighthouses, hilltops and rocky outcrops. They played a key role in the development of maritime resources and helped to open Canadian markets to mercantile shipping.
Using high-resolution scanners and the latest in file-compression technology, it is now possible to explore the fine details of the charts. Researchers with access to the Internet can use the charts in their studies of coastal environments and shoreline modifications, early nautical surveying techniques, maritime exploration and changes in geographical names.
The Admiralty series is part of a much broader collection of early navigational records at Library and Archives Canada. The collection boasts a significant number of portolan charts from the workshops of Johannes van Keulen, Hendrick Doncker, Pieter Goos and other 17th-century Dutch masters. It also includes some 800 sheets from the famous work The Atlantic Neptune (ca. 1775-1784) by Joseph F.W. Des Barres as well as the beautifully detailed charts of French hydrographers Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin and Jacques Nicolas Bellin. More recent additions to the collection include the complete print run produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Service and its predecessors.
Future scanning projects will make it possible to access these other navigational records via the Internet as well.
Access British Admiralty Charts: