The Mapmaker's Legacy: Nineteenth-Century Nova Scotia Through Maps.


152 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-55109-607-0
DDC 911'.716






Reviewed by Ian A. Andrews

Ian A. Andrews is a high-school social sciences teacher and editor of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association’s Focus.


Twenty-first-century mapping differs greatly from the cartography of the 19th century. With Google Earth, automobile navigational systems, and the mapping standards set by organizations like the Canadian Geographic Society and its American counterpart, the National Geographic Society, travellers can easily navigate their world. This was certainly not the case two centuries ago.


In Nova Scotia near the beginning of the 19th century maps were still predominantly hand drawn. However, by the end of the century most were being printed commercially by publishing houses. In The Mapmakers’ Legacy, author Joan Dawson traces the history of this maritime province through the maps created in the 19th century. Indeed, many of the maps selected could be considered as artifacts themselves, especially the bird’s-eye illustrations that provide the viewer with a sense of pioneer communities in an era when photography was in its infancy and aerial photographs were unknown. Maps were made “to convey information about a place for a specific reason,” and these 19th-century maps covered a period from colonialism with its military maps, Crown surveyors, and British nautical charts to commercialism with settlement surveys, resource promotion, and industrial sites.


Detailed maps of growing towns and cities like Halifax and Dartmouth follow the earlier maps of primitive roads, with designated inns where horses could be changed, and sites of river crossings for ferries or bridges. The beginnings of industrial development can be seen in plans for the projected Shubenacadie, Chignecto, and St. Peter’s canals (only the latter survived) and the various emerging railway systems. One centralizing effect of Confederation was the movement of map printing from Nova Scotia to the larger centres of Montreal and Toronto.


The reader will learn much 19th-century Nova Scotian history from The Mapmaker’s Legacy. However, although much attention is given to the mainland, little is paid to Cape Breton Island and its communities. Critics might contend that this oversight in the author’s selection of maps simply mirrors historical reality. And the scale of some maps requires the use of a magnifying glass to fully absorb the detail.


Dawson, Joan., “The Mapmaker's Legacy: Nineteenth-Century Nova Scotia Through Maps.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,