North of 50°: An Atlas of Far Northern Ontario


119 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-8020-3387-3




Reviewed by Nora T. Corley

Nora T. Corley is a librarian in Ottawa.


The Royal Commission on the Northern Environment was appointed in 1977 in response to a public controversy over a multi-national pulp and paper company’s plan to use a 19,000 square mile tract of northern Ontario’s unallocated and unexploited timberlands. As this company was already responsible for the serious mercury pollution in the Wabigoon-English-Winnipeg river system, the public felt that “resource depletion, environmental degradation, and the boom-bust sequence accompanying it” were no longer appropriate or acceptable for the remote north, a region of marked cultural, social, and natural environmental sensitivity. The Commission’s geographic focus, originally the tract of land under discussion for development, was soon expanded to cover the whole of the province of Ontario north of latitude 50°N. The term “environment” was defined to include the social, economic, and cultural conditions affecting the lives of the people and communities of the region as well as the natural environment. The first objective of the Commission was to find ways to ensure that development in the region proceeded in an orderly manner regarding the environment, and not at its expense. The second was to seek improvement in the procedure by which decisions about the North were reached, with emphasis on consulting all groups having a stake in the development. This second objective gave rise to this atlas, which grew out of the geographical research carried out by the Commission. The atlas treats “Ontario North of 50°” as a whole, and over 200 maps, graphs, and tables are contained in 54 large plates, two of which fold out. The plates are presented in “a sequence that lets them tell a coherent and unfolding narrative.” The first three plates show Ontario north of 50° in its broad geographical context. They are followed by 27 plates defining the noteworthy characteristics of the natural environment (such as climate; geology; terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biology; and environmental sensitivity). The next 12 plates describe the human environment — history of the region, transportation and communication, and administrative divisions. The final plates portray economic activities based on the many natural resources of the region, the last two depicting general spatial patterns of development potential for resource-based activities. The maps are clear and uncluttered, giving easy access to a wealth of information, both general and detailed. There is descriptive text on each plate, and the sources of the information (such as books, periodical articles, and government files, reports, and publications) are also given, so that each plate is complete in itself. The volume also includes eight pages describing the region as a whole and two pages discussing “Evolving Information Needs.” There are five appendices: Soil Types, Scientific Names of Plants and Animals, Community Profiles, Population, and Orders-in-Council.

This atlas provides comprehensive and accurate geographical information about a remote part of Ontario that is generally afforded scant attention in other atlases of Canada. It will be of invaluable use to governments, industries, interest groups, and residents of Ontario in the crucial task of planning and deciding for this vast region. It also presents an interesting introduction to the region for those unfamiliar with the truly northern Ontario. This atlas is a superb example of what a regional atlas should be.


University of Toronto, Department of Geography, “North of 50°: An Atlas of Far Northern Ontario,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,