Why does this document exist?

Maps are always prepared by somebody for a reason and if you can figure out “who?” and “why?” you are a long way to understanding the map and its content. Maps are obviously a representation of a place. They are not the place itself, and just as obviously, they try and represent a lot of territory on a small space. Clearly, a mapmaker must choose what to include and what to leave out. For example, many of the early maps by the first explorers to B.C.’s waters were careful in charting off-shore rocks and recording depths of harbours but did not show the aboriginal villages. The map's content shows what was important to the maker of the map. Maps also show the limits of the technology and the knowledge of the time.

The maps we have available to us here were made by different people with different agendas. As website makers we have also made a few of the maps to give you a modern overview of the territory. Our maps only show what we think is of interest to the users of this site and are limited to features on which we had information.

There are maps here by Alfred Waddington and Lt. Palmer, both illustrating the routes of the Bute Inlet and Bentinck Arm trails to the Cariboo. Waddington was a road-builder, a speculator, and an entrepreneur who needed investors. He made maps to get investment and to get a government monopoly on the road so he could charge tolls. By contrast, Lt. Palmer was a military surveyor sent by the government to assess the Bentinck Arm trail as a competitor to the Fraser River Route. Whose maps would be more reliable?

At the end of the Chilcotin War, Chief Alexis helped the colonial militia under Cox prepare a map of the region showing the locations of the major events of the war and where the Tsilhqot’in still at large could be found. These reflect Alexis' perspective of the territory and what was important. This map was intended as a reference for the colonial government and was ultimately sent as an enclosure in one of the Governor’s dispatches to England.

Later maps are intended to indicate where settlers will find good land on the Chilcotin Plateau and do not show the events of the war or even the aboriginal settlements.

Why would we use this source?

There is an amazing amount of information on maps that is not available from any other source. The relative location of historic events can only be known by spatially depicting them on a map. We may have descriptions of where McLean was killed, but we can only see where it was relative to the other events on a map. Details, like where Klatsassin had his fishery, are only known to us through Alexis’ knowledge recorded on the map sent to London. The maps are also one way to depict terrain. The difficulties of building the wagon road from Bute Inlet are clear from Waddington’s map of the Homathco Canyon, for example.

The maps also tell us what was not known to their makers. The 1860s maps tend to be corridors without any details of what lay on either side. They were vague about where trails or rivers went and the heights of mountains. Sometimes their scale and orientation is quite skewed compared to modern maps prepared with satellite images and electronic surveying tools.

How do we find and use this source?

Maps are notoriously hard to find and use because of their size and their fragility. Because of their size and the need to reproduce them in colour, they are seldom reprinted in books. Today they are normally found in archives and in agencies like the Surveyor General or Land Titles Offices, or in the offices of relevant government ministries, like those related to mines, forests, fisheries, etc.

The maps on this site have been gathered from the British Public Record Office in Kew, England, the British Columbia Archives, and the British Columbia Surveyor General’s vault in Victoria, British Columbia. There are also maps relating to the road at the National Archives in Ottawa.

Excellent discussions of the use of maps and their biases can be found in:

J.B. Hartley, "Maps, Knowledge, Power,” in The Iconography of Landscape, eds. Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988).

Barbara Belyea, "Mapping the Marias: The Interface of Native and Scientific Cartographies,” Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 17(3-4) (1997): 165-184; and her "Amerindian Maps: The Explorer as Translator", Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 18(3) (July 1992): 267-77.

To leave this site and explore this source at the Public Record Office, Great Britain, go to:

To explore this source at the National Archives of Canada go to:

To explore this source at the British Columbia Archives go to:

Note that many of the older maps are not included in the online catalogue, including the ones on this site, and have to be searched through the card indexes at the archives itself.