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Exploration and Map Making


Boxes of furs to be traded.

Following the capture of New France by the British in 1759-60, the fur trade entered a new era. New companies - that eventually led to the creation of the North West Company - took over the Montreal-based fur trade. Their aggressive competition forced the Hudson's Bay Company to start building posts inland as well after 1774. As the trade expanded inland, transportation routes became more important and the fur trade companies began to take a greater interest in mapping the interior. In 1784-85 Peter Pond produced a remarkable map that began to detail the geography of the Athabasca and Mackenzie basins. His maps and ideasAlexander Mackenzie encouraged Alexander Mackenzie to undertake two even more remarkable voyages of discovery. The first, in 1789, took Mackenzie and his men from Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca to the mouth of the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean. His second journey began at Fort Fork on the Peace River and took him west along the Peace River into the Rocky Mountains and through the Rockies to the mouth of the Bella Coola River and the Pacific Ocean. A map based on his travels was completed by the noted London map-maker Aaron Arrowsmith in 1801. It includes geographical details gleaned by Samuel Hearne, Peter Pond, and several British Naval expeditions including those led by Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver on the Pacific coast, in addition to Mackenzie's journeys. This map reveals that the major rivers, lakes and other features of most of western Canada were fairly well known, although the interior of British Columbia, the southern prairies and large parts of the modern North West Territories and Yukon remained blank.

At much the same time two other explorer/map-makers were also contributing to documenting the Canadian west. Peter Fidler and David Thompson undertook much of their work at about the same time. Peter Fidler, an HBC employee, mapped large parts of the interior between 1790 and 1796. David Thompson, began working as a surveyor for the HBC in the early 1790s before switching to the North West Company in 1797. Between 1797 and 1806, when he was transferred west of the Rockies, he completed a number of extremely accurate and comprehensive surveys of fur trading territories east of the Rockies. By 1832, a new map produced by John Arrowsmith, Aaron's nephew, shows how detailed knowledge of the main geographical features of Alberta had become through the efforts of people such as Peter Fidler, David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie and Peter Pond. Parts of the Arctic, Yukon and Alaska remain blank or incomplete, but little else in continental North America.

Although basic mapping was no longer such a priority, exploration did notJohn Palliser completely stop. In the later 19th century, a number of expeditions, most notably those of Captain John Palliser in between 1857 and 1860, sought to increase scientific knowledge of the Canadian west. Other surveys were aimed at charting possible railway routes, assessing the agricultural potential of lands, and determining the location of mineral and other potentially valuable resources.

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