Mapping Peel: An exploration of maps from the Peel Archives, 1805-2013

A series of maps on a green wall.

The Peel Archives is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition: Mapping Peel: An exploration of maps from the Peel Archives, 1805-2013. Visitors to the Reading Room will be able to feast their eyes on a wide range of maps and plans documenting the Peel area, including land treaty boundaries, county borders in the Province of Canada, village and subdivision plans, “animated” folklore maps, road maps, public transit routes, and much more! Also on display are two beautiful maps of the islands of Cuba and St. Helena. Why does Peel have these in the collection? Come in and find out!

The majority of the maps are reproductions of originals and have been mounted on the exhibition wall in the Reading Room. In some cases this has allowed us to enlarge details that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. But map enthusiasts do not need to despair — we are also showcasing some original maps in a display case.

A variety of map segments.

A sampling of some of the maps currently on display

In addition to taking in the beauty of the maps, visitors will also be encouraged to ask themselves what the map makers are claiming to depict. In years past maps were often presented to the public as neutral and authoritative representations of the world, i.e. “if it is drawn on the map it must be true!” Scholars of cartography (the study and practice of making maps) have begun to question these claims of neutrality, pointing out that maps were often commissioned and promoted by rich and powerful people, and as a result maps will often reflect specific agendas and worldviews. For example, consider that:

  • Map scales or “projections” can be manipulated to make some countries appear larger than they really are – often with Europe or North America at the centre
  • The location of churches were often given prominence in an attempt to reinforce the impression that “religious power” was all pervasive within communities
  • Early English maps often de-emphasized the presence of First Nations peoples to make it seem “natural” that Europeans had settled North America
  • Rulers throughout history have sought to bolster claims of land ownership by referencing drawn borders on a map. This continues today, with the leaders of the USA, Russia, and Canada all using different maps to claim ownership of arctic areas.

Hopefully visitors to the exhibition will come away with a new appreciation of both the beauty and potential power of maps. The archivists here have put a great deal of thought into the selection of maps and plans currently on display, and we hope that the public will find them as enthralling as we do!

Peel’s archivists and citizens are certainly not the only people currently interested in maps. In fact, this exhibition has been planned to coincide with International Map Year (IMY), an initiative of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) and the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). The goal of IMY is to “celebrate maps in our lives, their place in society, their role in history, and their importance to our future.” For more information please visit: and

IMY_logo_1500x500Finally, I would like to personally thank staff here for their help with selecting, digitizing, printing, and mounting the maps and plans included in this exhibition. So, my heartfelt thanks go out to PAMA’s Nick Moreau (Reprographics Specialist), Samantha Thompson (Archivist), Kristen Young (Archives Assistant), Chrissy Howard (Museum Curatorial Assistant), Maureen Couse (Exhibition Coordinator), and Jim Leonard (Regional Archivist).

Mapping Peel runs from September 8th to November 27th, 2015

Posted by Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist

Suggested resources:

  • J.B. Harley, “Deconstructing the Map,” Cartographica, Volume 26, Number 2 (Summer 1989)
  • J.B. Harley, “Maps, Knowledge, and Power” in The New Nature of Maps: Essays in the History of Cartography, Laxton, Paul and J.H. Andrews, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2001
  • Thomas J. Bassett, “Cartography and Empire Building in Nineteenth-Century West Africa,” Geographical Review, Volume 84, Number 3 (July 1994)
  • Michael Biggs, “Putting the State on the Map: Cartography, Territory, and European State Formation.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 41, Number 2 (April 1999)

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