The Map and Plan Digitization Project

Thanks to funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program, we’ve completed a project to digitize 512 maps and plans in our holdings. Here are some highlights from the project. We’ve provided links to descriptions in our database so you can click through to the full-resolution versions of the maps if you’d like to examine them in detail. Here’s the link for the map below.

Bird's Eye view detail

Panoramic view of the City of Vancouver, 1898. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 547


The project makes these maps available to everyone quickly online, and makes them easy to re-use. It reduces damage to the oversized originals due to handling, as they no longer have to be retrieved from storage. Very light-sensitive materials, like blueprints, may be kept in the dark so they don’t fade.

Before the maps are scanned, we clean them as much as possible and then repair any tears that would make the map hard to understand or catch in the scanner. The maps need to be flattened to remove buckling or folds so that all the information can be captured.

torn map

1963 Zoning map in need of repair

We have a large-format scanner that will take objects up to 54 inches wide and 0.6 inches thick. Maps in good shape can be scanned on their own, but if they are especially delicate or have a bumpy surface they will have to be enclosed in an acetate sheet during the scan.

map going through scanner

Map being scanned

Many of the maps that were created for City projects used standard base maps created by Engineering, and then added other information.

Here’s a 1978 base map of the entire city (and you can see it full-sized here).

entire map of vancouver

City of Vancouver base map 1978. Reference Code AM1594-: MAP 1034

Here’s that 1978 base map revised to 1980 on which all park sites as of June 1980 have been coloured in green pencil (and the full-sized version).

entire map of Vancouver with parks coloured green

City of Vancouver park sites, 1980. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 1032

Maps may contain information other than geographical. This 1938 Plan of School Buildings and Properties has a table of additional information about each school: the number of rooms, the street address and the type of school (elementary, junior high or high). (Full-sized version).

overview of map showing schools and information

Plan of school buildings and properties (1938) for the use of the Board of School Trustees. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 1041

Some of our maps depict plans rather than reality. This shows a proposed canal between Port Moody and the Pitt River, as well as a canal and lock system on Burrard Inlet and a diversion of  Seymour Creek. (Full-sized version).

overview map

Sketch of proposed interurban canal and harbour development for Greater Vancouver, B.C. Reference code AM1594-: MAP 11

Here’s a detail from the sketch above showing the Burrard Inlet locks.

plan of locks

Detail from Reference code AM1594-: MAP 11

Our first City Archivist, Major Matthews, created maps based on his knowledge of Vancouver’s history. (Full version).

blue linen map of vancouver

It might have been Albert City, 1858, New Georgia 1792 : it was Granville, 1870, British Columbia, 1871 : it is Vancouver, 1886, British Columbia, 1871 : it is Vancouver, 1886, Canada, 1867, Reference code AM1594-: MAP 109

This one was drawn on linen and you can see the weave if you zoom in. You can see how hard it can be to erase information on a linen map without leaving a trace. It’s obvious where the name “Strathcona Place” used to be.

DETAIL from Reference code AM1594-: MAP 109

DETAIL from Reference code AM1594-: MAP 109

We also have some nautical charts. Here’s one from 1891 that shows lighthouses (in red), the depth of the water, what’s under the water (mud, shells, rock, etc), and other useful navigational aids. (Full version).

shows Brockton point lighthouse and surrounding water

Burrard Inlet, 1891. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 50

Here’s a detailed look at the land on which people were living in Stanley Park near Brockton Point in 1934. (Full version).

sketch of land, buildings and features

Plan showing lands occupied in Stanley Park near Brockton Point, City of Vancouver B.C., April 14, 1934. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 6

This tourist guide from 1898 helped the traveler by showing transportation (ship, rail, electric tram) and services (customs, post office, hospital, churches, Hotel Vancouver, Molson Bank) rather than attractions. (Full version).

downtown area

Tourist guide map of Vancouver City and Park. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 35

We even have maps that are so old that Vancouver does not appear. This 1787 map, despite being from the “latest and best authorities”, has a big gap where most of British Columbia should be. (Full version).

lots of white space where BC should be

North America : drawn from the latest and best authorities, 1787. Detail from reference code AM1594-: MAP 290

Have a project that uses one of these maps? Let us know! We love to hear how our holdings are being used.

This digitization project was made possible by funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia.Irving K. Barber Learning Centre logo

One response to “The Map and Plan Digitization Project

  1. Thanks for sharing these and making them available for all to use!

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