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A scarce, historically important and monumental map of Ontario’s Muskoka, Georgian Bay, Nipissing, Algonquin and Upper Ottawa Valley regions, based upon groundbreaking surveys, made as a blueprint for the regional settlement designs of Canada’s Department of Crown Lands, published in Toronto in 1857. 

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This scarce, ultra-large format work is the first official map of what was known as the ‘Ottawa & Huron Country’ of Canada West (modern Ontario), a vast expanse of territory that accords roughly with today’s Muskoka County, Parry Sound District, Nipissing District, and the northern panhandle of Renfrew County.  The map was compiled by the Department of Crown Lands of Canada, likely by its chief draftsman, Thomas Devine, under the supervision of its commissioner, Joseph Édouard Cauchon, and published in Toronto, in 1857, by the firm of MacLear & Co. Lithographers. 


The Ottawa & Huron Territory covered a vast expanse of the lake-strewn Precambrian Shield, extending from the Severn River, in the south; to the coast of Georgian Bay, in the west; up to Lake Nipissing and the French and Mattawa Rivers, in the north; and over to the Ottawa River, around Petawawa, in the east.  In between, are lands that are today famous vacation locales, such as the Muskoka Lakes (Lake Muskoka is labeled on the map, while Lake Rosseau is outlined) and a large part of what would become Algonquin Park.  Also noted are various newly-settled townships, such as Petawawa, and the future sites of Parry Sound and North Bay, as well as the routes of several roads, along with the ‘lines’ of projected roads; plus the initial tracks of Andrew Salter’s pioneering 1855 surveying expedition to the the northern shores of Lake Huron.  There are also notes regarding the quality of the land in some locations, including ‘Hardwood Country’ and ‘Generally Good Arable Land’.


The present map was commissioned from original surveys with a very important purpose; developing the areas for productive settlement.  The region had been well known to fur traders since the 17th Century, indeed the Mattawa-Lake Nipissing-French River canoe route was long one of the premier travel corridors for industry.  However, since the decline of the fur trade, earlier in the 19th Century, British colonial authorities had largely neglected the region. 


In the mid-1850s, the government of the united Canadas decided to proceed with a grand design to settle and develop the Ottawa & Huron Country.  There were a variety of motives for initiating this plan.  Frist, the Crown had run out of free land in the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor to grant to the thousands of migrants who were arriving in Canada each year; opening up the Ottawa & Huron Country would presumably provide millions of acres of new land for farmsteads.  Second, Canada had a tense relationship with the United States, creating an extra line of settlement behind the narrow corridor of civilization that ran along the Canada-U.S. border would add and extra layer of security in the event of an American invasion.  Third, any scheme to open up such large expanses of territory would provide a bonanza of opportunities for corruption.  1850s Canada, like most places, was incredibly corrupt, and the chance for officials and their friends to profit from land speculation was simply too good to pass up!


Joseph Édouard Cauchon (1816-1885) served as the Commissioner of Crown Lands of the united Canadas, from 1855 to 1857.  This was a senior cabinet position, overseeing the government’s largest department, and in charge of spearheading all designs to develop new territories, including the Ottawa & Huron Country.  Cauchon dispatched Crown surveyors to gather more intelligence on this sparsely settled territory, and the resulting survey maps and reports were brought back to the Canada West surveyor general’s office in Toronto.  While not named on the present map, Thomas Devine (c. 1818 -1888), the highly talented Irish-born chief draftsman of the department, almost certainly compiled this map (it bears his signature style, and the territory depicted was directly under his remit).  The map was published as part of a series of 8 large-format groundbreaking maps of Canadian regions published to accompany the Appendix to Cauchon’s Report of the Commissioner of Crown Lands. Part II (Toronto, 1857).  The maps included (short title): 1. Lower Canada; 2. Upper Canada; 3. Gaspe and Bonaventure; 4. The Saguenay; 5. The St. Maurice Territory; 6. The Ottawa & Huron Country; 7. The North Shore of Lake Huron; and 8. Canada, Indian Territories, and Hudson’s Bay.  While the maps were sometimes bound into a volume, the marquis examples were mounted upon limp linen and folded separately within a portfolio (such as the present example).


The present map was intended to be a guide, or blueprint, by which the settlement plan for the Ottawa & Huron Country could be implemented, under the auspices of the Crown Lands Department.  As suggested on the map, the government originally intended for the region to be developed for high-intensity agriculture, such as that carried out throughout the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor.  While they acknowledged that the territory was “waste land”, they believed that it could, with greater effort, be converted into productive farms, connected by a neat grid network of roads.  Indeed, the roads were to be the lifeblood of the new settlements, and the question of the locations of the roads became a major source of interest to both prospective settlers and land speculators.  The Crown intended to give free land to settlers along the roads, who, after a period, would be permitted to sell their grants.


The problem was, however, that the lake-strewn territory of the Canadian Shield was largely infertile, subject to a harsh climate, while its underlying bedrock did not generally permit the construction of strait roads.  Thus, the geometric sense of order that the Crown envisioned never materialized.  As it would transpire, the settlement of the Ottawa & Huron Country would proceed slowly, and in a somewhat haphazard way.  While some small subsistence farming occurred, generally the region would be reliant on forestry, mining and quarries, hunting and fishing; and would, by the late 19th Century, become major destination for tourism.


Nevertheless, the present map remained highly influential and served as the basis for the cartography of the region for many years, being copied an updated on numerous occasions, notably as Devine’s Government Map of part of the Huron and Ottawa Territory (New York, 1861).  The present map also served as the administrative blueprint for the development of the region, even if events did not follow the original plan.


References: Library & Archives of Canada: H1/400/1857, NMC 11257; [On the historical importance of the map:] Derek Murray, ‘Equitable Claims and Future Considerations: Road Building and Colonization in Early Ontario, 1850–1890’, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, p. 156–188.

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