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17th century map of Canada discovered

Canada: A long-lost treasure of Canadian history — a one-of-a-kind, 17th century map of the country, hand-drawn by the leading English cartographer of the era — has been discovered in rural Scotland. The map is dated 1699 and signed by John Thornton, a renowned figure in cartography. The unique artifact will be sold on January 17, 2010, ane is expected to fetch around USD 125,000, according to the British auction house Lawrence Fine Art.

The previously unknown depiction of New France and “Nova Britania” covers an area stretching from modern-day Manitoba on the western shore of Hudson Bay to “Labradore,” “New Scotland” (Nova Scotia) and the island of “New Found Land” in the east.

The southern part of Baffin Island appears at the upper edge of the map, with the fledgling American colonies of New England shown to the south.

Described by the British auction house that found the map as “remarkably well preserved,” the 311-year-old relic is made of vellum, a specially prepared sheet of animal skin — typically from sheep — that was used by European map-makers in the 1600s to produce durable illustrations of the new lands being discovered across the Atlantic Ocean.

Such originals were usually used to create the etchings for published maps or atlases, but the one found in Scotland appears to have been specially commissioned for a commercial client and never copied in print.

Contributions of Thornton
Two maps by Thornton, who lived from 1641 to 1708, are highlighted in B.C. author Derek Hayes’ definitive Historical Atlas of Canada. Hayes noted that Thornton and his son, Samuel, played a key role in charting navigation routes and coastal forts for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which received its royal charter in 1670 and was soon battling French rivals for control of the North American fur trade.

“Other maps were produced for the company by the Thorntons,” Hayes wrote, “but few have survived.”

He said a Thornton map made in 1709 for the firm — which closely resembles the map found in Scotland — is “the only one now in the Hudson’s Bay Company archives.”

The 1699 map is described as “meticulously coloured” and includes a trademark Thornton compass rose featuring blue, green and red points of direction.

Source: National post