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Canada commemorates 100th anniversary of its first atlas

3 September 2006: Before satellites, global positioning systems and precision maps zeroed in on almost every square inch on Earth, James White created for Canada its first Atlas. Canada issued a 51-cent domestic-rate stamp June 30 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that first Atlas.

White presented to the Interior minister his first edition of the Atlas of Canada on June 30, 1906. Other editions followed in 1915 and 1957. The fourth edition, in 1974, was called “The National Atlas of Canada.” It won the Royal Canadian Geographic Society’s 1976 Gold Medal.

The fifth edition, completed in 1993, had larger-scale maps and, for the first time, used digital cartography and remotely sensed data from satellite images. In 1994, the Atlas appeared on a Web site. And in 1998, the Ottawa government authorized an Internet-based Atlas — leading to the sixth edition, “The National Atlas of Canada Online.”

White’s first Atlas was a collection of relief maps with data about, among other things, Canada’s geology, canals, lighthouses, railways, rainfall, snowfall, population densities, mineral deposits, forest resources, telegraph and telephone lines, mountain heights and ocean depths.

“In its day,” Canada Post says, “the Atlas of Canada was innovative and well reflected the country’s pioneering spirit because, at that time, no country except Finland had ever issued such a publication. White had 6,000 copies of the first edition of the Atlas printed.”

“Canada Post felt it was appropriate to celebrate this unique piece of our history with a commemorative stamp,” said Liz Wong, the postal agency’s manager of stamp design and production. Designed by Karen Smith of Trivium Design Inc. in Halifax, the stamp pictures White, a modern map of Canada and a set of proportional dividers.

“We felt that James White was an appropriate choice given his contribution to the creation of the Atlas,” Smith said. “We decided to use a sepia image of White, to give a sense of how he would have been depicted 100 years ago, and placed him beside a modern map of Canada.”

Added Liz Wong: “When James White published his Atlas, it was printed in eight colors, which was a first for 1906. We wanted to acknowledge White’s innovative approach by printing this commemorative stamp in a similar number of colors.” The stamp, of which 2.5 million were printed, is sold in panes of 16.