Detail of a map of Halifax Harbour showing harbour depth and settlement details.

Map-making as Art

The shape, characteristics and resources (including the presence of gold) of Nova Scotia were undocumented until surveyors and cartographers produced maps. At that time, maps were used in much the same way we use GPS today, to understand our location and find our way. Although compiled as sources of information, visually describing landforms in two dimensions often created art and required a proficiency in drawing.

Detail of plan drawn by E. R. Faribault of the geography, geology and settlement of Goldenville Gold District.

Detail of a plan and section of the Goldenville Gold District, Guysborough Co., Nova Scotia.

E. R. Faribault. Geological Survey of Canada Old Series Geology Map 645, 1898.

Mapping the Gold Districts

Over time, the refinement of map-making techniques allowed the Geological Survey of Canada to produce accurate and detailed maps of mineral deposits and other information essential to resource development and scientific study.

E. R. Faribault, working for the Geological Survey of Canada from 1882 to 1932, carried out systematic, detailed mapping on the gold-bearing rocks primarily along the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. His work involved painstaking mapping of geological structures in order to determine the position of gold-bearing ore. It was a monumental task that led to the discovery of innumerable smaller gold deposits. As a geologist and civil engineer, Faribault also had to be a skilled draughtsman in order to produce the maps and geological sections of the gold districts of Nova Scotia.

W. Malcolm published a book, Gold Fields of Nova Scotia in 1929 which contains descriptions of the gold fields with illustrations, compiled largely from Faribault’s field investigations. All of Faribault’s maps can be explored and downloaded through Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources

The Art of Cartography

The Geological Survey of Canada was intended to fully document a new country, but the mapping of Nova Scotia began far earlier.

Stationed largely in Halifax (the principal naval base in North America), British army officers and military engineers Samuel Johannes Holland and Colonel Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres were responsible for conducting two of the most significant surveys of North America for the British government - the “General Survey of the Northern District” and the “Survey of Nova Scotia”. Between 1764 and 1775 they produced large-scale detailed surveys of over 24,000 kilometres of the Atlantic coastline, from Quebec to Rhode Island.

Mapping these areas meant years of difficult and exhausting work. The capacity of the British military to conduct large-scale topographic (land) and hydrographic (marine) surveys allowed them not only a tactical advantage, but made them leaders in European science at the end of the 18th century. Mathematics and drawing were crucial to this success.

 Full map of Halifax Harbour with two coloured topographical insets.

Hand-coloured etching of a map of Halifax Harbour with two topographical insets by Joseph DesBarres, c. 1781.

AGNS: 2006.200

Not only were the surveys and maps extremely accurate, providing detailed geographic information - noting potential resources (including mineral deposits like gold) and offering suggestions on how to use the land or how best to navigate a shoreline, as well as correct longitude and latitude – they were also embellished with views of the land and shoreline that was surveyed, all sketched on location. Most of these maps were later engraved, printed and published as The Atlantic Neptune - considered the greatest maritime atlas of the age - and consisted of four volumes, with Nova Scotia playing a prominent role in the publication.