Post Offices and Railroads in Western Canada, 1850-1900


Challenges of mapping the past: Historical railroads

Working with historical maps published during the period encompasses certain risks in terms of precision and accuracy, not to mention bias. During this investigation, this author found sets of maps published from different sources and, possibly, with different agendas in mind.[1] The Department of Interior often published maps that highlighted the evolution of Western Canada. In these maps finished and projected railroad lines were frequently plotted alongside the location of schools, churches and post offices. Similarly, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) published its own maps reflecting the extension of the rail network or the proposed extension. Land companies that worked in partnership with rail companies regularly distributed maps to potential settlers with information about the state of development in the region where they had land interests. Other sources, mainly booklets and pamphlets aimed at promoting the “West” to potential settlers produced their own maps. While these records are of invaluable importance, they often reflected the “booster” spirit of the times.[2] Frequently, the extension of the railroad network plotted in different maps did not coincide in time and space when compared with similar maps from different sources or with textual records, for instance the reports of the Postmaster General of Canada (RPGC), who described the evolution of the railroad network year by year in his Annual Reports.

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