Canada's First Nations used the land without owning it and without the concept of real estate. The French and British made Canadian land a commodity for ownership, to be bought and sold. Reserves are their interpretation of the First Nations' place in this system. Discover patterns of land division and occupance very different from the familiar provincial and urban arrangement.
Native Reserves, 1902 (interactive map), tells us that Canada had, by 1900, set aside special retreats for some 100,000 Canadians (static map: Native Population, 1901) and not to be intruded upon by “outsiders.” Many of these reserves were within the ecumene. Use the Ecozones map layer (Native Reserves, 1902) to look at the Boreal Plains - Prairie area, for example, where shelter-belts and reasonable climate were being occupied by immigrants from Ontario and Europe. In the process of assuming non-Native ways, Canada’s First Nations peoples embraced their coveted landscapes too. Is there mutual accommodation here? What lessons may be learned?
Magnifying the interactive map: Native Reserves, 1902, and popping-up one of the Native Reserves tables reveals their great variety. Maritimes reserves are tiny and scattered, echoing the scant numbers of surviving Mi’kmaq. In Ontario, apparent generosity of the late 18th century gave way to re-encroachment as new settlement occurred (graph: Sales of Surrendered Reserve Lands in Eastern Canada, 1867-1900). Mere fragments remain of the initial Grand River or Bruce Peninsula endowments. In the West colonial officials struck preemptively against the wide-ranging lifeways of plains and coastal societies. And in the North no reserves even existed, yet Native and non-Native both dwelt there. Readers may wish to explore why reserves were not universal.
Magnify still more. Notice the fragmented scatter of reserves around Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario. That was in 1902, but how have cottagers reacted over the intervening century? A nation-wide map can hide interpersonal relationships we all experience daily. And we talk of reserves without proper thought for the people associated with them, many of whom lived in the wider Canadian community, far from kinfolk, often in cities. Think of Caughnawaga iron workers or Residential School students. Think of vulnerable sacred sites not on reserves. Native Reserves, 1902 (interactive map), is an expressive spring-board from which to explore the many stories it stirs.