This map of northern North America will be quite unfamiliar to most Canadians in the 21st Century. If we can imagine an international map guiding First Nations peoples some 500 years ago, perhaps this would have been it. What has happened in the intervening half millennium to make this division of territory unrecognizable to so many people?
Intruders upon of Canada’s lands over the past 500 years have sought opportunities for the systematic extraction of resources: animals, trees, minerals, and simply space for growing their own choices of livestock and crops. Commonly this effort has exceeded the ability for species to reproduce, ultimately changing the definitions of many of the zones identified in the interactive map: Ecological Regions, ca 1500 CE. To the extent that these resources are based on climate and soil, ecology plays a role. But economics, ethnicity and politics have superimposed themselves in response to very different rules. The mapping in Ecological Regions, ca 1500 CE will be particularly useful when matched with the spread of European settlement (National Perspectives>Population), the clearing of land for farms (National Perspectives>The Economy), the construction of roads, railroads and ports (National Perspectives>Transportation), and the imposition of administrative boundaries (National Perspectives>Boundaries). Follow the boundary between Canada and the United States as it cuts, apparently arbitrarily, through the Grassland Province or through the Cool Temperate Division of the Great Lakes. “Province”, as we use the term today, is very different from its use here. But notice, also, how logical the Alaska Panhandle boundary line with British Columbia mimics the transition from the Pacific Forest Province to the Cordilleran Boreal Province. And use this map to help understand why the Lake St John region of Quebec stands out as a centre of settlement not very different from Montreal.
The Ecological Regions, ca 1500 CE map has well served the study of Canada as a resource base for exploitation. How useful will it continue to be in a country where more than 80 per cent of the people live in cities, relatively unconscious of the physical properties of the spot where they stand? Should it be replaced with a map focused on seemingly natural disasters – “perfect storms” in the Atlantic region, tornados in Ontario, floods in Manitoba, earthquakes in BC – or the biggest climatic event before us now, global warming?