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The Historical Map Society of British Columbia was the oldest map society in Canada at the time of its dissolution, having operated for over 40 years between 1976 and 2017. The Society was founded in the spring of 1976 by Frances Woodward and Maureen Wilson of the University of British Columbia Library, as a local response to a national meeting on the history of cartography and historical cartography in Canada organized by Dr. Richard Ruggles, head of the Department of Geography at Queen’s University. The Society began by organizing a lecture series on “The Mapping of British Columbia” for the Continuing Education Departments of the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria in the fall of 1976, which was followed by another series on map collecting in 1978.
Over the years, the Society hosted talks and exhibitions featuring maps from the personal collections of the members, including a 1988 exhibition, The World of Antique Maps, which featured 156 loaned maps and two atlases, and which benefited the Eye Care Centre at Vancouver General Hospital. Between 1981 and 1992, the Society also offered a catalogue of historical map reproductions available to the public. In 1992, it recognized the bicentennial of the circumnavigation of Vancouver Island with the publication of a folder with an essay and three charts, 1790-1792, covering the “evolution” of the island through the work of Spanish and British explorers. The chart reproduction project ceased when the Society embarked on an ambitious digital carto-bibliography of maps of the British Columbia area up to 1871, the year this colony joined the confederation of Canada. The online database of historical maps covering what is now British Columbia was originally compiled by Bruce Ward and Robert C. “Bob” Harris with the assistance and input of many members of the society, including Bert Farley and Derek Hayes. The database, which contains citations for more than 3,000 maps held at B.C. libraries and other repositories, was partially funded by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
In 1998 the Society co-hosted the Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries with the Vancouver Maritime Museum. Every year, between September and June, until 2015, it continued to hold monthly meetings, often hosted by Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library. These meetings featured many speakers from the membership and western Canada, or international visiting scholars, such as Commander David Waters, Professor Kazutaka Unno, David Buisseret, Francis Herbert, Andrew David, and Andrew Cook.
Longtime members Bruce Ward, John Spittle, Derek Hayes and Robin Inglis operated the Society during the first decades of the 21st century, but due to a continuing decline in membership over the years, and facing great difficulty in getting speakers for regular meetings, the Society was dissolved at a meeting held at the Vancouver Maritime Museum on February 23, 2017. Its remaining funds were donated to Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library for the purpose of enhancing its B.C. cartographic collection.
For excellent resources on B.C. historical maps, see Derek Hayes’s books at UBC Library including Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley, and British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas.