Posts Tagged ‘canada’

Conibus Regnum: A mysterious lake in Northern Central Canada.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
Cornelius van Wytfliet's 1597 map of Conibas Regnum

Cornelius van Wytfliet’s 1597 map of Conibas Regnum

The map above is one of Wytfliet’s most enigmatic maps. Cartographically this map covers northern central Canada and the supposed Arctic coast. It extends as far south as New Mexico (Septem Civitates) and includes Hochelaga, the original indigenous site that became Montreal. The map’s most striking feature is the massive inland lake liking to the Arctic via a narrow channel. The lake contains an island, which itself contains a city. Both are identified as Conibas. Considering that this map covers a region that, in 1597, remained fully unexplored by Europeans, we can only wonder, what is this lake and how did Wytfliet dream it up?

1554 Munster America

1554 Munster America

Although Wytfliet’s map above is the first to specifically detail the region, the idea of a great inland freshwater lake extending into the heart of North America from the high Arctic does appear in earlier maps. The first specific printed map of America to show a large inlet from the Arctic is Sebastian Munster’s 1540 Novae Insulae XVII Nova Tabula. Munster is therein rendering Verrazano’s Sea, a speculative inland sea opening to the Arctic or Pacific that Verrazano claimed to have discovered based upon misinterpretations of the Pamlico Sound and the Carolina Banks. Sailing along North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1524, Verrazano saw the sound on the eastern side of the isthmus and postulated that it must be the Pacific

. . . where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which, from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay

Munster’s inland sea is rather vague and formless, but it follows the form of original speculative rendering laid down by Verrazano in his manuscript chart now stored at the Vatican. Other early cartographers followed suit and also began rendering an inlet from the arctic, although, as the region was slowly explored, Verrazano’s Sea grew gradually smaller and smaller and was pushed further north and further away from the Atlantic Seaboard.

Verazzano's Manuscript Map showing speculative inland sea.

Verazzano’s Manuscript Map showing speculative inland sea.

It was Giacomo Gastaldi (Shirley, 107), in his 1561 woodcut wall map of the world, who finally gave Verrazano’s inlet the form we see here, i.e. extending inland via a narrowish channel and opening into a large inland lake with a central island. It was also Gastaldi who first uses the term ‘Conibas'(there spelled Conibaz) and establishes much of the typonomy for the region. Most researchers point to Mercator’s map of 1569 as the source for Conibas, but Gastaldi’s depiction of Conibas (spelled Conibaz), is both clearer and earlier by a considerable margin. Gastaldi develops both the form of Conibas, including its island city, and the lake’s river connection to the Arctic.

From whence was Gastaldi’s revolutionary representation of Conibas drawn? For this information we can turn to a contemporary of Conibas, Andre Thevet, who claims to have met Cartier personally. Cartier explored the coasts of North America on several voyages between 1535 and 1542. On returning to Europe, he commissioned Gastaldi to compose several maps for his journals. While we have no knowledge of what personal conversations passed between Gastaldi and Cartier, we do have a record of conversations between Thevet and Cartier regarding Conibas. We can assume Gastaldi had access to this same information.

Giacomo Gastaldi's 1561 Map of the World. This is the first map to use the term 'Conibaz'.

Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1561 Map of the World. This is the first map to use the term ‘Conibaz’.

Cartier described to Thevet the American Indian tradition of ‘cornibotz’ a kind of highly coveted wampum-like shell used by certain indigenous tribes as a kind of currency. According to Cartier, the shells were obtained by ‘slashing the thighs and outer fleshy portions of the dead body of a captive then sunk into the depth of waters, when the shells could collect in the wounds’ (Kellog, L. P., The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest, page 42). This, along with Cartier’s description of large inland lakes, may have led Gastaldi to theorize a lake of ‘cornibotz’ or ‘conibaz’ from which all such sells originated. The inclusion of a city there possibly suggests a hope for riches and wealth – for indeed that is what ‘cornibotz’ represented. (Thevet, Andre, The Newfoudword, or Antarclike, (London, 1568).

The Lake of Conibas appeared in various forms on numerous maps printed between 1561 and 1609, including Thevet’s own map, the Mercator/Le Clerc map of the world, Mercator’s North Pole, De Jode’s America, and many others.

Related Maps:

How Good Cartographers Make Big Mistakes: The River of the West in Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America showing Verendrye’s waterways to the Pacific.

Cartography in the 18th and early 19th century can be understood as a race to reveal the unknown with global political and social consequences. Mapmakers, operating primarily from offices in Amsterdam, London, and Paris, did very little exploration themselves, rather, it was their onerous task to extrapolate from often sketchy reports brought back by mountain men, commercial and naval vessels, gentleman explorers, missionaries, and various other itinerants. These often conflicting and sometimes spurious accounts then had to be reconciled with established cartographic convention, political ideology, and commercial expectations. This short blog post will illustrate one example grapevine ministries of how this can easily go wrong – even for master cartographer.

This map was issued by France’s premier cartographer of middle 18th century and one of the most meticulous and conscientious cartographers in the world, Jacques-Nicholas Bellin. The map, Carte de L’Amerique Septentrionale Pour servir a L’Histoire de la Nouvelle France, covers all of North America from the Arctic to the Spanish Main, including modern day Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Bellin prepared this map to illustrate Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France. Charlevoix was a Jesuit missionary and traveler commissioned by the French Crown and the Duke of Orleans to reconnoiter French holdings in the Americas. The French had just lost control of the Hudson Bay and were actively in search of a profitable route to the Pacific, which many believed lay in the network of rivers and lakes to the west of the Great Lakes. Charlevoix thus had the secondary commission to ‘inquire about the Western Sea, but [to] still give the impression of being no more than a traveler or missionary.’ While in the Americas, Charlevoix befriended Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, a French Canadian military engineer active throughout French America in the early 18th century. Gaspard passed on numerous manuscript reports and maps, most likely including some of the manuscript maps referenced below, to Charlevoix, who in turn passed them on to Bellin, the official Ingénieur de la Marine.

Close up of Bellin’s use of the Auchagah / Verendrye Map.

By far this map’s most striking feature is the broad open water route extending westward from Lake Superior, through the Lake of the Woods (Lac des Bois), and continuing via the River of the West (Fleuve de L’Ouest) through Lake Winnipeg (Ouinipigon) to the mysterious Mountain of Radiant Stones (Montagne de Pierres Brillantes). This remarkable passage is based upon a manuscript, below, drawn by the American Indian Cree river guide Auchagah in 1728 or 1729 for the French Fur trapper Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Le Sieur de La Verendrye. The connection between the two maps is obvious, especially in the western quadrants where the topography, text, and river networks are drawn direction from Auchagah’s map.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

In a manner not atypical of American Indian cartographic perspectives, Auchagah’s map is a practical illustration of river routes he would have been familiar with between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg. It identifies various large lakes as well as numerous portages and some topographical features such as the “Montagne de Pierres Brillantes.” What it fails to convey are distance and direction. In the eyes of a western cartographer, used to maps with a uniform directional orientation and scale, this appears to be a pretty good map illustrating a passage west possibly as far as the Pacific. What Auchagah’s map in fact shows is an approach to Lake Winnipeg, here described as Ouinipigon that extends westward from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods before turning northwest to Lake Ouinipigon. A synthesis of incompatible cartographies thus caused Winnipeg / Ouinipigon to be mapped twice, both in the Sioux lands to the west of the Lake of the Woods as suggested by the Auchagah map, and, more properly, to the north as Lake Assiniboels. Assiniboels is notably and correctly also connected to the Hudson Bay by the Nelson River (R. de Bourbon).

Lahonton’s Longue Riviere, 1702.

The cartography derived from Auchagah’s map would not have seemed the least unusual to Bellin. In fact, it would have been a confirmation of previously established cartographic conventions based upon c. 1700 voyages of the Baron de Lahonton, see below. Both maps are suggestive of a navigable river system extending westward an unknown distance. Lahonton’s map is akin to Auchagah’s in that it is also based, at least in part, on river maps drawn by indigenous river guides.

Close up of the Pacific Northwest from Bellin’s 1743 map of North America.

Compounding issues relating to widely divergent cartographic perspectives is the complete lack of surveyed reference points. As such, cartographers relied on educated speculation to incorporate sketchy reports by trappers like Verendrye and adventurers like Lahonton into their maps. In our primary example above, most of the North Americas shorelines are somewhat known based upon earlier nautical positioning. Though pre-Cook maritime survey work was at best inexact, it was sufficient to drawn general boarders, as above. Here Bellin references the work of Martin d’Aguilar, a Spanish navigator who sailed up the west coast of America in 1602. He reported sighting a ‘rapid and abundant’ river emptying into the Pacific, which Bellin identifies here. (As a side note, it is generally assumed that Aguilar made it no further than Coos Bay, however, this description sounds uncannily like the Columbia River, much further north. While there are other rivers emptying into the Pacific closer to Coos Bay, none have a dangerous discharge comparable to the Columbia). Other landmarks, such as Cape Mendocino, were well known as landmarks on the Manila – Acapulco trade route.

The vast distances Bellin suggests that Auchagah’s map covers are hence merely speculation, but not random speculation. Although Bellin was considered the most meticulous of cartographers and is known to have written scathingly against the tendency for political influence to trump cartographic fact, he cannot have been immune to the political and mercantile aspirations of his nation. The need for a westward route to the Pacific was profound and a matter of life and death for the French colonies in the Americas. Without such a route the French in America were well aware that they would soon lose their commercial advantage in the region to the British who had just seized control of the Hudson Bay. The cartographer who successfully mapped such a route would be guaranteed everlasting frame and glory – perhaps a risk worth taking.