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1897::James H. Brownlee and His Famous Indexed Maps

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

A new indexed map of British Columbia at the height of the Klondike Goldrush.


1887::Council of Brandon, Manitoba

"Brownlee of Manitoba"

Clip: Manitoba Railway & Guide Map


In 1890, Dominion Land Surveyor and mapmaker James H. Brownlee so enjoyed his springtime vacation on Vancouver Island that he returned home to Manitoba, wrapped up his business and moved to Victoria by the end of summer. Victorians felt lucky to have Brownlee. Although he was young, he was considered one of the best surveyors in Canada. He had just completed his survey and maps of Manitoba and they were proving to be a tremendous success. Now he was ready to accomplish the same for Victoria and the Province of British Columbia.


1887::Brownlee's Railway & Guide Map of Manitoba

"1892::Brownlee's Indexed Pocket Maps"

Clip: Courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library Digitization Centre


Before his family had a chance to settle on the island, Brownlee was asked to create a map of Victoria and a detailed map of British Columbia. He accepted the task and went to work. He collected data from the best land surveyors in the dominion and modelled both maps after his famous indexed maps of Manitoba. By Christmastime 1892, his first map of British Columbia was complete. It was folded up on cardboard paper and was intended for the pockets of miners who continued to seek instant mineral wealth in the remotest locations of the province. The map's index made it easy to locate all the province's known geographical features and was a ready reference to any particular town, lake, creek, or camp. A unique feature was the most recent explorations and tracking surveys from the works of Dawson and Ogilvie, who continued to explore and survey the Yukon. The map became an essential item in a miner's pack, and within a year, over a thousand copies were printed and distributed across Europe.


"In the gravels of all the streams in British Columbia between Vancouver and the Rockies, and between the 49th parallel and Cariboo, gold is to be found." - J. M. Buxton, Gold Miner

1898::Brownlee's Map of British Columbia

"1897::Brownlee's Map at the Peak of the Klondike Gold Rush"

Clip: *Courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library Digitization Centre


Now that British Columbia had a detailed map, it was updated over time with the work of surveyors from across the province and territories.


1898::Brownlee's Map of the Yukon

But in 1897, at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, the map was updated one last time. It featured mining divisions shown in distinct colours and existing railway lines. It even featured projected railway lines, some of which were never built.


And because the pocket map had miners in mind, on the back of the provincial map was a sketch of the Klondike.


1898::Index for Brownlee's Map of BC

"1897 Index"

Clip: *Courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library Digitization Centre


An interesting list of towns, lakes, mines and geographical locations in British Columbia during the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. Some of which no longer exist and are lost to time.


1930::Brownlee and his dog Rags.

"James H. Brownlee"

Clip: City of Vancouver Archives (CVA 472-31)


James Brownlee went on to create maps for Atlin, BC and an extensively detailed map of the railway lines throughout the province at the turn of the century. He died in Vancouver with his dog Rags at his side, his obituary scarcely mentioning his lifetime achievements.


*All marked images on this page courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library Digitization Centre and its generous donors. <https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0342885>


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