Library acquires rare trench maps

Submitted by libbairdca on
Filed under Library News:  Archives & Research Collections Maps, Data, GIS Research @ McMaster

McMaster University Library is soon to be home to one of the largest collections of World War I trench maps in the country after acquiring a significant collection from Dr. Peter Chasseaud, the world's leading expert in First World War military maps.

The acquisition of more than 900 maps will triple the Library’s trench map collection.

Chasseaud has been building his collection in the UK since 1964.  Now, thanks to funding from the Movable Cultural Property Grants Program on behalf of the Honorable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the maps will soon have a Canadian home, providing a significant resource for those interested in Canada's participation in the Great War. 

Many of these maps, originally produced by the British Ordnance Survey, were the only maps available to the Canadian Forces during World War I, covering areas and actions of historical Canadian significance such as “Preparation for Battle of Arras, Vimy, March 1917” and “Cambrai Battlefield – North: Final Advance 1918”.

A large number of maps are from the earlier part of the war in the years 1915 and 1916 when map sheet production was limited to hundreds of copies instead of thousands as was the case later in the war.  Because they were produced in fewer numbers and trench conditions were bad for both men and materials, few of these maps have survived.

Also present are approximately eighty “Secret” maps which were produced in very small numbers and were not intended to be circulated outside of headquarters. These maps are considered very rare and often provide unique information which may not have been previously available to researchers.

McMaster University Library Map Specialist Gord Beck is excited to see the maps find a home in Canada.  "Our existing collection contains only a small number of examples of these early war maps so they would be a great asset for researchers interested in Canada’s involvement in such battles as Second Ypres and the Somme.  Our modern method of topographic mapping has its roots in World War I. These early war maps are a valuable asset in the study of this evolutionary process in the field of cartography."

“A collection of this nature provides people with an excellent opportunity to learn more about our long and rich military history and the important role Canadian troops played during the First World War,” says David Sweet, Member of Parliament for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. “The Government of Canada is very proud to support this important vehicle to preserve our heritage.”

In order to make the maps available to researchers and the general public worldwide, they are to be digitized as part of the Library's Mass Digitization Project and eventually made available online through the Library's Peace and War in the 20th Century website which already contains over 3500 digitized items, including photographs, diaries, maps, letters and songs.

See the Daily News article and the article in the Hamilton Spectator.

For photos of the launch event see the Library's flickr stream