Country’s military mapping history through the eyes of 70 people

Melinda Cheevers, Niagara This Week. November 26, 2009

It was a story that had to be told.

When John Sinclair, a retired professional engineer living in Niagara-on-the-Lake was approached at a military mappers reunion and asked to write the story of how Canada was mapped, he was surprised.

Sinclair knew it was a story that had to be told, but he wasn’t sure if he was the man to tell it.

“The asked me to write the book in advance of the approaching centennial,” he said. “I said sure, it will only take six months, but it took me six years.”

Now, more than six years after being asked to create the book, Sinclair has completed One Hundred Years of Canadian Military Mapping 1903-2003, an illustrated history.

As the title suggests, the book is the story of  military mapping in Canada, told through the eyes of those who did it. Sinclair interviewed 70 people, collecting personal anecdotes and narratives. For those mappers who passed away before he had the chance to interview them, Sinclair would used narratives that he found through research, personal journals and autobiographies. The idea, he said, was to tell the story through their stories.

“I decided against including all of the technical details you usually find in military books  and instead I would aim for a Grade 10 reader. That way it would make it easier to read,” he said. “It’s aimed at the children and grandchildren of the people who mapped Canada for the first time.”

Sinclair describes his book as a high adventure, interesting story. Through personal anecdotes it tells the story of Canada’s first mappers, who took on the arduous task of mapping Canada for the first time.

While British and French soldiers had mapped bit and pieces of the country, there was no comprehensive map of the entire country as a whole.

“The problem was sheer size,” wrote Sinclair. “Canada is more than 40 times the size of Britain and 18 times larger than France.”

Sinclair said he wanted to make it short, and coming in at 214 pages including a glossary and timeline, he accomplished that. He said his only other criterion setting out was that this book had to be funny.

“I wrote this for somebody to read,” he said with a laugh. “I was telling a story.”

Sinclair knows the story because for years he lived it. After graduating from university, L. Col. (retired) John C Sinclair CD went on to have careers as a land surveyor, mapper, civil engineer, soldier, teacher and Ontario Hydro project manager. He had been a commanding officer in the unit responsible for mapping so he said this was an easy story to tell.

“I knew these fellows, I know who they were, who their fathers and fathers’ fathers were,” he said. “I either knew them personally or knew of them, which is why I was asked to do it.”

Sinclair said that Niagara was one of the first parts of the country to be mapped, in 1906. During the six years while he was writing the book, he said by chance he actually came across a copy of the map of this area while visiting an artist friend.

“There it was, framed, it was the first map they ever made and as far as I know, it’s the only one there is that still exists,” he said.

Sinclair said the stories told in this book are important ones, and most have never been told before. Like Paul Metivier, who was 104 years old at the 2003 Centennial celebrations. He’s since passed away, but his story is told in this book.

“These people engaged in the first military mapping of our country, period,” he said.

The maps were used not only military purposes but for economic development and direction. The book, he hopes, will enlighten a new generation about how the country was shaped through the mapping process.

“Every page you turn, you should find someone there telling their story,” he said.

The book is available through its publisher, Baico Publishing, at www.baico.ca.

Sinclair said that Niagara was one of the first parts of the country to be mapped, in 1906.

During the six years while he was writing the book, he said by chance he actually came across a copy of the map of this area while visiting an artist friend.

“There it was, framed, it was the first map they ever made and as far as I know, it’s the only one there is that still exists,” he said.

Sinclair said the stories told in this book are important ones, and most have never been told before. Like Paul Metivier, who was 104 years old at the 2003 centennial celebrations.

He’s since passed away, but his story is told in this book.

“These people engaged in the first military mapping of our country, period,” he said.

The maps were used not only military purposes but for economic development and direction. The book, he hopes, will enlighten a new generation about how the country was shaped through the mapping process.

“Every page you turn, you should find someone there telling their story,” he said.

This article is courtesy of NiagaraThisWeek.com - a division of Metroland Media Group Ltd.

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