VMM Chart collection [cartographic materials] / Vancouver Maritime Museum

Collection number
1776-1995, predominant 1930-1950
Physical description
1107 charts
Administrative history / Biographical sketch

British Charts

British Admiralty

The office of Admiral of England (or Lord Admiral and later Lord High Admiral) was created around 1400 although there had already been Admirals of the Northern and Western Seas. In 1546, King Henry VIII established the Council of the Marine, later to become the Navy Board, to oversee administrative affairs of the naval service. Operational control of the Royal Navy remained the responsibility of the Lord High Admiral, who was one of the nine Great Officers of State.

In 1628, Charles I put the office of Lord High Admiral into commission and control of the Royal Navy passed to a committee in the form of the Board of Admiralty. The office of Lord High Admiral passed a number of times in and out of commission until 1709 after which the office was almost permanently in commission (the last Lord High Admiral being the future King William IV in the early 19th century).

In 1831, the Navy Board was abolished as a separate entity, and its duties and responsibilities were given over to the Admiralty.

In 1964, the Admiralty was subsumed into the Ministry of Defence along with the War Office and the Air Ministry. Within the expanded Ministry of Defence are the new Admiralty Board, Army Board and Air Force Board, each headed by the Secretary of State for Defence. There is also a new Navy Board in charge of the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy.

Canadian Charts

Canadian Hydrographic Service

Prior to Confederation, responsibilities for hydrographic survey and chart production in British North America rested with the Royal Navy.

In 1882, the loss of the steamship SS Asia on an uncharted shoal in Georgian Bay resulted in 150 fatalities and was Canada's worst maritime disaster at the time. On August 13, 1883, the Dominion government established the Georgian Bay Survey which was empowered by legislation with the responsibility to survey and chart navigable waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

Surveying and charting was extended to Canada's Pacific coast in 1891, tidal and current metering nationwide began in 1893. The charts resulting from those surveys were published "by order of the Government of the Dominion of Canada" in the British Admiralty's series of hydrographic charts.

In 1904, a Privy Council order renamed the Georgian Bay Survey to the Hydrographic Survey of Canada with some modified responsibilities. In 1913 one of Canada's most famous hydrographic survey vessels, CSS Acadia was commissioned for use on the Atlantic coast. In 1928, the organization was renamed to the current name Canadian Hydrographic Service. Responsibility was extended on March 31, 1949 with the entry of Newfoundland into Confederation, with CHS taking over surveys and charting around the island of Newfoundland and the coast of Labrador from the Royal Navy.

William J. Stewart was born in Ottawa on January 23, 1863, the son of Major John Stewart. In May 1889, he became the first permanent employee in the Hydrographic Service, and two years later made the first survey on the seacoast (Burrard Inlet, B.C.). Following a re-organization in the Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1892, Staff Commander Boulton returned to England. Early in April 1893 Mr. Stewart succeeded him as Officer-in-Charge of the Georgian Bay Survey. W.J. Stewart also carried out several important works on behalf of the Dominion and British governments.

In 1934, the Canadian Hydrographic Service purchased an offset press. This machine moved the Service away from copper engraving. At the end of 1937 only four charts were published from engraved plates and the process was completely retired by 1947. In 1953, the Canadian Hydrographic Service began producing charts from a negative engraving on plastic. In the 1970s production moved into the digital age and computer assisted cartography.

Unlike most nations, the CHS is not part of Canada's navy, but is rather a civilian scientific organization under the federal government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). All survey vessels employed by CHS are nominally crewed and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard, also part of DFO.

The director of CHS is also called the "Dominion Hydrographer", a tradition which dates to the earliest days of hydrographic surveying in Canada.

Points of interest/significance:

  • 1891 WJ Stewart (junior to Crd. Boulton RN) was sent to survey Burrard Inlet in British Columbia.
  • 1904 Canadian Hydrographic Service established.
  • ca 1909 Period of transition: G.B. Doge, P.C. Musgrave and H.D. Parizeau completed the first all Canadian chart of the west coast of Prince Rupert Harbour.
  • The first coloured charts were produced in 1909 (Prince Rupert Harbour).
  • In 1946 the chart numbering system was reorganized to conform with a larger, more effective system.
  • In 1947 the last of the copper engravers retired and the process was never used again.

American Charts

US Navy Hydrographic Office

The United States Hydrographic Office prepared and published maps, charts, and nautical books required in navigation. The office was established by an act of 21 June 1866 as part of the Bureau of Navigation, Department of the Navy. It was transferred to the Department of Defense on 10 August 1949. The office was abolished on 10 July 1962, replaced by the Naval Oceanographic Office.

The impetus for establishing the Hydrographical Office came from a petition submitted to Congress in 1863 by the American Shipmasters Association. A Senate committee prepared a report, and a Senate bill was passed on 24 June 1864. The purpose was to empower the Navy Department to give navy and merchant ships the results of surveys and explorations by naval officers in foreign waters. The office was not envisioned as being a rival to the British Admiralty hydrographic office or the French depot of charts, but as an office that could publish charts and directions where there was sufficient information available, priced to cover the cost of paper and printing but not the cost of preparation.

US Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS)

In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the "Survey of the Coast," thus establishing the United States Coast Survey. In its early decades, the Coast Survey was responsible for charting the coastlines. But its responsibilities grew with the acquisition of Alaska in 1867 and the 1871 law requiring the Coast Survey to carry geodetic surveys into the interior of the country. Thus in 1878 the U.S. Coast Survey became the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS). In 1965, the Coast and Geodetic Survey became a component of the Environmental Sciences Services Administration (ESSA). And then in 1970, ESSA expanded and was reorganized into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Scope & content

Work on this collection is underway. Some features may be unavailable or non-functional.

This collection consists of nautical charts primarily produced by the British Admiralty, Canadian Hydrographic Office, US Hydrographic Office and other government organizations.

The main focus of the collection is the Pacific Northwest and Western Arctic. The majority of the collection reflects the waters of British Columbia and the Western Arctic, with a smaller portion on the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. The smallest portion of the collection reflects the Pacific Rim countries and other geographic areas. The collection's primary focus is to reflect British Columbian waters.


The physical arrangement into 6 main groups assists in physical retrieval, assuming that a researcher would be likely to be interested in material of similar dates and geographic area.

Reproductions: Due to the way charts are produced (e.g. the Canadian Hydrographic charts are produced by one issuing authority and not an author), certain charts may remain under Copyright as the property of the organization and may not fall under the typical death date (of last surviving creator) +50 years rule that govern most artistic works. Please consult the Archivist for further information.