Early Exploration

Later Exploration
Portuguese Explorers

English & French Exploration

Early Cartography

18th & 19th Century Exploration

20th Century Exploration

European Migratory Fishery

Sponsored Settlement

Voluntary Settlement

French Presence in Newfoundland








European exploration in the region would have to justify itself not only in terms of a route to Cathay, but also in terms of what of value might be found on the New World itself.
Early Cartography of Newfoundland and Labrador

The maps of the western hemisphere or "new world" to the early European explorers in many instances covered the area of Newfoundland and Labrador in varying detail. The shape of the island of Newfoundland especially varied quite erratically over the early centuries of exploration. Several of the general maps are illustrated elsewhere on these web pages Among the very first maps to depict any areas of Newfoundland and Labrador were those by Juan de la Cosa and Alberto Cantino.


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Alberto Cantino and Juan de la Cosa Maps
Canto's and La Cosa's maps were among the very first to depict Newfoundland and Labrador.
Reproduction of Alberto Cantino's 1502 map courtesy of the National Archives of Canada. Juan de la Cosa's 1500 map courtesy of Museo Naval de Madrid, Madrid.

The de la Cosa is significant because it is the only known document to show the discoveries of John Cabot. It is thought to have been done in 1500. The earliest map indicating America (and thus Newfoundland) for which a date is certain is the 1502 Cantino map. Both were charts drawn by hand on cured skins. Both maps are called portolans as they were used in navigation. A common element on them is to have lines of direction or compass bearing enabling sailors to find their way. They are the ancestors of our modern, highly technical marine charts.

The earliest charts and maps to show the area of Newfoundland in any detail depicted it as a group of islands. Examples of these are maps of 1546 by Desceliers and that of 1556 in a volume by Ramusio which is attributed to Gastaldi. The Desceliers map is very decorative with numerous illustrations indicating fishing and hunting of whales and other animals, some very imaginary looking. Both maps are early indicators of the great interest in fishing in the area.


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Pierre Desceliers and Giacomo Gastaldi Maps
The 1546 Pierre Desceliers map of the world reproduction courtesy of the National Archives of Canada. The 1548 Giacomo Gastaldi map reproduction courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.

An intriguing feature of the map is the long, stippled band with the square area at the bottom center labeled "Isolla della rena" which is variously felt to depict the Grand Banks or the Gulf Stream. On both maps, Labrador is named, with the Desceliers map showing a lot of it.

At the end of the 1500s and beginning of the 1600s, maps began showing Newfoundland as one island. Initially, it was given a very triangular shape, such as on one done by Barent Langenes. However, it was one of the earliest maps to present the area of Newfoundland with some accuracy. It has a long, dotted area which is probably depicting the Grand Banks or possibly the Gulf Stream, similar to the Gastaldi map.

Barent Langenes Map
Maps showing Newfoundland as an island began to appear around the end of the the 16th century.

Reproduction courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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One of the earliest detailed maps of the island portion of the province is that by John Mason of 1625 published in a book by William Vaughan. Like the Desceliers map, it is unusual because it has south at the top of the map, rather than the usual north. Among the other early maps to include both Labrador and Newfoundland is one by Joan Blaeu done about 1663. It also illustrates the Grand Banks in a form more recognizable today. The island is a stretched triangle shape with the Avalon Peninsula largely squashed.


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John Mason and Joan Blaeu Maps
John Mason's map of Newfoundland, ca. 1617, is one of the earliest maps of the island portion of the province. The Joan Blaeu map is among the early maps to include both Labrador and Newfoundland.

Reproductions courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the French cartographer Jaillot published several editions of a map showing most of the island of Newfoundland and all of Labrador. It is rather generalized and shows very few names.

Alexis Jaillot Map
Reproduction courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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The 18th century brought more exploration and expansion of knowledge about the important fishing banks. Herman Moll published many editions of a map with notes on the treaty about fishing rights with France. The banks are graphically indicated by dots.


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Herman Moll Map
Reproduction courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.

To help fisher folk navigate around the Atlantic Region, many maps were published in numerous editions of atlases of sea charts. One of these showing all of Newfoundland and Labrador is by John Thornton and published in the 1730s. It was not until the start of the last quarter of the eighteenth century that maps based upon scientific surveys appeared. One of the best of these for the island is that based on surveys by James Cook and Michael Lane and published in 1775. Much of the true shape of the island is illustrated by this map.


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John Thornton and James Cook maps.
Reproductions courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Several people have written about the early cartography of Newfoundland in more detail, should additional information be desired. Particularly detailed are the works of Fabian O'Dea including a long essay on maps done in the 17th century plus one covering maps of Newfoundland in general. Many of the maps showing Newfoundland and Labrador are described and illustrated in volumes by Philip Burden and Kenneth Kershaw which cover from the 1500s to about 1800. An earlier volume covering just the 16th century was published by the National Archives of Canada and prepared by Theodore Layng. There is an online descriptive bibliography of maps of Newfoundland and Labrador currently in process.

©2000, Alberta Auringer Wood



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