Émile Petitot's 139-year-old Sahtu diary becomes Google Map

The Sahtu Renewable Resources Board and the Aurora Research Institute have used Google Maps to plot the observations and place names of the Sahtu region as described by a 19th century Oblate priest.

Map includes note, observations and place names recorded by Oblate priest

A diary that dates back more than 100 years has become a Google Map thanks to a partnership between the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board and the Aurora Research Institute.

"It's interesting to read through these observations and the conclusions that Father Émile Petitot drew," says Matthew Dares from the Aurora Research Institute.

Historical place names of areas in the N.W.T., as recorded by Father Émile Petitot more than 100 years ago. (Aurora Research Institute)

Petitot visited the Northwest Territories between 1862-1872 as an Oblate missionary. He returned in 1876.

He produced a number of writings about the languages and places he saw, including a diary.

Dares analyzed about 1,250 place names that Petitot wrote about in his diary and he was able to plot most of them on a Google Map.

The map not only shows the locations throughout the territory where Petitot visited, but also the notes and observations he made.

However, Dares cautions the map and Petitot's notes should not be accepted on face value. The information's accuracy must be viewed with some skepticism.

"All of it is useful as a point of information about this but it should by no means be taken as an authoritative place name approach," he says.

But that's not stopping Morris Neyelle from using the diary as a historical source to try and rediscover the traditional names of places around the Sahtu.

"When he went and published his book in the 1870s they said, 'He was crazy,' " Neyelle says.

"What he was doing? I don't know. But to me it's just history."

Neyelle says he hopes that along with traditional knowledge, the map can help people learn the original Dene place names.

This Google Map is part of a larger project where the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board hopes to collect old maps that have been hiding in homes and offices inside and the territory.

The board hopes to post more maps, like Petitot's, online.