Ottawa·Hidden Treasures

Map of significant Canadian battle held secret to keep it safe

Deep inside the Canadian War Museum’s map room are four maps drawn of battles between the French and the British, including the battle at the Plains of Abraham — each too delicate to display publicly.

Detailed map of Battle of the Plains of Abraham too delicate to display

Collections specialist Carol Reid stands with a map of the Plains of Abraham that was drawn shortly after the battle in 1759. (Ryan Tumilty/CBC)

This is part of a series called Hidden Treasures that will run for several more weeks this summer, taking a look at what museums in the National Capital Region have in storage. We'll post a new story every Wednesday, and you can find them by visiting the CBC Ottawa website.

It was a pivotal battle in Canadian history. 

Everyone who remembers their grade school history can recall the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Deep inside the Canadian War Museum's map room are four maps drawn of battles between the French and the British, including the battle at the plains.

The battle between French and British Forces in Quebec City happened more than 100 years before Canada became a country, but it helped shape our future as a British colony instead of a French one.

Canadian War Museum home to hand-drawn maps depicting battles between British, French

7 years ago
Duration 1:38
Canadian War Museum collections specialist Carol Reid says the maps of battles between the British and French are wonderful works of art and a good source of information for research.

Research benefit

Collections specialist Carol Reid said the four hand-drawn maps tell details of battles that would shape Canada going forward. She said, while they have never been on public display, they're invaluable for research.

"Our historians looked at these when they were planning some of the dioramas in our permanent collection," she said.

Jeffery Amherst, the commander of the British forces at the time, had the maps drawn as part of his reports back to England about the progress he was making. This was standard for armies at the time. 

"There were cartographers on the staff of the British army and the French army who would draw up maps of the battle," she said.

The maps were donated to the museum anonymously in 1967, but were likely drawn not long after the battle in 1759.

Fragile maps 

The map shows the French and British positions at the start of the battle. (Ryan Tumilty/CBC)

Reid said many of the features around Quebec City depicted on the maps are still there today. She said they just can't be displayed publicly without ruining them.

"It is pen and ink and one of the biggest deteriorating factors to paper is exposure to light," she said. "You would lose the reds and the blues and the blacks would fade to grey."

These are some of the oldest maps in the museum's collection, but they're just a small piece of what the museum holds.

"These are just four maps out of a collection of about 6,000 maps that cover most of the world and they go from the 1750s, right up to 2007."

While the maps hold interesting details of the battle, she said they should also be admired for their beauty. 

"These men were artists. They were military first and foremost and they would have been trained in military cartography, but they do have a level of artistry."

In addition to showing details of the battle, the maps have a great deal of artistic touches. (Ryan Tumilty/CBC)