The Mountain Legacy Project: An Archive-Based Scientific Project

Beginning in 1871, the Dominion Lands Branch had been surveying and mapping Canada from East to West. By 1886, the Dominion Lands Survey had extended to the Rocky Mountains, but the rugged terrain made traditional survey methods impractical. Édouard-Gaston Deville, Surveyor General of Canada, devised a new methodology called “phototopography,” (also known as photogrammetry) based on the use of survey photography from hot-air balloons in France and Italy. A special camera was constructed for surveyors, who ascended thousands of peaks in Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon. They rotated and levelled their cameras on tripods to create 360-degree views of the surrounding terrain. Between 1887 and 1958, more than 100,000 glass plate negatives were used to create the first topographic maps of the Canadian Rockies, of which 60,000 are now part of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection.

Since 2002, LAC has been a major participant in the Mountain Legacy Project, an ongoing partnership led by the University of Victoria, which includes stakeholders in universities, archives, government, and non-governmental organizations.

LAC identifies, describes and digitizes the original negatives. These photographic records are the foundation of this multidisciplinary project, which uses “repeat” photography. It consists of re-photographing the landscape from the precise original locations to provide information about environmental changes that have occurred over the last 120 years.

To search LAC holdings of original photographs, follow these easy steps:

  1. Go to the Basic Archives Search.
  2. Enter the archival reference number R214-350-0-E in the search box.
  3. From the Type of material drop-down menu, select Photographic material and then click on Submit. Your search will generate a list of results.
  4. Select an underlined title to access the full description of a photograph. The descriptive records display images of photographs that have been digitized.

For more information about how to search for photographs at LAC, consult our articles “How to Find Photographs Online” and “How to Search for Images Online.”

If you wish to narrow your search:

  1. Go to the Archives Advanced Search.
  2. Select Photographic material from the drop-down menu labelled Type of material
  3. Use one or a combination of the following options as keywords in the Any Keyword search box:
    1. Name of the surveyor (e.g., Bridgland, McArthur or Wheeler).
    2. Year of the survey (must be used along with another keyword to limit search).
    3. Name of a survey (e.g., Crowsnest Forest Reserve, or Interprovincial Boundary Survey, although these may have taken place over several years, by various surveyors).
    4. Name of a particular landscape feature, such as mountain peak, river, creek, or valley (often the views are identified by the station/peak they were taken from, rather than by the peak or landscape featured in the photograph).
    5. Name of the park (Note: The LAC collection does not contain reproductions of the images from Jasper and Banff National Parks).
  4. Limit your search results by selecting a decade under the label “Date” on the right side of the screen.

For more information about the Project, and to compare the archival images with the repeat photography, visit the Mountain Legacy Project website. To view a sampling of paired photographs, visit our Flickr Set. To view some images of the surveyors, visit our Facebook Album.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

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