Series CM/CL1 - BC Government lithographed regional maps

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

BC Government lithographed regional maps

General material designation

  • cartographic material

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Edition statement

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Statement of scale (cartographic)

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1911-1991 (Creation)
    British Columbia. Dept. of Lands

Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 300 maps

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Name of creator


Biographical history

The Dept. of Lands was established in 1908 (Department of Lands Act, SBC 1908, c. 31). Before 1908, the agencies responsible for the functions of the Dept. of Lands were:

(1) the Dept. of Lands and Works, including Crown lands management, sales, pre-emptions and leases, lands surveying and mapping, timber inspection, forest protection and log scaling, and;
(2) the Dept. of Mines, including water rights in regards to mining operations.

The Dept. of Lands, headed by the Chief Commissioner of Lands, was given responsibility for public lands and water rights, and all matters connected therewith. (SBC 1908, c. 31, s. 5). These responsibilities included:

(1) the management of all public lands, as per the Land Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 113);
(2) administration of water rights, as per the Water Clauses Consolidation Act, (RSBC 1897, c. 191) [in 1892 by means of the Water Privileges Act (SBC 1892, c. 47), the government had reserved to itself the right to manage all water resources in the province that were unreserved and un-appropriated as of April 23, 1892]; and
(3) land settlement programs for returned soldiers.

In 1909, the enactment of the Water Act (SBC 1909, c. 48) resulted in the creation of the Water Rights Branch of the Dept. of Lands, under the management of the Chief Water Commissioner (re-named Comptroller of Water Rights in 1912). This legislation also resulted in the creation of Water Districts under the management of District Engineers, who would be responsible for management in the field of the Branch’s responsibilities.

In 1911, the Timber Department, including Timber Inspectors, forest protection services and log scaling operations, was transferred from the Dept. of Public Works to the Dept. of Lands. In 1912, the management of timber resources was formally added to the department’s responsibilities with the enactment of the Forest Act (SBC 1912, c. 17). To accommodate these new responsibilities, the Forest Branch, under the Chief Forester, was created in the Dept. of Lands. In 1945, the Dept. of Lands was renamed the Dept. of Lands and Forests (Department of Lands Act Amendment Act, SBC 1945, c. 45).

Custodial history

Scope and content

In 1911, the British Columbia Department of Lands began publishing standardized series of lithographic maps of BC regions, as well as general maps of the entire province. Over the next five decades these provincial maps were used both to stimulate and to document settlement and economic development on a region-by-region basis. For many areas, the provincial regional maps served as the main published source of cartographic information until those areas were gradually covered by sheets from the National Topographic Series of maps. This summary guide and the accompanying series lists and graphic indices provide a basic overview of the provincial series maps available at the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BC ARCHIVES). The series list (see finding aid) allows researchers to search for the call numbers of desired maps by using map series name, map sheet number or map title, while the graphic indices (CM/CL1 page G1) allow for a search by geographic area.

*For most of the time period under consideration, the major provincial map series were published by the Department of Lands Geographic Branch (1912 - 1970). Such series include the Geographic Series of general purpose maps; the Lands, Pre-emptors', and Degree series of land status maps; and the Topographic Series of physical features (and some land status) maps. The land status maps are of particular value to researchers since the lot numbers depicted on the maps serve as an entry point to many other types of records produced by the Department of Lands and its successors. Conversely, researchers who already know the legal description for a property can often use the maps to place the property in its geographic context. Researchers should note that mineral titles are usually not depicted on the land status maps. Such titles are shown in the published Mineral Reference Maps (see CM/CL1 page 18) and in a separate, unpublished series (CM/S1).

(1A - 1SW) Geographic Series, 1912 - 1981 This series consists of a diverse range of maps including general maps of the entire province, general maps of large regions, and provincial and regional maps overlaid with various government administrative boundaries. The Geographic Series was continued by the successor to the Geographic Branch, the Map Production Division (1971 - 1981), which also published such related series *Date ranges given are those for the sheets held by BC Archives as the Special Geographical Series Maps, 1967 - 1980 and the Regional (New Series) Maps, 1978.

*(2A - 2F) Land Series, 1913 - 1958 This series and the two following were designed primarily to show the status of land alienation. The Land Series sheets initially covered the settled southwestern area of the province and usually provided general geographic detail; fairly extensive cultural features such as transportation routes, parks, post offices, hospitals, telegraph lines, etc.; land district boundaries; limited topographic (landform) information in the form of spot heights, and depictions of the boundaries and numbers of surveyed lots pertaining to various forms of land title (crown grants, reserves, timber licences and leases), conveniently coded by colour. Later sheets in the series covered portions of the mainland coast, and the Queen Charlotte Islands. The series was published at the scale of four miles to one inch.

*(3A - 3Q) Pre-emptors' Series, 1911 - 1969 Originally intended as a quick means of depicting for settlers the Crown lands available for pre-emption in the north-central portion of the province, the first pre-emptors' maps were rough in form and were substantially redrawn each year. Since the early sheets were designed for short-term use, they provided only basic planimetric information (horizontal features such as rivers and lakes, but not landforms) along with depictions of the boundaries and numbers of surveyed lots, land recording district boundaries, government reserves, and of course, lands open for pre-emption or in some cases, public auction. Even the early sheets, however, often also provide relatively detailed information on the location of trails, roads, and railways, and the popularity of the series as well as the increasing availability of accurate survey information for the mapped areas soon prompted the Geographic Branch to improve the maps' appearance, accuracy and level of detail. Thus, while the scale, area covered, and numbering of the early sheets varied from year to year, the format of the series was standardized by 1915, with most sheets being published at a scale of three miles to one inch. Certain sheets eventually depicted topography by means of contours, and provided some of the types of more detailed cultural information present in the Lands and Degree Series.

*(4A - 4Q) Degree Series, 1912 - 1956 This series was designed to cover the relatively well-settled area of the BC interior between the CPR line and the 49th parallel using standardized sheets of one degree in latitude and one in longitude. The maps were published at the comparatively large scale of two miles to the inch since they were intended to provide prospectors and other residents with accurate, long-term information on physical features; the location of land recording, mining, and/or electoral districts; the boundaries and numbers of surveyed lots (including timber leases), and specific cultural details such as the location of schools, hospitals, post offices, transportation routes, power lines, and so on. Many of the sheets are contoured so as to depict topography in detail.

*(5A - 5E) Topographic Series, 1917 - 1952 This series was begun with the goal of depicting the results of exploratory topographic surveys (by Frank Cyril Swannell) in northern BC. The first sheets, therefore, provide planimetric information as well as topography in the form of hachures or contours, but depict few cultural details and are drawn at the relatively small scale of five miles to one inch. Later sheets, however, covered parts of southern BC and include not only detailed topography, but also many of the same cultural features, presented at the same scales, as in the Lands and Degree Series. Interestingly, certain maps in the above series were produced as special "economic geography" editions containing numerous annotations regarding natural resources as well as extensive textual information on the verso (back) of the sheets. Such sheets, as well as those which simply contain extensive natural resource annotations, are identified in the accompanying lists by the entry "Economic Geography" after the map title. In addition to the series described above, a number of smaller or more specialized series are identified in the series lists.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


The standardized map numbers cited above were not assigned to the various series by the Geographic Branch until 1914. The Branch's publication list of maps issued in 1911 does not contain map numbers, while the lists for the 1912 and 1913 publications each use different sets of sequential numbers. To further complicate matters, the early Pre-emptors' Maps had sheet numbers which do not correspond to the list numbers for either 1912 or 1913.

For the sake of clarity, the series lists (CM/CL1) which accompany this summary guide list the major series according to the standardized post 1913 numbers. The various issues pertaining to each map number are then presented in chronological order. The Pre-emptors' Series list is a special case in that the maps are listed first according to the 1911-1913 sheet numbers and then according to the standardized post 1913 numbers. A list of all described sheets sorted by map title follows the individual series lists.

The map lists are supplemented by a set of graphic indices showing the areas covered by each numbered map.

Language of material

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Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Most available on microfiche.

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Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Associated materials

Researchers desiring maps similar in content to the series described above but covering later time periods should consult the National Topographic Series maps listed by N.T.S. number in the BCARS "new map catalogue." Researchers should also be aware that during and before the time period covered by the B.C. regional maps, the Geological Survey of Canada produced detailed topographic maps of some areas in B.C. These are described under the heading: "Canada. Geological Survey" in the BCARS "old map catalogue." As well, the provincial government produced a wide variety of regional maps which pre date the standardized regional series. Descriptions of these are provided under area, author, and title headings in BCARS map catalogues. Furthermore, for much of the time period covered by the standardized regional maps, the most detailed depictions of many coastal areas of B.C. are found in the hydrographic charts of the British Admiralty (see CM/ES1) and the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CM/ES1). CM/S1 (see page 2).

Finally, researchers seeking additional information on the standardized regional series should consult the published annual reports of the B.C. Department of Lands and its successors, particularly the portions containing the reports and publication lists of the Geographic Branch (NW 333.1 B862r (plus year)).

For National Topographic Systems maps, see Library and Archives Canada's online resources.
National Topographic System Maps:
National Topographic System Index Maps:

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