Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

Print of an imaginary view of Canada, [1528]
1ère vue de Canada (First View of Canada), [1528]. Notice anything odd?
Print of an imaginary scene of beaver-hunting in Canada, circa 1782
Beaver Hunting in Canada,
circa 1782

ARCHIVED - Detecting the Truth.
Fakes, Forgeries and Trickery

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Map Imitations

Image of beavers and Niagara Falls, 1715

Close-up of beavers and Niagara Falls in map of North America, by Herman Moll, 1715

Hundreds of years ago, map-makers were hired by entrepreneurs or by the Crown to make drawings of faraway lands. To do so, they had to walk or ride horses across the wilderness or paddle and sail along the shoreline to sketch what a country looked like. As you can imagine, this was hard and sometimes very dangerous work! It's no surprise then to learn that many map-makers copied each other's work. For the map experts at Library and Archives Canada, the challenge is to find out which map-makers copied whom.

One of the most famous early maps of North America is unofficially known as the Beaver Map. It was published in 1715 by Herman Moll.

Map of the Americas by Nicolas de Fer, 1698. Left section Map of the Americas by Nicolas de Fer, 1698. Right section

Map of the Americas by Nicolas de Fer, 1698

Image of beavers and Niagara Falls, 1698

Close-up of beavers and Niagara Falls in map of the Americas, by Nicholas de Fer, 1698

See the beautiful scene of beavers busily building dams? Isn't it striking? Well, that's what Herman Moll must have thought since he copied it from another map-maker's work! Seventeen years before, in 1698, a map-maker named Nicolas de Fer published a chart with that identical beaver scene printed on it. Not one thing was changed. It was plagiarism pure and simple! In fact, Nicolas de Fer published the original Beaver Map but a more prominent colleague took credit for it.

But before you get all upset about how unfairly the poor and innocent Nicolas de Fer was treated, you should know this: His map contains images of Niagara Falls and beavers that were first printed in books by Louis Hennepin, published in 1697, and François Du Creux in 1664!

Etching of Niagara Falls, 1967

Niagara Falls, 1697

Etching of beavers, 1664

Beavers, 1664

These days, there are copyright laws that forbid people from copying each others work. But back in the 1600s, the laws were less restrictive and since people didn't have access to many illustrations of beavers (or anything else "exotic") it was quite common to take someone else's work and add it to your own. It wasn't so much stealing as it was flattery. If someone's work got copied, it was almost like saying: "Wow! This illustration is so good that I will use it in my work too!" For our experts, keeping track of who copied what from whom first, is like playing a game of follow the leader across the centuries! In the 1700s, map-makers started to give credit to the original engraver; when they used someone else's work, they printed phrases like "after a drawing of Joe Blow" (or something of the sort) on their maps. This makes our job that much easier.

Did you know...?

Experts often know that a document is a copy just by looking at it.

Explore this topic


copyright: law that protects original materials, like inventions, manuscripts, music and films, from being copied by others without permission

Crown: a monarch such as king, queen or emperor

entrepreneurs: people who start or organize a business or company

plagiarism: to copy an idea or a text word-for-word and to pass it off as your own