By Brian Roulston
On Read a Road Map Day,April 5th we can give thanks to that old folded up road map in your glove box or under the car seat for helping us when we were lost or planning that great family vacation. There was a time before the GPS (Global Positioning System) apps and gadgets we could travel across Canada drive up to a gas pump get gas, have our windshield cleaned and the person pumping gas would ask if we’d like our fluids checked. It was also a time when the gas companies would hand out free roadmaps of the area just for the asking. People would cherish these road maps long after their trips to remember some of the places they’ve driven through or visited while on a vacation or a road trip.
The Turin Papyrus Map is sometimes characterized as the earliest known road map. Drawn around 1160 BC, it depicted routes along dry river beds through a mining region east of Thebes in Ancient Egypt an area known for the Luxor and Karnak Temples that still stand today.
The Manitoba Automobile Association was the first Automobile Club in Canada. It evolved from the Winnipeg Auto Club and since 1993 has been part of the Canadian Automobile Association. The MAA developed the first Canadian road map in 1904. Maps were hard to use in both Canada and the U.S at the time because there were no numbers or names on either the road or the maps. Early maps would show the road and pictures of landmarks along the route. This didn’t work out too well; Landmarks as you know tend to change or disappear over time. The auto clubs on both sides of the border pressured governments to not only name or number these roads, they also pushed to add those road names and number on signs along the routes.
The first ‘official’ Ontario roadmap is credited to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in 1923.
Late in the 1920’s the America Automobile Assoc. (AAA) issued the first colored maps to show the best roads and it was a time when American roads were being upgraded to concrete or paved roads and early maps would indicate this.
In the 30’s the AAA would send out Pathfinders to compare the routes and seek out construction areas and better routes for people to travel on and reflect these things on their road maps.
During the 1940’s road map printing came to a standstill due to the war years of W.W-II. Tourism all but ended because of the gasoline rations at the time.
From the 1950’s into the 60’s travel boomed and so did making road maps. Maps began to show a new form of highways called interstates and major highways in Canada the new Trans-Canada Highway opened in 1962 and wasn’t fully completed until 1971. Did you know that it was the lengthiest uninterrupted highway in the world at that time? Also parks, military bases and more were being featured on roadmaps. The AAA also issued special maps for special events such as the World’s Fair and the Olympics games.
In the 80’s a pattern of spring and fall road construction began and it became too costly for oil companies to keep up and show these changes on their maps. Slowly one after another the days of the free road map came to an end.
Rand-McNally and many Automobile Clubs around the world now produce road maps that were onetime free. Folding maps and books are still available in gas stations, grocery stores, convenience stores and bookstores. The internet is also a valuable source of road maps.
Today, many of those old road maps are collector items. There’s even a website to the Road Map Collectors Association http://www.roadmap.org.
Somehow reading a road map online just isn’t as much fun as trying to re-fold those old maps.