by Sheila Harrington

This piece was originally published in Giving the Land a Voice: Mapping Our Home Places, edited by Sheila Harrington, LTA Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia, copyright 1999.

Preface and Acknowledgements

We can thank Michael Dunn for insisting on this manual being produced. “Such a simple matter,” he said. “We’ll just type up our mapping workshop notes,” and so did Doug Aberley and Malcolm Penn. Kathy Reimer and Briony Penn added their voices, as they had from the start.

It was all part of the Southern Gulf Islands Bioregional Project, which in addition to the workshops, hosted an art exhibition. Selections from the beautiful and powerful “Mapping Cherished Island Places” exhibition of artistically rendered maps are a joy to share with you. And the practical and easy to follow content of this manual makes the art of mapping our home places relatively easy.

A big warm thank-you to the following people who generously donated their lime, skills and creative abilities to make this whole thing happen: Garth Akin. Judy Borbas, Jenny Breukelman, Patrick Brown, Robert Burbidge, Gerardine Charlton, Kathy Dahlgren, Annamarie Dahlke, Kimberly Dixon, Peggy Frank, Lisa Friesen, Gretchen Harlow, Larry Holbrook, Andrew Gibson, Dianne Laronde, Haidee Lief, Michelle Marsden, Joyce Mitchell, Will Munday, Ronaldo Norden, Jane Parlee, Ron Pither, Nina Rajinsky, Gwen Ruckle, Annette Shaw, Alex Turkington, Judith Walker, Pamela Williams.

The text in most chapters is an edited amalgamation from the three contributing authors: Doug Aberley, Michael Dunn and Malcolm Penn.

Support and funding were graciously given by: Salt Spring Island Community Services Society; Robert and Birgit Bateman; Rene Mahlow; Environment Canada: Environmental Partners Fund, Canadian Wildlife Service; Ministry of Environment, Lands & Parks: Habitat Conservation Fund; Wildlife Habitat Canada.

We the map-makers urge you to get out, enjoy and discover your home place, and let the art of map making inspire you to Give the Land a Voice.


Wishing to help determine the quality of our homes and communities, many of us realize that we must develop human settlements and habitations in a sensitive and sustainable way. At an amazing rate, our population is moving further and further into areas which were once considered rural or wild.

Just within this century, we have dramatically altered and even destroyed some regional ecosystems and cultures. As landholders and community members, we are in a small window of time when we have the opportunity to preserve habitat and slow the rapid intrusion of the human species over the planet.

The bioregional approach to sustainable living suggests that we re-inhabit our home places. Specifically, revitalizing our local regions, species and cultures will help us shape and restore prosperity in our communities. This is at odds with the processes of modern globalisation, which is based on competitive economics, ignoring our dependence on the natural world. As Bill Rees, of the University of British Columbia’s School of Regional Community Planning puts it, “We do not have an ecological crisis, the ecosphere has a human crisis. Our “story” about our place in the scheme of things has somehow gone awry in the industrial age….”

How can we become more sensitive and less damaging to the dwindling habitats in our home places? How can we balance our increasing economic and social disparities?

Rather than becoming more global, individuals and community groups are discovering that the best way to take care of ourselves is to gain more knowledge and understanding of the local plants and animals of the area, our neighbours and to protect and restore our local regions.

Meeting the challenge of saving and restoring cherished places and irreplaceable habitat can begin with the simple act of mapping. Having picked up this manual, you probably want to know how to protect your local habitat, species, forests and wetlands. Or you may feel that mapping is a good tool for keeping records, planning changes or restoring the land. Maps can help us find our way. Making them is exciting, leading us to discover more about our relationship to the natural world. If we go one step further and add cultural and historical features to maps, they can also help us become more aware of our connections with other people who lived on the land and to the larger region to which a parcel of land depends.

The maps we are accustomed to have been made for commercial, not social reasons. They are our road maps, geological maps, forest resources maps, tourist maps, marine charts – an endless parade of utilitarian special interest maps. All arc valuable and necessary, but they inevitably fail to reveal the essence of where we live, and how our community fits into a larger region. Until we have maps that do this, we risk being geographically located, but so­cially and culturally lost.

This manual will assist inhabitants and commu­nity groups map the many habitats and species found on a parcel of land, in addition to the historical and current human interactions with the land. Now is a key time of growth and development in western Canada, as in other regions. By recording and mapping what has previously occurred and what is here now, we can sensitively adapt and develop plans for the future of both human and non-human sustain­ability. Maps give us an opportunity to:

  1. keep records, creating a ledger of a place in time
  2. create a visual display of specific data and abstract ideas
  3. pass on the map(s) of parcels or neighbourhoods to future landowners or others in the community to help sensitize them to local knowledge
  4. develop a broader perspective of the relationships in a region
  5. gain a bird’s eye view – seeing routes to travel
  6. understand the dynamics of a community, using maps to plan for sustainable change
  7. plan development with knowledge and sensitivity to local habitat, culture and other community values
  8. protect specific areas through covenants or other legal means.

Chapter 2 asks, Why Mapping, describing how maps have been made, and why they are both subjective and objective in scope. It also explains how a bioregional mapping approach goes beyond conventional features, mapping cultural and historical features so that we can perceive a vision of sustain­ability.

Chapter 3 explains how to make a parcel-level base map, and it describes the basic sources of information which are needed to map at any level. Chapter 4 describes the field survey, suggesting methods and features to map habitat on relatively small parcels of land. Chapter 5 gives samples from the Southern Gulf Islands Bioregional Exhibition, “Mapping Cherished Island Places.” Chapter 6 describes in detail how to make a Bioregional Map Atlas for larger regions. Chapter 7 offers a menu of features which can be researched and notated on community-level maps. Chapter 8 describes cov­enants, offering a case study. And Chapter 9 gives appendices useful to the mapping process: including a glossary, sample covenant, field survey sheet and a detailed list of places, maps, and books you may find useful.

Through the powerful and inspirational art of map making, we can Give The Land A Voice, passing on detailed pictorial records and information about our home places.

Sheila Harrington is a lifelong environmental educator and conservationist. She was the founding Executive Director of the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia. Her other work includes publishing the magazine Positive Vibrations, which examined the link between taking care of the earth and taking care of human health, and co-creating the community map and atlas project “Islands in the Salish Sea.” Currently, she is the secretary/treasurer of the Lasqueti Island Nature Conservancy.

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