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Cartographic productions and historiographical representations: Geographical imaginations of the St. Lawrence River

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Historical geographers and historians have represented the St. Lawrence River either as a trade route for continental exploration or as an artery structuring European settlement. A study of historical maps shows that rather than succeeding each other, these two functions continually co‐existed in the geographical imaginations of cartographers. The paper suggests areas of potential collaboration between geography and history to question the fluvial relationships of a colonial society and understand its spatial representations. Historical geographers and historians have represented the St. Lawrence River either as a trade route for continental exploration or as an artery structuring European settlement. While the river itself is a clearly defined entity, the fluvial space varies in size, sometimes limited to the St. Lawrence Valley, sometimes including the Canadian Shield, and sometimes even extending to the entire North American continent and embracing the Atlantic World. This shift in scale can also be found in the cartographic productions that accompanied the use of the river. In this paper, I examine the scales and functions of the St. Lawrence River by scrutinizing historical maps of the 18th and 19th centuries and comparing them to the spatial conceptualization of the St. Lawrence River found in Canadian historiography. I explore whether the geographical imagination of different societies as reconstructed by historians—in New France, under the British Regime, and after Confederation—resonates in historical maps, with the goal of demonstrating that the two historical functions of the river are juxtaposed in time and space on cartographic productions rather than simply succeeding each other, as implied by historical representation.

Géographes et historiens ont présenté les doubles fonctions du fleuve Saint‐Laurent comme voie de pénétration du continent ou comme artère de vie structurant l'occupation du territoire. Si le fleuve apparaît comme une entité clairement délimitée, l'espace fluvial exhibe des dimensions variées, se limitant tantôt à la vallée du Saint‐Laurent, tantôt à la région du Bouclier canadien, parfois même englobant le continent nord‐américain ou le Monde atlantique. Ce changement d'échelles est aussi partie prenante du travail de représentation cartographique qui a accompagné l'utilisation et l'occupation du fleuve. Dans cet article, j'examine le travail de mise à l'échelle du Saint‐Laurent en scrutant la production cartographique des 18e et 19e siècles et en la confrontant au travail de conceptualisation émanant de la production historiographique. Plus exactement, je m'interroge sur la façon dont l'imaginaire géographique des sociétés à différentes époques — en Nouvelle‐France et sous le régime britannique, puis au lendemain de la Confédération — tel que recomposé par les historiens trouve, ou non, une résonance sur les cartes d'époque. Il appert que les doubles fonctions historiques du fleuve se juxtaposent dans le temps et dans l'espace cartographique, plutôt que de se succéder simplement comme le sous‐tend la production historiographique.
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Keywords: Canadian historiography; Fleuve Saint‐Laurent; St. Lawrence River; cartes historiques; geographical imaginations; historical maps; historiographie canadienne; imaginaires géographiques

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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