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Vol 37  No 17
July 21, 2005



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Early map collection donated to Queen Elizabeth II Library

By Tracey Mills

Joan Ritcey (L) and Alberta Auringer Wood are happy to provide a home for the late Dr. Fabian O’Dea’s map collection. (Photo by Chris Hammond)


Librarians Alberta Auringer Wood and Joan Ritcey are not at a loss for words when they talk about a donation from the family of the late Dr. Fabian O’Dea to the Queen Elizabeth II Library of 99 early maps of Newfoundland and Labrador. The exhibit, which opened in the First Space Gallery on July 15, features an impressive and expansive history of the early cartography of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. O’Dea was a well-known public figure, former naval officer, one-time French consul, businessman, barrister, former lieutenant-governor, honorary colonel of the Newfoundland Regiment, art connoisseur and scholar. He had a lifelong interest in Newfoundland and cartography which began during his World War II service.

Over the years Dr. O’Dea has had a great deal of contact with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies and the Map Library. He had a particular interest in Captain Cook’s hydrographic work around Newfoundland and trying to figure out how the hydrography, drawing and copying was carried out by Cook and his team. He was also interested in the demarcation of the French Shore on maps, particularly the changing location of Point Riche, which he dubbed “the Wandering Cape.” His scholarly work included The Seventeenth Century Cartography of Newfoundland, published in 1971 as the first Cartographica monograph. He completed a book shortly before his death titled Cartographica Terra Nova: Mapping the Island of Newfoundland, 1500-1800, which is now being readied to go to print.

Speaking about the donation, Dr. Richard Ellis, university librarian, Queen Elizabeth II Library said, “This gift represents an extraordinary act of generosity on the part of Dr. Fabian O’Dea and his family. The collection is of national significance; notable for the condition of the items and the scholarship that informed its composition. The library is honoured to be the means through which this magnificent collection can be preserved for the people of our province.”

The significance of the collection is that it includes maps of Newfoundland that the university does not already own. There are 99 maps in total dating from 1556 to 1979, and of the total number about half are new additions to the library’s collection. The exhibit will feature 27 of the framed maps, with a couple more on display in cases. Included with the exhibit will be a catalogue listing each map with a brief description, as well as a biography of Dr. O’Dea.

“Dr. O’Dea’s study of the early cartography of Newfoundland and Labrador was more than a hobby, it was an avocation and a deep academic interest,” said Joan Ritcey of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. “He was a dear friend to us all here at the library and we are honoured to have this magnificent collection.”

According to Ms. Wood, acting associate university librarian, it is the largest donation of early maps that the library has ever received.

“Dr. O’Dea was a very important collector in Newfoundland and was very knowledgeable on what he was collecting. His lifelong interest and passion about Newfoundland and cartography is evident throughout the collection.”

Once the exhibit comes down in August, the maps will be catalogued for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. Some of them will come out of their frames and will be put in protective sleeves and filed away in map cabinets to protect them. All of the maps will be digitized to provide a photographic record. The whole collection will be available for students, faculty and the public to examine.

“The maps will be digitized at high resolution using high-quality scanners or digital cameras. They will be displayed on the Memorial University Digital Library Collections Online page utilizing software called CONTENTdm,” added Ms. Wood. “This will make them findable via search engines, such as Google. Library catalogue records will also provide access to the images. The scans will be in colour and at the scale of the original so you can see the small details.”

This will further add to the bibliography of printed and manuscript maps of Newfoundland and Labrador in libraries and archives in Newfoundland, other parts of Canada, the United States, and England currently available at

One-hundred and twenty three of Dr. O’Dea’s cartographic books were bequeathed to the library upon his death and will further add to the reference materials available for research into early Newfoundland and Labrador.


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