I have found the most mysterious and beautiful map of Halifax, created in 1749, by the surveyor Moses Harris. It depicts the hinterland that covered the peninsula and beyond, showing thick and diverse vegetation, rocky hillsides, waterways, and a small waterfall.
This map also offers clues into the wildlife that would have been living in those woods…
At the top right corner is a bear walking out of the bulrushes, and what appears to be a lion or a wildcat perched on a rocky ledge. Farther down the page is a dragon— indicative of other fearsome creatures that lurked in the dense trees.
I am not convinced that there were dragons living in this ancient ecosystem, but perhaps this points to the fear that early settlers felt from the forest that surrounded them— it would have seemed huge and foreign— completely unknown.
This map was never published, as it did not paint a favorable picture of life in the new colony; but, I have stumbled upon another map created by Harris in the same year, which was published in Britain to inform potential new settlers about Halifax.
It offers a tamer depiction of the area’s wildlife with detailed drawings of a porcupine, a beetle, and a butterfly. It is also evident that the trees are less dense, and that this map would have appeared less ominous.
This image is more widely known; in fact, the Nova Scotia Legislature has an original color version in its collection— and so an ephemeral fragment of the former forest still resides in the heart of this contemporary city.
I am not sure which of these two maps is more accurate. But Moses Harris is perhaps Halifax’s first Naturalist.
Note: I first learned of these maps in the article “An Empire on Paper: The Founding of Halifax and Conceptions of Imperial Space, 1744-55”, written by Jeffers Lennox, and published in The Canadian Historical Review, 88, no. 3 (2007): 373-412.