The B.C. Interior sure has changed since cartographer David Thompson mapped out most of the area during the fur trading days.
For one thing, outposts have grown into towns and cities, rivers now run alongside roads, and once barren land has transformed into ranches, orchards and subdivisions.
The drive into Vernon is about to become even more picturesque –– and modernized –– with the installation of two giant pictorial maps, designed by Montreal artist Jean Louis Rheault.
Recently in Vernon to get a lay of the land, Rheault is not a cartographer. Instead, he designs three-dimensional, not-to-scale maps that show and enhance buildings, landmarks and landscapes of the area –– all in one encapsulated view.
“It’s like taking hundreds of small vignettes and sewing them together for a view of the area,” he explains.
The map of Vernon will show many local landmarks such as Polson Park, Watson House, and O’Keefe Ranch, and feature areas such as Silver Star Mountain, the Commonage and Okanagan and Kalamalka lakes.
Businesses are also welcome to participate in the map by sponsoring a space.
Vernon isn’t exactly uncharted territory for Rheault, who is a world-renowned pictorial mapper and one of the few artists who does this kind of work.
Commissioned by Mountain Media, which has the rights to the informational signs along many B.C. highways, Rheault has already made a number of maps of the area.
The drive into Kamloops, along the Yellowhead Highway, now features one of Rheault’s maps on a six-metre sign, and in 2004, he designed one of the whole Okanagan Valley showing most of its pertinent landmarks.
“It was the only time the whole valley had been shown in one picture,” he said.
“It took six months to do. I used a scale map and aerial photos. That way I was able to represent the area the way people see it with the landmarks.”
Pictorial mapping has been an art form since the Middle Ages, and reached its peak in the 19th century when the railroads were developed.
“The pictures were used to attract immigrant trades people and the areas were made to look like a great place to live and work,” said Rheault, who started mapping in the 1980s after studying to be a translator.
“I hated looking things up all of the time in the dictionary,” he laughed.
“I met someone who was selling maps in Albany (N.Y.), and thought they were cheesy. I told him I could finish the commission if I could draw the maps myself.”
Rheault locked himself up in a cabin in Quebec’s Eastern Township and, equipped with a drawing table and wood stove, drew out the map by hand.
“It was pretty terrible,” he said.
However, he soon developed his technique and after designing a map of Geneva, Switzerland, he started making a name for himself.
He now does most of his design work by computer, and has since mapped out towns and cities all over Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.
He’s even done one of Mecca, as well as a series on the birthplaces of U.S. presidents such as Richard Nixon, which he presented to Nixon’s daughter and Dwight Eisenhower’s son
“I am surprised how little is known about pictorial mapping. People who make the maps are totally invisible. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but people are barely aware of this art form,” he said.
“However, now because of the rise of 3D in movies, pictorial mapping is being rediscovered.”
Vernon’s map will be not only be fitted on to two prominent highway information signs at each end of town, but more than 300 posters will also be made, which will be sponsored by local advertisers and businesses.
“I will also give prints to local businesses and some for the library,” said Rheault, who is also currently mapping the West Kootenays and plans to return to the Okanagan sometime in the fall.
“This is one of my favourite places,” he said.
“I’ve often thought about living here.”