53° 30′ N

So, there I am, driving along in Edmonton, Alberta. I come to a stop light on Fort Road, look to my right and I see this:

Is that a building with longitudes written on the roof?!?!

And what are these longitudes? 9° 49’ W—that’s nowhere near Edmonton! Nor is 123°30’ E. What’s … going on here?

A little sleuthing via Google Maps later revealed that this was the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage. It’s owned by the Edmonton Transit Service, which operates all of the buses and light rail in the city. But the rooftop details were part of an art installation by Thorsten Goldberg called 53° 30′ N. Each of the five structures on the roof (architecturally called lanterns) displays a longitude that directs us to a place on the earth at the same latitude as Edmonton: 53° 30′ N.

And—added bonus for shaded relief fans—that piece of terrain is then represented in 3D on the end of its lantern. Look carefully at the photo. There they are! They look for all the world like pieces of DEM rendered as Triangulated Irregular Networks in Blender.

For someone who spends a lot of time looking at terrain, this is the best kind of public art ever!

Before I go on, here are the five longitudes, in case you want to figure out for yourself where they are…

  • 9° 49’ W
  • 123°30’ E
  • 159° 08’ E
  • 168° 10’ W
  • 119° 26’ W

9° 49’ W

Mweelrea, County Mayo, Ireland

Image from opentopomap.org

123°30’ E

An unnamed gooseneck of the Amur River, which forms the border between China and Russia.

Image from opentopomap.org

159° 08’ E

The 2958 m Kamchatka volcano volcano, Zhulanovsky (Жулановский), Russia.

Image from opentopomap.org

168° 10’ W

Okmok Crater, Umnak Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Image from opentopomap.org

119° 26’ W

Mt Chown, Alberta

Image from opentopomap.org

Here are some more images of the building from a CBC article.

End-on views of the relief sculptures representing (left to right) the peaks in Galway, the bends of the Amur River, the volcanos in Kamchatka, and the crater on Umnak Island.
An artist’s conception before installation, showing the Mt. Chown site on the right end.

In an interview in the Edmonton Journal, Thorsten Goldberg gave exact coordinates for the sites:

“The collected mountain landscapes are Mount Chown at 119°25‘8.24“W in Alberta, named by the Methodist minister Samuel Dwight Chown; the crater with Mount Okmok, a volcano on Umnak Island, the Aleutian Islands in Alaska at 168° 6‘22.60“W; the Zhupanovsky Crater on the Kamchatka Peninsula at 159° 8‘25.04“E; an unnamed landscape near Dacaodianzi, Heilongjiang Sheng at 123°17‘54.95“E in China; and finally Mweelrea, the highest point in the province of Connacht at 9°49‘47.59“W in County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland.”

Kudos to the City of Edmonton and its Percent for Art policy, which stipulates that one percent of construction budgets goes to public art! This must be one of the most fun geography puzzles ever.

Mapping “Buffalo Days and Nights” by Peter Erasmus

The Maps for Books collection has a new page: Peter Erasmus’s Buffalo Days and Nights.

In 1920, Henry Thompson, an Alberta newspaperman, began interviewing 87-year-old Peter Erasmus, who lived near him in the area of Whitefish Lake, Alberta. Erasmus, who had been born in 1833 in the Red River settlement of what is now Manitoba, told him his life story, an account later published in book form by the Glenbow Institute as Buffalo Days and Nights, by Peter Erasmus as told to Henry Thompson.

(It’s not an easy book to find in print. You can obtain a copy from McNally Robinson, in Winnipeg.)

Erasmus’s life covered a period of radical change in the northern prairies of what is today Alberta. When he was born, this area was dominated by the bison-hunting cultures of the Cree and Blackfoot, with the isolated Hudson Bay Company post at Fort Edmonton (in what the HBC thought of as “Rupert’s Land”) holding an absolute monopoly over doing business with them. By the time of his death in 1931, it was fenced, plowed and gridded with roads, a province called Alberta in a country called Canada. The population was dominated by Euro-Canadian settlers and their descendants, while the indigenous people were corralled into a reserve system.

Erasmus was Métis (his father was a Dane and his mother was a Cree) and he had a genius for languages. He spoke Swampy and Plains Cree, Ojibway, English, Blackfoot and Stoney (Assiniboine), not to mention the Ancient Greek he had also studied as part of a half-hearted attempt to become a minister. At the age of  twenty-four he was hired as the interpreter for a missionary based in Pigeon Lake, southwest of Fort Edmonton. Travelling with voyageurs going up the North Saskatchewan river in boats, it took Erasmus weeks to get there in the summer of 1856.

He had excellent rapport with the Plains Cree, and worked for a series of prominent missionaries over the years: the Reverend Henry Bird Steinhauer, (another Métis, operating a mission at Whitefish Lake), and John and George McDougall. He also worked for the Palliser Expedition, sent from Britain to survey the southern Plains in 1858-1860. Erasmus’s accounts of the tactics used while hunting bison are compelling and extraordinary.

Several processes converged to end this era. The number of bison declined sharply due to over-hunting, a phenomenon for which the Americans were frequently blamed. In 1870 the new nation of Canada asserted control over Rupert’s Land, and the number of settlers moving west began to increase. The government of Canada anticipated that the indigenous nations of the plains would have to become farmers in order to survive, and signed a series of treaties with them to bring this about. In 1876 Erasmus was hired by two prominent Cree chiefs, Mista-wa-sis (Big Child) and Ah-tuk-a-kup (Star Blanket), to interpret during negotiations for what is today known as Treaty Six.

In his later years, Erasmus worked as an independent trader, a fur buyer, a government agent and as a farmer.

Many of the places mentioned in his account still have the same names today, such as Lac Ste. Anne, Whitefish Lake and the North Saskatchewan River. There’s no need for a special map for these. But other places, such as Jasper House, the Victoria Mission, and the location of Fort Edmonton within the modern city of Edmonton, are historic locations that do not show up on most maps. It’s also quite remarkable to contemplate that where the present-day town of Vegreville sits, Erasmus hunted buffalo in 1871.

For more on Peter Erasmus, see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, at http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/erasmus_peter_16E.html