Posted by: Bob Fisher | October 15, 2010

The Art of the Geographer

The contextual nature of all travel

The very nature of travel involves experiencing new realities, gaining new perspectives, and creating a new personal frame of reference on the world – perhaps even on life itself.

Travel is always contextual whether the “destination” you are visiting is just around the corner or much farther afield.

And the context of the destination is an essential element of the travel experience. Like theatre, it is the setting – and frequently the “set”. It is what determines the meaning a visitor derives from the destination. And the context is the amalgam of circumstances in which the destination has evolved.

History and heritage are the key connectors to the past; but it is also the historical context that allows us to understand the challenges of the present, and even more importantly, to predict the future.

This is why the increasing number of engaged and participatory travellers, who by the way are demanding more “bang for their buck” and a more meaningful travel experience, vigorously engage in the context when they travel.

New technologies of all kinds allow us to focus our interests on the kind of travel experience that resonates with us.

This is especially true when it comes to history and heritage.

Colin Old’s ingenious and ongoing history and heritage project

Colin Old is the Communications Officer of one of Canada’s most intriguing national historic sites, Bethune Memorial House in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

For more information on this site and to listen to a chat between Colin and me about Dr. Norman Bethune, the “unlikely hero” who was born in this small town but went on eventually to become a key figure in Mao Zedong’s Communist Revolution in China, go to “Norman Bethune: A Doctor Without Borders”.

Colin’s Google National Historic Sites maps

Using the magic of Google, Colin has begun a project that is ongoing. It is also a project that provides a very “traveller-friendly” tool to all those who love to experience history and heritage through the medium of travel.

For each of the national historic sites that Colin identifies in his interactive Google maps, he also gives a brief and concise description of the site. In essence, Colin is providing an historical and literal roadmap for exploring fascinating, meaningful, and grassroots sites.

To see the sites that Colin has identified, click on the links below.

The Google technology also allows you to zoom in or out, to add your own comments, to forward the map (or individual historic sites) to friends and fellow historical-heritage travellers. The maps are also topographical so that you can get a “bird’s eye view” of the physical landscape of the featured region. And finally, you can also save each of the maps in your own personal Google map folder.

Photos and Wikipedia articles may also be brought up when selected from the dropdown “More” menu.

Also, bookmark this webpage because more such Google historical roadmaps from Colin will be added here.

Eastern Ontario

Known in part as “Loyalist” country to many of those who chose to remain part of the British Empire as opposed to becoming citizens of the new Republic to the south (the United States of America), this region of Ontario is especially rich in “transborder” history and heritage.

From Guelph to the Lake Huron Coast

The wedge of Ontario from the Guelph region by way of Kitchener-Waterloo to the province’s west coast on Lake Huron is unified by the commemoration of the Huron Tract colonization activity in the 19th century. The region also jealously guards the legacy of outstanding Canadians such as John McCrae, Billy Bishop and Joseph Seagram

Kingston, Ontario

As one of the first capitals of the “Dominion of Canada” the city of Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and a key stop on the St. Lawrence Seaway, is a city that is also synonymous with Canadian history.

Central Ontario

Central Ontario is anchored by the natural and cultural gem of the historic Trent-Severn Waterway which runs 400 kms diagonally across the heartland of Ontario from Trenton to Port Severn. It has also, thankfully, brought us endearing characters such as Norman Bethune, Stephen Leacock, and Sir Sam Steele. It also features architectural delights such as Parkwood in Oshawa and Peterborough’s Cox Terrace.

The Hamilton-Niagara Region

The Hamilton-Niagara Region is steeped in history. It was arguably the most active military frontier in Canada during the War of 1812, witness the battles at Queenston, Stoney Creek and Lundy’s Lane. Newark was once capital of Upper Canada. Hamilton has witnessed some of our nation’s most poignant industrial development.

Southwestern Ontario

Southwestern Ontario between Brantford and Windsor has given birth to notable politicians, agrarians and distillers seemingly in higher numbers than elsewhere in Ontario. The history of the First Nations of the Six Nations Grand River Reserve and the Black history of the Buxton, Chatham and Windsor regions makes for intriguing reading.


Ottawa, the national capital of Canada is for many visitors, both Canadian and from other nations, a cultural treasure and an in-depth lesson in why North American history evolved as it did.

Northern Ontario

A region of significance historically, geologically, and geographically in Canadian history, Northern Ontario is known for its wilderness areas, its First Nations history, and its distinct local cultures.


Many cross currents of traditional and contemporary society converge in Toronto, the York of yore and now capital of Ontario. From the political contributions of Robert Baldwin (responsible government) and the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (Spanish Civil War) to Maple Leaf Gardens (the iconic sports arena) and the development of the DeHavilland Beaver (Canada’s steady-as-you-go bush plane), things that have unfolded in this city have percolated through to all aspects of the life of the nation.

More … of Colin’s history and heritage Google maps will be posted here from time to time. Stay tuned. Stay “connected” … as Mark Kelly is wont to say.

Other resources

National Historic Sites of Canada

The “home base” for all national historic sites in Canada, this website will help you find important historical and heritage sites wherever you travel in Canada.

See also … “Norman Bethune: A Doctor Without Borders”a two part podcast with Colin Old.



  1. The historical and social context of an area have such a huge impact on what is ‘seen’ when an area is visited. In order to get the most out of travel, it definitely is beneficial to a gain a bit of context to understand why an area is the way it is.

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