LAYLAND, Michael

Trained as an officer and mapmaker in the Royal Engineers, Michael Layland of Victoria is president of the Friends of the BC Archives and a member of the Society for the History of Discoveries and the International Map Collectors’ Society. He has eight entries in the two-volume Oxford Companion to World Exploration.

Born in England in 1938, he is a former president of the Victoria Historical Society and is on the committee of the Historical Map Society of B.C. After thirty years in B.C. he published The Land of Heart's Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island (Touchwood 2013). It received second prize in the BC Historical Federation Book Competition for books published in 2013. See review below.

Layland next book, A Perfect Eden: Encounters by Early Explorers of Vancouver Island (Touchwood 2016), was long-listed for a Basil Stuart-Stubbs Award for outstanding scholarly book about B.C.


The Land of Heart's Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island (Touchwood 2013)

A Perfect Eden: Encounters by Early Explorers of Vancouver Island (Touchwood 2016) $39.95 978-1-771511773

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
The Land of Heart's Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island

[BCBW 2016]

Michael Layland gets the lay of the (is)land.
Review (2013)

Many know the dour Scot James Douglas, as Hudson Bay head honcho in 1842, described the southern end of Vancouver Island, at Fort Victoria, as “a perfect Eden” and even the harsh taskmaster George Vancouver called it, “the most lovely country that can be imagined.”

Fewer know Vancouver Island was frequently called “Quadra or Vancouvers Island” [SIC] on various maps after the two sea captains met at Nootka Sound and made a gentlemanly agreement to encourage Spain and England not to go to war over it.

That’s one of the hundreds of fascinating details to be found in Michael Layland’s The Land of Heart’s Delight: Early Maps and Charts of Vancouver Island (Touchwood $39.95), a visual treasure chest for anyone curious to know how British Columbia evolved into a unique society and a political construct.

Layland’s assemblage of obscure maps about “the back of the world”—as Vancouver Island was also called—or “the ragged green edge of the world”—as novelist Jack Hodgins called it—will engage even those for whom the word geography is only slightly less daunting than a trip to the dentist.

Who knew that Chief Maquinna at Nootka Sound once sketched onto a Spanish map a version of the route his men took across the island to trade with the Cheslakees?

Who knew Cornelis de Jode published the first published map focused on the Pacific Northwest in Antwerp in 1595?

Who knew there’s a map from a Russian atlas, dated 1849, that provides a more detailed view of the coast north of Victoria than likely James Douglas had at the time?

A few thousand British Columbians might already know English fur trader John Meares was a nefarious rascal who fudged the truth for self-advancement at every turn, so it’s hardly surprising to learn his map was an attempt to confirm the existence of a Northwest Passage to the Atlantic.

But how many of us know ex-naval officer George Dixon—of Dixon Entrance fame—vehemently refuted Meares with a scathing broadside that likened Meares’ phoney map to “the mould of a good old housewife’s butter pat”?

Beyond the visuals, Layland outlines the history of the British Columbia coastline—as it is revealed chronologically by his array of strange maps from various expeditions and fur traders—with a clarity and seeming ease that is enviable, instructive and wise.

Layland neatly sidesteps the veracity of unproven claims that Sir Francis Drake could have reached Vancouver Island, as outlined in a somewhat fanciful map made by B.C. land surveyor Richard Bishop in 1939.

Similarly, he deftly skims over the more convincing argument that a Greek mariner from the island of Kefalonia, Ioannis Phokas, better known in Spanish as Juan de Fuca, almost certainly was the first European to see Vancouver Island in 1592. (The English letters of Michael Lok, in 1596, record that Juan de Fuca claimed to have discovered “a broad inlet of the sea, between 47 and 48 [degrees],” now called Juan de Fuca Strait.)

Layland is more forthcoming when claiming the Spanish captain Juan Pérez made the first recorded sighting of Vancouver Island by any European on August 5, 1774, at around 49 degrees north, while sailing northward—after Pérez and his crew had met Haida canoes off the north-western tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii two weeks earlier.

Included in The Land of Heart’s Delight is the first map of Vancouver Island to be made using data from a substantiated voyage, “in accordance with observations and surveys of [Pérez].” Drawn by his fellow pilot and explorer Josef de Canizarez, likely based on Pérez’ diary while he was in San Blas between his two voyages, it was only discovered in the US National Archives in 1989.

Back in 1846, American forces had grabbed the map, and accounts of the Pérez voyage, when they invaded Mexico City, and these materials “were overlooked, buried among the viceregal papers, for more than two centuries.”

The Land of Heart’s Delight is sumptuous evidence that multi-award-winning historian Derek Hayes has not cornered the market on gloriously bizarre and fascinating books of maps about British Columbia—and he’s the first to agree.

In his foreword Hayes describes Layland as the foremost map historian of Vancouver Island. Any reader who encounters the sophisticated concision of Layland’s commentary will be hard pressed to imagine otherwise. We get the comfortable feeling that Layland might like maps more than he likes people.


[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2013]