Q&A

About Maps and Us

If you have a question about us or our work, or maps in general, let us know what it is. We'll attempt to answer it.

Some questions that have come up over the years:

1. Who is Chrismar anyway?
2. Where do you see The Adventure Map® series going?
3. Why do you call yourselves "mapmakers" rather than "cartographers"?
4. Why don't you use government topos as a base for The Adventure Map®?
5. We need a map of an area you haven't covered yet. What do we do?
6. Aren't your maps kind of expensive?
7. What made you think of starting The Adventure Map® series?
8. What do you do when you're not working on The Adventure Map®?

Q1. Who is Chrismar anyway?

A1. A private company that started business in 1983. The principals are Mark Jameson Smith (call him Mark, MJ or Jameson, just not late for dinner) and Christine Kennedy. You can see how we came up with the company name! One day Mark found himself without a job and was faced with either collecting unemployment or doing something else. Mark had been making maps as a hobby for a year or two, so Chrismar Productions, as it was first called, was the something else. Sounded like a theatrical company. We started making maps of schoolyards, camps and outdoor centres and teaching wilderness navigation to school children and adults.

Our first maps were drawn using pen and ink on drafting film, then we started scribing, which involves cutting into an emulsion-covered film with a tiny but sharp cutting tool. By 1987 we were doing parts of the map by computer and marrying that to the scribed parts. By 1989 we were doing complete maps by personal computer, some of the first in the country we believe. From the beginning we've been making original base maps by photogrammetric method (the same way the government makes theirs, but to a much higher standard). See more about that below.

In recent years we've been operating out of Uxbridge, a small town about halfway between Toronto and Peterborough, but our work takes us all over the country. Over the years our custom mapping client base has grown and diversified, and includes everything from small private companies to large multinationals, in Canada, the United States and overseas (Hungary, Sweden, Great Britain, Danmark, etc.) as well.

Our first retail product is The Adventure Map® series. A series of this complexity and size is the ultimate challenge for a mapmaker, plus it suits our outdoor adventure lifestyle and is something we'd wanted to do for many years.

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Q2. Where do you see The Adventure Map® series going?

A2. We plan to continually expand the series to include most of Canada's National Parks and major Provincial Parks plus other popular wilderness recreation areas. We expect to have several hundred or more titles, some in every province and territory.

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Q3. Why do they call themselves "mapmakers" rather than "cartographers"?

A3. It's an important difference and actually, there are three, maybe four, types of map "person".

A "cartographer" is a specialized graphic artist who compiles information from a variety of existing sources and with specialized map-related knowledge and drafting skills puts together a map. Chrismar does some of this type of work. In fact, Mark was awarded Chartered Cartographer status by the Province of Ontario in 1990 (the designation has since ceased to exist).

A "tracer" is someone who has little cartographic skill and simply traces information provided to them to create a map, often under the supervision of a cartographer. Beginning cartographers joining a map company are often started this way, much to their displeasure and boredom, and most get no further.

People and companies who simply trace over or otherwise copy government topo or road maps (often illegally we might add) also fall into this "tracer" category. Virtually all maps in hiking and paddling Guide Books are made this way, for example. So are virtually all other Recreation Maps in North America. Why? Because it's easy. But that's not the criteria we choose.

"Graphic artists" sometimes take on map creation as part of a brochure or booklet, usually with poor results. They have little understanding of the purpose of a map or how to show map-related information effectively. A simple review of awful locator maps on the backs of many fancy colour brochures will provide numerous examples of this kind of work.

"Mapmakers" use a much more involved process that usually starts with overlapping aerial photos taken from a plane. These photos are then put into a complex photo-enhancing machine (called a photogrammetric stereoplotter) that a specially-trained operator uses to capture trails, vegetation boundaries, water features, and generate contours. The resulting photogrammetric base map is the essence of The Adventure Map® and other custom Chrismar maps, which number in the hundreds.

The base map is taken into the field and used as a guide for a detailed survey of the ground or waterway. There is nothing like actually going there and drawing what you (the eventual map user) will see, so we spend a lot of time in the field hiking and paddling while we survey. Real mapmakers, like our heroes David Thompson, Champlain, MacKenzie and others have made exceptionally good maps by surveying the ground and waterways. We've just taken the process a step further by using aerial photogrammetry.

So it is mapmakers that create the original map data. There are extremely few mapmakers in Canada and the United States, aside from government organizations (and even they are no longer doing much original work due to budget cutbacks). We're the only ones in Canada (and also North America we believe) making original recreation maps, for example. All other topographic (and most non-topographic) recreation maps you see are simply copies of exisiting government maps.

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Q4. Why don't you use government topos as a base for The Adventure Map®?

A4. A few reasons: One, everybody else does, and the last thing we want to be is like everybody else!

Two, they are copyrighted works and require licenses and payment of royalties to the government before they can be used (that they've already been paid for with tax dollars doesn't matter in Canada). Even if all these extra fees are paid the resulting map is still copyrighted to the government (actually to Her Majesty the Queen). In the USA it's a different matter, for maps made by government agencies using public dollars are in the public domain and available for a nominal fee. An enlightened policy.

Three, and more importantly, government maps are generalized and provide minimal specialized information for recreational activities. They are usually made for sovereignty, political or planning purposes and so don't include information of use to hikers, paddlers and the like. Consider the size of Canada and the 11,000+ sheets at 1:50,000 scale alone and who could reasonably expect anything other than a generalized map series!

Finally, government maps are typically out of date by 10-15 years. There are so many maps in government series and they cover such a large area that the government is hard-pressed to get around to updating even the most popular ones quicker than every ten or more years.

Some companies try to enhance government maps by doing field surveys and studying aerial photos, but this still isn't ideal because the underlying information is so generalized. At Chrismar we decided to go for a higher standard and create our maps from scratch. It's expensive, and we know of no other company in Canada or the USA going this route, so we hope you will see the quality difference in our maps.

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Q5. We need a map of an area you haven't covered yet. What do we do?

A5. Your best bet still is to go with a government map, probably the NTS series at 1:50,000 scale. It covers the entire country at a reasonably good scale with a reasonable amount of detail. Just don't expect to find hiking trail details, terrain and vegetation details, washrooms, parking lots and other up-to-date information on them. If you don't know where to get a government topo call the Canada Map Office at 1-800-465-6277 for more information.

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Q6. Aren't your maps kind of expensive?

A6. Not really. NTS maps, mostly on regular paper, now sell for $9-$15, while other specialty maps go for $10-$25. Our maps are priced from $8-$15. Given that ours are up-to-date, two-sided, covered with special information, and printed on waterproof plastic, we think they're a reasonably good deal. Let us know if you disagree. Also keep in mind that it may require up to 16 government topos to cover the same area as we do with just one of our maps. That's not the government's fault - they can't choose the bundaries of their maps - we can for ours!

It should be noted that some people give maps little value because they're used to poor quality throw-away freebies covered in advertising or relatively inexpensive road maps that are printed in huge volumes. Specialty recreation maps like ours are an entirely different kettle of fish. They require special production methods, extensive research and field survey, and they aren't sold in large quantities.

We think that anyone passing through the middle of nowhere with a waterproof map covered in essential information will come to value The Adventure Map® well beyond its $8-15 purchase price, especially compared to the hundreds or thousands of dollars they've spent on canoes, packs, tents, stoves, camping fees, etc.

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Q7. What made you think of starting The Adventure Map® series?

A7. A momentary lapse in judgement! Actually, we found that the recreation maps we encountered on our hiking, biking and paddling vacations were exceedingly poor quality, badly out-of-date and invariably little more than copies of generalized, outdated government topos. There is a wonderful array of wilderness recreation areas in this country, most of which are poorly mapped for outdoor pursuits. We're also very concerned about the loss of these areas due to lack of use as a result of poor maps and guides. Finally, by far the best reason is that we love it. Our life and lifestyle is designed around making original high-quality maps and map-related products. It will be our life's work.

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Q8. What do you do when you're not working on The Adventure Map® or custom maps?

A8. Most of the time we are! Wherever we go we look at the three-dimensional world in two-dimensions; always thinking "How would this place or that place look on a flat sheet of paper?". As you might expect of real mapmakers we live to travel and explore, and spend quite a bit of time overseas in foreign lands (it's the only way we can really get a break from our business). Our preference is for northern parts of the northern hemisphere and so we spend a lot of time hiking, paddling and sightseeing in places like England, Scotland, Ireland, Danmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and northern continental Europe, as well as all parts of Canada. In recent years we've broadened our travels to other parts of the world, adding some exotic locations and modes of transport to our adventures. Life is meant to be lived - don't miss out!

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