Map: Chart of the seas, straits &c. thro' which his Majesty's sloop Furnace pass'd for discovering a passage from Hudson's Bay, to the south sea, John Wigate, London, 1746, Library and Archives Canada, e011161321.

Map: Chart of Hudson’s Bay & Straits, Baffin Bay, Strait Davis & Labrador Coast &c, Christopher Middleton, London, 1743, Library and Archives Canada, e011161322.

Whether John Wigate actually created the map of the Canadian Arctic that was issued under his name in 1746 hardly matters; what does is that the map purposefully misled those who might have used it into believing that what is today known as Wager Bay was actually Wager Strait — and a possible eastern access point for the Northwest Passage.

One has only to read the contradictory, caveat-laden notation on the map near “Wager Strait” to see how the misnomer might have given mariners hope of finding a way west across the Arctic: “... there is the highest Probability that this whole Coast (which we did not search) consists of broken Lands & Islands & cannot be far from the Great Western Ocean… ”

Wigate’s map was likely created to counter another map, published in 1743 by Christopher Middleton, a former Hudson’s Bay Company sailor who had sailed into the Arctic aboard the Furnace (with Wigate as the ship’s clerk) in 1741 to locate a Northwest Passage. By August of 1742, Middleton had determined that the Wager Strait that would later appear on Wigate’s map was nothing more than an inlet or a river, and he showed as much on the map he published in 1743.

It’s possible that Wigate deliberately mislabelled his map (if he even created it at all) at the behest of Arthur Dobbs, an Irish MP who had orchestrated sending Middleton to search for a passage in 1741. Dobbs wanted to challenge the Hudson Bay Company’s commercial monopoly of the vast area then known as Rupert’s Land, and hoped that the discovery of a passage would help do so by opening the region to greater trade.

Despite Dobbs pleading with Middleton to admit that a passage west might exist in the region, Middleton refused. Angered, Dobbs mounted a campaign to discredit him with the help of Wigate and two other Furnace crewmen, all of whom swore that Middleton had deliberately concealed the passage during the 1741-42 voyage.

Wigate’s map was part of that campaign, which left Middleton’s career and reputation in tatters, despite his findings being vindicated in 1747 during, coincidentally, a failed Dobbs-funded expedition to discover the Northwest Passage.

*with files from Isabelle Charron, early cartographic archivist, Library and Archives Canada.