• (Map: D.B. Street, Cyclists Road Map, showing all the main travelled roads, Towns, villages etc. between Toronto and London including the Niagara District, 1895, Library and Archives Canada, NMC43015)
    (Map: D.B. Street, Cyclists Road Map, showing all the main travelled roads, Towns, villages etc. between Toronto and London including the Niagara District, 1895, Library and Archives Canada, NMC43015)

“Roll on, spring!” One can imagine Canadians uttering such a cry in the waning days of winter during the late Victorian era, eager to get out on their bicycles and explore the countryside. During the mid- to-late 1890s, a full-fledged bicycle craze was in full swing in North America, with people spending money not only bicycles themselves but also on the accoutrements that went with them (just as hundreds of thousands of Canadians do today), including tools, locks, clothing and maps. Maps like the two pictured here were instrumental in opening up the countryside to urban bike owners, for whom it wasn’t uncommon to spend a weekend away in one of the many hotels that catered to cycling clientele. A short description of each map is provided below.

As Sara Viinalass-Smith, an early cartographic archivist at Library and Archives Canada, notes: "Street’s map (at right) shows only roads that were deemed passable by bicycles. It also features the rail lines that crossed the region. They were important for cyclists not only because they were consistently passable on bicycles but because cyclists could ride the rails in one direction, making their cycling excursions easier. On the map, distance is shown by two mile squares and population is listed under each place name. At the bottom of the map, Street documented the stops between various popular destinations, noting the counties in which these villages, towns and cities were situated, their populations, and the distances between them."


(Map: J.G. Foster & Co., Cyclist's Road Map for the County of York including portions of Ontario, Peel and Simcoe Counties, 1896, Library and Archives Canada, NMC3342)

Like Street’s map, Foster’s map (at right) also shows the rail lines — the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway — that cyclists of the era could make use of on their excursions. Roads were often a poor second choice to rail lines for cyclists. Indeed, as Glen Norcliffe notes in his book The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900, the state of Canadian roads at the time depended on the season and the jurisdiction responsible for road maintenance. “Some roads were potholed nightmares, others were tolerably smooth. A few had rideable cinder paths along the edge. Some that were passable in dry weather became quagmires during the spring thaw and when it rained.” Norcliffe cites the example of one Karl Creelman, who rode across Western Canada in 1899. “... he often followed the rail bed because there were so few rideable roads. There were few cuttings and embankments along nineteenth-century roads; they simply followed the rise and fall of the land, undulating far more than the graded roads that today follow the same routes”