August 30, 2021

George Challenger & World’s Largest Map Making a Welcome Comeback

Our Man of Municipalities, CBC journalist and reporter Justin McElroy posted the photo below on social media. Mr. McElroy is looking at a small portion of the “Challenger” map, installed in a barn as part of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE).

There’s only a section of the map currently on display, but the angle of this photo, with Justin in the background, shows the vulnerability of low lying Metro Vancouver to sea rise, flooding and climate change. What is easiest to develop is also the most likely to be impacted by a climatic event. You can also see the international boundary line that slices off a piece of the peninsula south of Tsawwassen, resulting in Point Roberts being in Washington State in the United States.

The actual Challenger Relief map is over 6,000 square feet big, which is close to the footprint of three Vancouver houses side by side. While it used to be on display in a building at the Pacific National Exhibition site, it has been in storage for over two decades at an Air Canada hanger at the YVR airport.

At the Fair this year it is in the livestock barns, but a permanent fairground based home which will accommodate the full map is being sought.

As described by Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie, George Challenger was a miner and a logger that first saw a geographic relief map in the 1920’s. During the Second World War he had created a three dimensional map for “civil defence purposes” and upon retirement, decided to make a map of British Columbia out of plywood.  With the help of a jig saw Mr. Challenger created a map that measured 76 by 80 feet with 986,000 plywood pieces. It is by Guiness Book of World Records standards “the largest map in the world”. The map was given as a gift to the Province in the 1950’s and became a highlight of early PNE visits.

There was something quite haunting to be able to look at the entire province’s topography this way, and there used to be a walkway where visitors could view this map  exhibit from above. There is now a fundraising campaign to raise funds for the restoration of the entire Challenger map.

Here is a YouTube video from 1997 that shows the Challenger map. The film quality is not that great, but it gives you an idea of the size and scale of this map, and  how entertained people were at being able to look at the depiction of the entire province in topographical scale.

Image: JustinMcElroy

 

 

 

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  1. Thank you for the Challenger post. Why the map is not recognized and cherished as the unique heritage ‘landmark’ (and attraction) that it is, is baffling. Maybe this time this treasure will find a proper and permanent home.

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