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Globe could help B.C. find new place in history, author says

Aug 03 2012
The Molyneux globe refers to the Pacific coast as Nova Albion. 

The Molyneux globe refers to the Pacific coast as Nova Albion.

Photograph by: Handout photo

Historian Samuel Bawlf wants Canadians to see a crucial piece of evidence supporting the idea that Vancouver Island was visited by Sir Francis Drake in 1579, but he has run into a roadblock.

A 16th-century globe on display in London includes a Pacific coastline that Bawlf believes to be British Columbia. The former B.C. heritage minister wants to have the globe scanned into an image that he says will show the province centuries before Capt. James Cook's famous voyage in 1778.

Bawlf hopes that digitizing the 415-year-old globe, which is housed in London, will make it more accessible to Canadians.

"The whole object is to get this document - so that it can be viewed and studied by Canadians, period," Bawlf said.

The Saltspring Island resident is author of The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580, and has been studying the explorer for 16 years.

"It's a magnificent document. It's the first English globe, or at least the only surviving copy of the first English globe - presented to Elizabeth I," Bawlf said. The globe was created by mathematician Emery Molyneux and can only be viewed by appointment.

Funds to digitize the globe, a $30,000 undertaking, were raised by the Sir Francis Drake Historical Society, combining government funding and corporate sponsorship, Bawlf said. Library and Archives Canada agreed to the project, he said, but has since withdrawn, along with the Royal B.C. Museum.

"The commitments were all in place, the money that was required to do the project is in place today, but the project has been abandoned," Bawlf said.

Both organizations say the project doesn't fall within their mandates.

"LAC initially provided expert advice on technical aspects of the globe," said archives spokesman Vincent Turgeon. "LAC has chosen not to pursue the matter further."

Bawlf is looking to the Royal B.C. Museum to launch the project, adding that it's necessary for a reputable organization like the museum to be involved.

He believes the museum is ignoring documentary evidence that could change Canadian history.

"[The globe] places British Columbia, or its predecessor, Nova Albion, on the record before there were any European settlements in North America," he said.

Nova Albion is the name Drake used for the Pacific coast. Bawlf believes a section of coastline on the globe that resembles the mainland near Vancouver Island is evidence Drake was in the area.

"B.C. will be deprived of its rightful place in Canada's earliest history, I think that matters," he said.

There are various historical implications, he said.

"The date of first contact is a key reference in all proceedings to resolve aboriginal rights and titles of B.C. First Nations. I'm not expert in aboriginal law, but some I talk to have said this may be very significant."

Jack Lohman, CEO of the Royal B.C. Museum, said that while he believes digitizing the globe should take place, it isn't the museum's responsibility to make sure that it does.

"This object does not belong to Canada; the object is in London," he said, adding that it is a "hugely important" piece of history.


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