doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Whatever happened to …

… road maps?

There was a time when no car was complete without one.  In fact, there was a time when they were free for the asking at a gas station.  They were promotional in nature and came with advertising.

The real kicker was being able to fold it back up when you were done.  They didn’t really cause the distracted driving these days because you had to pull over to the side of the road just to unfold it, try to locate where you were, and where the next turnoff was going to be.  Paper road maps didn’t have the ability to track you.  That’s what road signs were for!

Going to multiple provinces?  Then, you needed gas when you crossed the boundaries to get the next map for your trip.  Fortunately, this was seen as a real need and the concept of a road atlas with spiral binding came along.

They were staples for any car; I always had one tucked in the glove compartment (which I don’t think ever held gloves), the centre console, or in the back of the passenger seat.  When I was looking for my first teaching job, I had one posted to the wall over my desk to make sure that I didn’t miss a county in the province with my standard “I wanna job” letter.  A really useful feature that the traditional road map had that isn’t as apparent today was that the county seat had a special character to make it stand out on a map.  The board office often was located there. The biggest drawbacks – new roads since the last publication and the dreaded “fold that becomes a tear”.

But, these days, it’s hard to find yourself a good road map.  Visit a Chapters and you might be able to locate some at the back of the store.  Technology has provided a better answer – first the GPS and then applications with GPS for your phone.

The demise of the road map meant the loss of a wonderful tool in the classroom.  Sure, you could teach map folding but there’s much more.  Estimation of distances, calculations of travel time, population growth, and the even popular calculate the shortest distance by writing your own software solution.  It was a great way to teach the concept of nodes and sophisticated algorithms.  I wonder if Scratch can do that…  The one consistent thing with physical maps was scale.  It remained constant as opposed to an application that adjusts depending upon your view.

It would be interesting to take a walk through a parking lot at a big shopping mall and see how many people even have one today.  I know that I don’t.

Instead, technology has provided us with another solution in GPS and digital mapping solutions, both browser based and web based.  You might have an actual GPS unit in your vehicle for on the go advice or you might use an application or you might even plan on a computer.

But things are never absolutes.  Let’s plan a trip from Leamington to North Bay.  (Two absolutely wonderful places to visit)

Here are three options and opinions about how to get there and how long it will take.

Google Maps


Bing Maps


Here We Go


It’s not quite an exact art with each tool having its own idea about time and distance and what makes for the centre of a community.

And, don’t forget configuration – do you want to avoid construction, bypass the 407, take the most fuel efficient route, take the more scenic route from Toronto to Barrie, etc?  You’ve got all the data available to make your route planning in advance instead of perhaps taking a vote along the way.  Current technologies also let you avoid accidents rather than sitting stuck in traffic wondering what’s going on.

I hope that there are some map connoisseurs ready to check in and share your thoughts on this Sunday morning.  I’d be most interested in reading them via comments below

To help the discussion, consider…

  • do you still own a paper road map?
  • what’s your favourite digital mapping tool?
  • have you ever been burned by a digital tool recommending something bizarre like turning the wrong way on a one way street?
  • do you mount your phone on your dash or do you have a dedicated GPS to help you along the way?  Of course, nobody here would have it in your hand while driving.
  • finally, and don’t search for the answer – do you know what GPS stands for?

Check out the entire collection of Sunday morning memories here. And, if you’re so inclined, add a suggestion through a suggestion in the Padlet.


2 responses to “Whatever happened to …”

  1. This map post makes me think of Friday’s presentation to our class. Our principal’s dad used to make maps, and since our students were taking some interest in maps, he came to talk to us. He even left us two big maps to use, for as he joked, he uses a GPS now. 🙂 I may need to get one: reading maps is not my forte. Our kids love maps and atlases: so much to explore and so much fun finding places they know. Plus, they’re reading and “doing math” without even realizing it. I love when that happens! 🙂 Thanks, as always, for the trip down memory lane.



  2. Interesting position and topic, here’s my take as a second year undergrad geography student:

    Maps are traditionally viewed for the purpose of navigation. Myself as a millennial, GPS systems and accessible applications such as “google maps” already existed when my friends and I started to drive on our own–I remember my parents using them, but I never actually needed to learn how to use and depend on them to get around the city.

    I wholly appreciate the scope of physical, tangible maps, however because I was never dependant on them, I may perhaps never understand the sentiment you describe.

    What I do find fascinating about The Now and mapping, is that with software such as GIS (geographic information systems), we can use maps for all sorts of purposes. Get this–by accessing a public government database on crime statistics in metro Vancouver, one can quite literally create spatial correlations. For example, percentage of break and enter crimes in different neighbourhoods in the city. This information can then be spatially and symbolically represented on a visual map to allow one to interpret crime in a novel perspective, perhaps allowing a resident to apply statistical information to the neighbourhood they know well.

    Cheers on a sunny sunday afternoon!



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