Whatever happened to …

… road maps?

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

It’s a running joke around here. My wife knew that I was the one for her on our first date. Legend says that I arrived at her house to pick her up just as the shows were changing on the television. Apparently, the guy before me had trouble with time commitments. (And, he lived just around the corner from her)

Yesterday was a banner night for us. We were invited OUT (Whoohoo!) to someone’s house for dinner. I’d never been there before and I still stick with time commitments so I’d used the feature on Google Maps to show me how to get there, along with a couple of alternatives. If you are aware of the recent history of Windsor, you may know that Huron Church Road was blocked to South-North traffic and the preferred route might not be available. It estimated the trip to be 35 minutes. So, we left about 45 minutes ahead of time.

We got in the car and I asked the vehicle navigation system to route to our destination and it actually heard and understood me. I know that I have a nasal voice and it doesn’t always get it right the first time. The navigation system is based on Bing Maps and it had a different idea from Google. So, I started out but then saw a big backup at the lights and rerouted. It turned out to be a lineup for gas in advance of the expected price rise. Nicely, the mapping program adjusted. We got to our destination early but I’m also not one to show up early so we drove around a couple of blocks to kill some time and then arrived close to the predicted time, albeit a little early.

Growing up, of course, we didn’t have all these electronic gadgets. We had a roadmap which unfolded in the most awkward way in the glovebox. Southern Ontario on one side and Northern Ontario on the other side. Insets included city maps. These were in the days when you could fill up your car for $2.00 and pickup up a free road map as well. I stopped for gas today and the attached variety story actually had some on sale. They’re certainly more pricey than the “free” of my youth.

When we went places, my mother had hers and co-piloted. I had my own in the backseat so I could see where we were going. Whenever we would go somewhere, Dad would bring the map in the house and study it. We went to a lot of different places with our baseball teams. I think it was probably here that I learned that a route from one place to another could be measured in time instead of kilometres. I have no idea what the actual distance from here to Toronto is but I do know that it takes four hours.

One of the best gifts that we actually gave at Christmas wasn’t a roadmap (after all, they were free) but a road atlas. It’s actually like the one in the picture above with spiral binding and you could flip the pages for maps instead of having to navigate a maps and its folds.

For our honeymoon, we wanted to visit my aunt and uncle in Minneapolis. We went to a travel agent to see about a scenic drive and to get promotional materials. I remember her pulling out a map and taking us through Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and then Minnesota. No, we said, we want to take the Ontario route. She looked at us with disdain and I remember her directions – somehow get to Thunder Bay and then turn left. With her map, she had no touristy things to do in on Highway 11 or 17.

They’re also not exclusively used for road trips. I remember applying for jobs while I was at the Faculty of Education pre-Google and had a roadmap tacked on the wall over my desk so that I could blanket the province with resumes. Things were so much easier; school boards were organized by counties so I could write a letter to the “Essex County Board of Education” in Essex, ON and had good luck that it might be delivered. City boards were labelled “Board of Education for the City of London”. There was no freelancing allowed at the time.

The navigator on an airplane, I thought, always had a great job. Just staring at maps and weather and planning the route from A to B after checking in with the powers that be. I’ve generally had good fortune with airlines and I can only remember being delayed once leaving Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The captain came on the PA as we started our trip to San Francisco and a CSTA Conference and apologized for the delay taking off – apparently we were held back from transfers coming from New York – and indicated that the navigator was working on a plan to catch up for lost time. He did and we actually arrived ahead of the posted arrival time. That also brings up the question as to why that wasn’t the regular route anyway.

My favourite airplane / Dean Martin clip.

For a Sunday, what are your thoughts?

  • do you measure your trips in kilometres or hours? how far are you from Toronto?
  • do you remember road maps in your vehicle as a child? or maybe now?
  • can you get one today?
  • if you know me, have you ever known me to be late for a commitment?
  • what was the name of the movie above where Dean Martin was featured? Who was the famous flight attendant?
  • do you have a technique for folding the old fashioned paper maps?
  • everyone has a GPS or the ability to connect to one these days. How do you do it?
  • does your car have a GPS built-in or do you use a portable solution?
  • what does GPS stand for?
  • have you ever run into an error in mapping on a road map or digital mapping application?
  • I remember my first venture into digital mapping. It was with Mapquest which seemed to work like magic. Have you ever used Mapquest? Do you have a favourite tool for this sort of thing?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about road maps and travel. Please do so in the comments below.

This is a regular Sunday morning post for me. You can look back at them all here.


6 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Good morning Doug!

    I will have to check in my car to see if I still have a collection of roadmaps there. I have used the GPS mapping abilities on my iPhones for over a decade now, and yet I have fond memories of the folding paper maps and road atlases. Although I am unlikely to turn to a paper map in this day and age for day-to-day use, I know that I have more than once looked at the stack of maps in the car and decided that they weren’t doing any harm sitting there in the door pocket. The as-yet unanswered question is whether or not I pitched them the last time the opportunity arose.

    There have been a number of cross-country road trips where we have used a road map or a road atlas as a geographical journal, tracing the route with a marker and making notations directly on the map to coincide with our stops along the way. I know that I have a couple of those squirrelled away as keepsakes, no longer living in the vehicle.

    As for folding the things, I learned early on that it was much easier to take a second or two to inspect the existing folds and then apply the unfolding in reverse so as to get them back into a neatly storable package. With continued use and wear and tear, a map would frequently develop a rips along the folds, which led to a normally-annual replacement cycle. The Ontario government used to publish them annually, updating the new roads, and they used to be free. At some point, convenience stores started selling commercial maps, and so the “Yours to Discover“ maps became more scarce. It may very well be that you can still pick them up at the Ontario welcome booths at the provincial borders. I’ll have to check the next time I cross one.

    For a number of years we used to do an integrated language arts/geography/mathematics task where students were asked to plot out an “imaginary vacation,” choosing their destinations from a selection of travel brochures, plotting their routes on an Ontario road map, calculating their daily mileage and anticipated gas consumption, developing and projecting their travel budget, and using their imagination to creatively “live and reflect on“ their journey as they went. It was one of the “closer to reality“ performance tasks that took place through the years. I know back then I would get a class set of roadmaps each fall so that each student could have their own map, and would also visit the local Chamber of Commerce to stock up on travel brochures. We may have dropped by the CAA at times as well.

    There are two elements from the roadmap that we highlighted during the project that you and your readers may wish to recall: the distance chart on the back (Northern) side of the map, and the little red stars and numbers that allowed you to calculate distances along your route of choice with a considerable degree of accuracy. During the last few years of high school and the first couple years of university I spent large chunks of the summer travelling around Ontario, calculating distances (and driving times) on the way, many times over.

    Your anecdote of “get to Thunder Bay and then turn left“ reminds me of my fondness for driving in Northern Ontario. Granted, it can take you three days driving from Toronto just to get out of Ontario via the northern route, but it makes up some of the most beautiful part of the country, what with lakes, and trees and rocks to look at all along the way. One time on a return trip from BC we were eager to get back to Ontario, and we made it all the way from Medicine Hat, AL to Kenora, ON during one day’s long, flat, drive. Four provinces in one day! of course, it then took us a few more days to make it back to Belleville, as it can take considerably longer in northern Ontario, what with all of the twisty turny, upsey-downey roads that follow the shoreline of Lake Superior. It’s beautiful up there!

    From here, Toronto is two hours, give or take. It depends on whether you want to be right downtown (and have to deal with the Don Valley parking lot) or not. I can make it to an Apple Store within two hours, and that’s normally the metric by which I measure of my travels to Toronto.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Doug, Mapquest was my favourite, as it was easy to check off “avoid highways.” I don’t do highway driving. I eventually figured out how to do the same thing with Google. I cannot read a map to save my life — it’s the turns that always get me — but I have a huge collection of maps at school. Kids love them. So many discussions about places, names, numbers, images, and directions. If anyone has extra paper maps that they don’t use anymore, they should donate them to a kindergarten class. As for never being late anywhere, I could so relate to you with this. Even for my first dinner out last night in months, I might have read in the car for 10 minutes before making my way into the restaurant. 🙂 I wonder if there’s a connection between those early to school and early for appointments. 🙂

    Thanks, as always, for the trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice to read about your and Andrew’s travels across the other side of the map 😀 I might have taken the US route from your end of ON! I think we have a ratty old map of Ontario somewhere. I think we bought it at a Chapters a number of years ago. We are GPS built-in now.
    We talk like this: “6 hours to Kenora”; “8 hours to Wpg.”; an “overnight trip” to get to TO; “a half hour to the US border (MN) “10 minutes to get to anywhere in TBay”.
    I often catch my husband watching bits Airplane when he sees it on TV. He still laughs.
    Ahh we need a road trip soon!


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