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Maps and data freedom: How one man wants to put historic maps of Ottawa… on the map

By Andrew Monro on March 5, 2019


Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.


Holmes family portrait.

“Don’t be afraid to share what you’re enthusiastic about. I’m always afraid of boring people with my hobby, but I haven’t been shut down by anyone yet. You will find other people that share your interests, but you need to put yourself out there to do it.”

Bryan Frankfurth loves maps and history. And historic maps. What started as a hobby of finding rare and unusual maps and other historical records became a full-fledged company and an initiative to remove barriers to public access of records of our own history.

Bryan has always been something of an archivist. He digitized his family’s photo albums – some of which date back to the 1800s. When he first moved to Ottawa in 2002, his first government contract was digitizing records dating from World War One. It was at this time that he began browsing for high-quality historic maps of Ottawa.

1895 Ottawa, before and after

His big find was a bird’s eye map drawing of the city from 1895, which is owned and digitized by the Library of Congress (LoC). Once he found that map, he kept finding more prints and negatives, mostly from the LoC. He decided the clean up them  by digitally removing seams and tears.

It was from interest from others in this restorative work and his love of sharing his finds with others that he began to sell these curated print. He founded Ottawa-Detroit Trading Post, which he has based out of Impact Hub Ottawa, where he did his first public sale at the Hub’s Holiday Market.

However, Bryan’s efforts don’t stop here. As part of his original browsing, he found a map of Toronto from 1976 that was stored with Library and Archives Canada. However, unlike with the American LoC, where you can freely search and download anything in their database, Library and Archives required a formal request for the image and that he pay a fee, despite the map clearly already being available and digitized. Recalling the process, Bryan says “this belongs to us as Canadian citizens, it should be freely and easily accessible in the best quality possible.”

With a little more effort, Bryan believes, all this kind of information could be open and transparent.

With a little more effort, Bryan believes, all this kind of information could be open and transparent. As part this, he has started Free the Pixels, an initiative to encourage Library and Archives to make Canada’s records of its collective history and culture to become more accessible for everyone, as part of the government’s commitment to open data and information. Bryan believes this will not only make it easier for Canadians to learn and enjoy about their own history, but it would also open up opportunities for research, innovation, and creativity.

Bryan and Brian Masse, MP for Windsor West

Bryan was not alone in his efforts and to find and display examples of Canadian history. He is very grateful to Brian Masse, Member of Parliament for Windsor West, who took interest in his work and used some of Bryan’s prints in his calendar mailing to his constituents; as well as the people at Impact Hub Ottawa who helped him work on both projects. He is especially grateful for his eternally patient wife.

If you are a fan of history and want to explore what Canada already has, Bryan is always interested to meet people with rare or unusual photos, drawings or other records or an interest in them. He is also interested in meeting with people who might be able to help him bring his prints to storefronts in Ottawa.


Bryan’s work is available online at www.ottawadetroit.com. Interested in chatting about rare or unusual photos or drawings? He can be reached by email at ottawadetroit@gmail.com or in person at the next 613flea on Saturday March 9 at Aberdeen Pavilion.