Fire insurance maps contain a wealth of information on the built environment, presented at a scale of 50 feet to one inch (600:1) – small enough to show individual buildings and street features in detail.
The museum is fortunate to have two binders of such maps, showing the communities of Port Hammond and Port Haney at the end of the Second World War.
Across Canada, the fire insurance maps were originally published by the company of Charles Goad, a British-Canadian engineer and surveyor. Following Goad’s death in 1910, the Underwriters’ Survey Bureau – the cartographic wing of the Canadian Fire Underwriters’ association, an organization of commercial insurance providers – adopted responsibility for the 1918 plan and all further ones.
The motives for the plans safeguard their accuracy: as the insurance industry grew, underwriters could no longer perform exhaustive assessments of small structures in person.
Managers could view the construction information presented on the maps as standard representations of fire risk, which allowed them to approve insurance policies. If the fire insurance maps were inadequate, insurance policies might be extended in expensive error.
The use of the maps for insurance underwriting made it important for them to show a great deal of detail.
The maps show information about the structure and shape of the building, as well as the materials used in various aspects of construction.
They also contain helpful addenda written in at the discretion of surveyors.
These note specific uses for some buildings, or even for specific rooms in larger buildings.
The plans provide fascinating portraits of the Port Haney Brickworks – now the museum’s location at Jim Hadgkiss Park – and of the Hammond Cedar Mill.
In the brickworks, we see its eight beehive kilns, arranged in a line around the large masonry tunnel dryer and surrounded by storage sheds from which products were shipped.
Crucial to late 1940s insurance assessors, water lines sketch up from River Road to a series of inside standpipes and a 100,000 gallon water tank.
The complex shared plumbing with the Maple Ridge Lumber Company Sawmill next door.
The Hammond Cedar Products mill is shown in fascinating detail – the log hauls, sketched up in yellow and black relief, would take raw lumber up from where it floated in berms on the Fraser River.
Lumber was sorted by quality and size and sent into different milling areas depending on what product it would become – shingles, the simplest product, had a separate production line on the mill’s east side, where the complex’s power house and waste burners were found.
The central portion of the site hosted a series of saw rooms where wood was cut and planed, before being sent to storage sheds beside the Canadian Pacific Railway.
On the periphery of the site are the outbuildings dedicated to offices and storage, and site services like a cafeteria and “ladies’ lunch room,” as well as the Hammond Cedar fire hall.
At the extreme west end of the site, separated from the major work areas by drying sheds and a large loading crane, one two-storey wood building is simply marked “Chinese Bunk & Cook ho.”
Many Chinese and South Asian men, who could not become citizens until the late 1940s, worked as labourers on Maple Ridge’s industrial waterfront.
For historical research, the fire insurance maps can be invaluable.
The Port Haney and Hammond maps add context to other images and files in community archives, and are interesting in their own right.
– By Matthew Shields, a researcher at the Maple Ridge Museum.