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Mapping John McCrae's life beyond the battlefield

Posted by in History on Monday, November 9, 2015

John McCrae, writer of the poem 'In Flanders Fields, sits with his dog Bonneau circa 1914. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada/Wikimedia Commons)

Since it was first published in a British magazine on December 8, 1915, the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ has moved millions around the world to contemplate the horrors of war. Now, nearly 100 years later, a new interactive map project hopes to introduce more Canadians to the man behind the poem: John McCrae.

Combining archival photos, letters and sketches with interactive maps of locations important to McCrae, the City of Guelph has created a ‘map journal’ that paints a more complete picture of a sensitive and skilled man.

“There is more to [McCrae’s] story than just the European battlefield,” says Sasha Tousignant, manager of IT projects, strategy and digital for the City of Guelph, who conceived the project.

“He was a doctor, he was a teacher, he was an explorer, he was a soldier. We really wanted to show that although ‘In Flanders Fields’ is what he’s most known for, there are other points on a map that are reflective of his life.”

By scrolling through the map journal, users can follow McCrae’s life story from his birth in Guelph in 1872 to his education at the University of Toronto to his tour of duty as an officer with the Royal Canadian Field Artillery during the Boer War. The Guelph Museum provided the digitized archival content, while GIS analyst Mike Bartholomew developed the map using Esri’s ArcGIS platform.

“The museum had all this material in their archives, so this was about repurposing it and showing it in a different way — a more interactive way, rather than a static image,” says Tousignant.

Map: Guelph Museums

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