In an innovative digital story-mapping project, librarians and students at the University of New Brunswick are plotting the lives and far-flung travels of Loyalists who settled in New Brunswick in the 18th century.

Staff and students at the Harriet Irving Library on UNB’s Fredericton campus are building a new dimension to the library’s renowned collection of historical documents on Loyalists by profiling the journeys of individuals who fled the United States and settled in what is now New Brunswick.

New Brunswick Loyalist Journeys, a two-year research project, is now online – transforming documentary record into new biographies of ordinary Loyalists accompanied by colourful maps pinpointing their journeys not just in North America but in other parts of the world as well.

“It’s fascinating to me that we are taking people’s lives and making them visual. These are no longer just people’s names in a book or historical document – we are bringing them to life,” says Zoe Louise Jackson, a fourth-year undergraduate student at UNB who became involved in the project as a story-map designer.

The story mapping relies on geographical information system (GIS) technology, and the results so impressed GIS software maker Esri that it proclaimed the project its story map of the month in January.

“We knew that we were doing something innovative but we didn’t know what a good job we had done until we heard from Esri. It was a great surprise when we got the news that we were featured on the Esri story map homepage,” says Dr. Leah Grandy, a library assistant in the microforms department. “Since we’ve been featured, our map has been getting around 200 hits a day.”

The Harriet Irving Library has the largest collection of Loyalist material on microfilm in Canada, and those involved saw this as an evolution – a way to enliven the historical record.

“We wanted to show that Loyalists were people from many different religious, economic, and ethnic backgrounds, and many were women and children,” says Dr. Grandy. “We wanted to research a variety of people because most people, if they know anything about Loyalists, think of white male British military personnel.”

It all began as a biographic research project by Dr. Grandy and Christine Jack, the manager of microforms, but quickly evolved when Siobhan Hanratty, a data/GIS librarian, became involved and shared her expertise in GIS.

“For a long time, I wanted to create a story map but I didn’t have a project that was already fully researched to work from,” says Ms. Hanratty. “When I learned that microforms staff were working on a Loyalists biographies project, I thought that this would be a match made in heaven.”

For this first foray, they chose to profile 10 Loyalists from a wide variety of backgrounds who settled in York County. Now they are looking at expanding the project to look at Loyalists who settled in Saint John and Kings counties.

The results can be found via the story maps link at UNB’s online Loyalist collection: https://loyalist.lib.unb.ca/.

Media contact: Cody Peters

Photo: Staff at UNB’s Harriet Irving Library have created an interactive story map to show the travels of Loyalists who landed in New Brunswick. From left, Dr. Leah Grandy, library assistant; Christine Jack, manager of microforms; Siobhan Hanratty, data/GIS librarian; Zoe Louise Jackson, UNB student and story-map designer. Credit: Rob Blanchard / Photo UNB