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History buff puts obscure sites on a map

Website offers up a treasure trove of Manitoba sites

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A funny thing kept occurring as Gordon Goldsborough was searching for and mapping historic sites across Manitoba.

"I kept finding geocache boxes at the sites. I'd go, 'What's this thing clipped to the side?' " Geocaching (a treasure-hunt game using GPS), heritage tourism, exploring Manitoba and driving vacations all benefit from the self-described "obsessive personality" of Goldsborough in his latest venture: online mapping of Manitoba historic sites.

Goldsborough has mapped more than 2,000 historic sites (, and he's just getting warmed up. Click on the map's icons and up pop exact locations of historic sites in latitude and longitude, and a link to a write-up and photo.

Icons are coloured to indicate the type of historic site. For example, a black icon represents a cemetery and a green icon represents a historic site where something once was.

You can now access the online map with an iPhone while travelling.

"We're the only ones anywhere doing this kind of historical mapping," Goldsborough said.

By day, Goldsborough is an associate professor of biology at the University of Manitoba. His hobby (obsession) is Manitoba history. The former president of the Manitoba Historical Society has put more than 25,000 pages of historical records and writings (dating back to 1898) online at The site includes articles from Manitoba Pageant magazine and its successor, Manitoba History; a street name origins dictionary culled from Jaroslav Rudnyckyj's Mosaic of Winnipeg Street Names (1974) and other sources; and biography collections like Jack Bumsted's Dictionary of Manitoba Biography.

Goldsborough drove more than 7,000 kilometres last summer, visiting and photographing historic sites for his map, often dragging his two teenage kids with him.

"My daughter (15) still complains bitterly about all the museums I took her to," he said. But he's proud when, in conversation, she references something she saw at a museum. "She's a teenager. She won't admit to liking anything her parents like," he said.

The project began when he accompanied his wife, an environmental assessment specialist, on a trek to research wind farms in southwestern Manitoba. He wanted to see nearby Deloraine's historic bank vault. But the directions someone gave him, he said, were along the lines of "go south two miles, then two miles west, then another mile south and another mile west, and turn at the tall tree with the crook in the branch."

He spent hours looking until he finally asked a local farmer. "Oh, you mean the vault behind my barn," the farmer said. It was in a paddock for cattle, albeit protected by its own fence.

Goldsborough cautions that the map is a work in progress. Many regions are under-represented. It's also very cluttered. Winnipeg looks like a box of unassembled Lego. You have to zoom in to get some separation between the icons.

You can search for certain types of historic sites, like vaults, and you can index by type, like museums, cemeteries, etc. More search refinements are planned. The map so far is heavily weighted toward plaques, museums and abandoned schools.

Goldsborough hopes people will scroll to the bottom, click on "Suggest a site" and add historic sites in their areas.

Goldsborough also wants to bring attention to lesser-known museums, like the privately run Chatfield Park of Souvenirs Museum (including its Hankie House, with more than 3,000 handkerchiefs) in the Interlake, and the Clack Family Museum and Ab Chapman Museum in western Manitoba. He has discovered some unusual sites, too, like Chicken Hill School near the international border.

Goldsborough sees the map being used for education, heritage tourism, and geocaching. Heritage tourism can be finding a headstone, or wanting to stand where a great-grandmother went to school. "It's something that's hard to put into terms. It gives you a sense of connection with your ancestors," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2011 A13

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