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BC Fire Insurance Maps

BC Fire Insurance Maps at RBSC

This guide is intended to aid users in locating the fire insurance plans of specific blocks within the multiple volumes that cover an area. Navigate through the guide by choosing an area from the links across the top of the site. Within each area, the street boundaries are given at the top of the page. Below this, brief descriptions of each "edition" are listed, including the proper title, scales, number of sheets, and call number. All of the plans listed are available from Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library.

If you aren't sure of the street boundaries for the address or area you are looking for, you may be able to locate them by looking up your address on Google Maps or MapQuest.

The entries in this guide have been extracted from UBC Library's online catalogue, which also lists fire insurance plans for other municipalities in British Columbia. Please see the Library catalogue for more detailed descriptions of the guide entries. A list of the fire insurance plans is also available on PDF here.

Once you have found the plan you would like to look at, please note the call number; a staff member in Rare Books and Special Collections would be happy to retrieve the plan for you.

What are fire insurance plans?

Fire insurance plans are detailed large-scale maps of cities, smaller municipalities, and industrial sites. The object of these maps is to show the character of any insured building. These plans were compiled by the fire insurance underwriters to assist their agents in assessing and controlling the risks of fire. Various symbols and colours are used to indicate the following characteristics: the shape and size of a building; the type of construction used; the existence of fire protection facilities; and the use of the building (e.g., a restaurant, a laundry, etc.). The plans were first drawn using a scale of 50 feet to the inch (relative scale 1:600). Later, this scale was increased to 100 feet to the inch (1:1 200), especially in residential areas, and finally 200 feet to the inch (1:2 400).

The earliest insurance plans are believed to have been made in the early 18th century, and were hand drawn for a particular fire insurance company. The earliest extant plan is a Map of London compiled by Richard Horwood for the Phoenix Assurance Company between 1792 and 1799. This is the same company, which produced the first insurance plans of Canadian cities in 1808. The American fire insurance plan industry began in 1850. The Sanborn Map and Publishing Company became the predominant fire insurance cartography company in North America. The name Sanborn is synonymous with fire insurance plans in the United States.

The earliest Canadian plan extant is the "Boulton Atlas" of Toronto, Ontario, circa 1858. In 1874-75, Sanborn mapped fifteen Canadian cities in Ontario and Quebec at the request of some Canadian insurance companies. In 1885, Sanborn mapped five British Columbia municipalities, including Victoria, and Granville. Granville was the proper name for "Gastown", which became Vancouver. The San Francisco firm of Dakin published a plan of Vancouver in 1889.

In 1875 Charles Edward Goad mapped Levis, Quebec, and later bought Sanborn's Canadian stock. In 1897, the Goad company began producing plans for British Columbia municipalities, along with various underwriters associations in the province. In 1917, Goad sold out to the Canadian and provincial underwriters associations. The associations amalgamated to form the Canadian Underwriters' Association in 1960 and subsequent production of fire insurance plans was centralised under the Plan Division of the Association. In 1974, the Association became the Insurers' Advisory Organisation. The following year, in 1975, production of fire insurance plans ceased.

Plans were revised periodically as buildings were burned, torn down, rebuilt, or a new area was developed. The revisions were printed and distributed to the agents to paste in. Sometimes revisions were made in pencil or crayon by the agent, or by the cartographers in the Plan Department. Plans with the same date may have different revisions. There are no plans for undeveloped areas, nor for a few areas which were developed.