At first, North America was mapped by geographers from their cartography offices who, far from the terrain, tried to compile information from sources available in Europe. They often reconciled political boundaries with natural ones, given that both were equally imaginary or invented much of the time. Eventually, the creation of the position of King's geographer led to the gathering of more reliable information from explorers' reports and travel accounts. These new maps served as guides and maintained colonial expectations, despite their inaccuracy. However, the names given to new areas show a greater concern for royal patronage than for physical reality. Also, although Samuel de Champlain, missionaries, fur traders and other explorers had described the Great Lakes and the interior of the continent since 1616, it was not until 1703, with the work of Royal Cartographer Guillaume Delisle, that there was a more accurate representation of eastern North America. In the West, knowledge of the Pacific Coast progressed only as a result of Spanish and Russian explorations during the first half of the 18th century, and since the voyages of Vitus Bering were not taken into account before the 1750s, the representation of the strait between Asia and America remained imprecise. People still believed in a vast Western Sea and a navigable Northwest Passage. Overall, maps of this time defined the space known to European explorers, and gave it a certain reality in anticipation of future conquests.

Cartography of Discoveries
Partie occidentale du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France [Western part of Canada, or New France], by Vincenzo Coronelli, 1688
CA ANC NMC-6411