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Fire Insurance Plans
The University of Western Ontario Archives

Fire Insurance Plan
Historical Introduction
Instructions on Use
Listing of Plans
Reference Resources

Historical Introduction

Canada's heritage of 19th century cartographic documents encompasses a large body of specialized maps, which include bird's-eye views, county maps and county atlases, all of which were produced for mass distribution. Less well known are the distinctive large-scale urban maps called "fire insurance atlases", more commonly known today as "fire insurance plans" or "FIPs".

Usually drawn in either multiples or fractions of 100-foot units, a fire insurance plan is a map or set of maps of a community showing in detail by means of colour and symbol the character of the exterior and interior construction of buildings as well as their height and occupancy. Also indicated are street widths, street numbers, property lines and such fire protection facilities as water pipes or mains, fire hydrants and fire alarm boxes. This highly specialized cartographic product grew out of the need of fire insurance underwriters to understand the physical characteristics of a structure to be insured and the spatial concentration of policy holders so as to limit a company's losses in the event of a conflagration.

First used in England in the late eighteenth century, fire insurance plans were introduced to Canada in 1808 for the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Halifax. The plans first took the form of hand-drawn "diagrams" for the exclusive use of the company. Unfortunately, none have survived. With advances in lithographic printing in the 1840s and 1850s, printed plans came into general use, the earliest of which is known as the "Boulton Atlas" of Toronto, tentatively dated 1858.

A more systematic and standardized approach to fire insurance plan production was introduced into Canada in 1874 when the D.A. Sanborn Company of New York, at the request of several Canadian insurance managers and general agents, sent surveyors to Canada to prepare plans of a number of cities. Within a year, plans of fifteen cities had been prepared. No copies of these surveys have yet been located.

While other companies or agencies mapped Canadian cities at various times, the most extensive coverage was that produced by the mapping services of Charles E. Goad (1848- 1910). The business was established in Montreal in 1875 and produced plans similar to Sanborn's. It dominated the Canadian insurance plan business for more than fifty years. Between 1876 and 1910, Goad published approximately 1,300 plans of Canadian localities. On Goad's death, the company was taken over by his three sons, who continued the business under the firm name of Chas. E. Goad Company.

In 1911 an agreement was reached between the Goad Company and the Canadian Fire Underwriters' Association (CFUA) by which the Company was to make and revise plans for the Association exclusively. This agreement terminated in 1917 and the following year the CFUA formally established its own plan-making department - the Underwriters' Survey Bureau (USB), Limited. In late 1917, or early 1918, the Bureau acquired from the Goad Company the exclusive right to revise and reprint the Goad plans for the use of Association members. The Goad company by 1918 had ceased plan production but continued to exist until 1930 when it had finally disposed of its stock of original plans. The Underwriters' Survey Bureau purchased all the assets of the Chas. E. Goad Company, including plans which at its peak had made the Company the largest private mapmaking establishment in Canada. In 1935, all Canadian fire, automobile and casualty organizations amalgamated to form the Canadian Underwriters Association (CUA).

The Underwriters' Survey Bureau produced insurance plans of cities and towns in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Similar work was done in the west by the Western Canada Underwriters' Association and in British Columbia by the British Columbia Underwriters' Association. These regional operations were amalgamated in 1960 when the production of plans was centralized under the Plan Division of the CUA. In 1974, the CUA was dissolved and was replaced by a new and much larger body called the Insurers Advisory Organization of Canada (IAO). Due to ever-increasing costs and a limited demand, the IAO, after completing the 1973 revision of the Winnipeg plan in 1975, decided to cease plan production and to sell its inventory of plans. This was the finishing stroke to one hundred years of continuous production of fire insurance plans in Canada.

Regrettably, destruction has been the fate of a large percentage of fire insurance plans. Because the plans were intended for subscribing insurance companies and their agents, the plans were printed in limited number, usually in runs of less than 150. Furthermore, because the plans were only loaned to subscribers on a long term basis, the insurance companies were obliged to return the plans once they ceased to be of use to them. Upon their return to the Goad's office and later to the Underwriters' Survey Bureau, the plans were destroyed.

If a plan was to maintain its value, it had to be updated frequently. It was found practical to maintain a constant revision by issuing correction slips, which were applied to the plan with paste. Totally new editions were published after the layers of correction slips began to interfere with the legibility and the accuracy of the plans. This was the system used until 1950. In that year, the Underwriters' Survey Bureau decided to reduce the size of the plans from 21" X 25" to 12" X 13". The new size and advanced printing techniques permitted the printing of individual sheets; these sheets were inserted where required. Because of this procedure, plans began to bear the note "Partially Revised".

The IAO released their existing stock of Canadian fire insurance plans, which became widely distributed amongst libraries and archives in Canada. The custom was for obsolete plans to be recalled and destroyed by the CUA, hence for larger centres where the plans were re-published on the average every 20 years, many editions, especially pre- 1920, appear not to have survived in any known copy.

The University of Western Ontario Archives holds one of the largest collections of Ontario fire insurance plans in any library or archives in the province. Copyright interests for USB, CUA and the IAO are administered currently CGI, Environmental Services in Markham, Ontario.

With their technical data and careful craftsmanship geared to the exacting requirements of the fire insurance industry, the plans became a coveted document by others interested in urban topography: realtors, city planners and, in recent years, historians and geographers of the 'built' environment, and, most recently, environmental consultants.

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