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Your life on a map — a Toronto cartographer turned artist is doing it

'There’s a silver lining to where you live and, if it seems mundane, just dig a little bit,' says Andrew Alfred-Duggan.

Andrew Alfred-Duggan's Lifemaps combine a variety of places that are important to clients on one map that serves as art.

Courtesy Andrew Alfred-Duggan

Andrew Alfred-Duggan's Lifemaps combine a variety of places that are important to clients on one map that serves as art.

An impossible map hangs on Andrew Alfred-Duggan's wall.

From a distance, it's familiar, the colour and markings akin to your standard city map. But if the scale is to be believed, Toronto’s Union Station is a stop away from Paris’ Abbesses metro station and Collingwood looks out over Palmerston Island, a coral atoll in the midst of the Pacific Ocean.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to anyone except me and my wife because it’s all our places mixed together; a journal on a piece of paper,” explains Alfred-Duggan, from his map-riddled apartment in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood. “Place, it’s everything.”

After 15 years travelling around the world as a professional cartographer, intimately studying and designing maps of 80 cities, the demise of the paper mapmaking industry caught up to Alfred-Duggan in 2012.

But an invitation by a friend to contribute to an installation in the Distillery Exhibit caused him to reflect on the role of place in our lives. Although he didn’t consider himself an artist at the time, Alfred-Duggan decided to tweak a map of Manhattan, dropping the Forbidden City of Beijing where Central Park would be.

“My friend said ‘you should do this for people,'" recalls Alfred-Duggan.

Andrew Alfred-Duggan explores the sense of place and the role it plays in people's lives through his individualized Lifemaps.

Andrew Seale/For Metro

Andrew Alfred-Duggan explores the sense of place and the role it plays in people's lives through his individualized Lifemaps.

So, he did.

Since then the cartographer and artist has been taking commissions for Lifemaps, tirelessly researched, peculiar maps that combine 10 of clients’ favourite places, landmarks and points of interest.

He’s had high-profile clients like Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar: “All national parks and, of course, space,” says Alfred-Duggan.

In a sense, the maps end up being your own private utopia, but they also change the way you see the world you live in, the role of place in your life, he explains.

“There’s a silver lining to where you live and if it seems mundane, just dig a little bit and you'll find something.” 

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