Today we are sharing several of our antique maps that feature the mythical Strait of Anian, which first appeared on maps in the mid-16th century. This strange waterway shows up on maps until the late 17th century, finally disappearing once the northwest coast of North America was fully explored and documented. What is so fascinating about these make-believe places and watery bodies is their evolution; depending on the year and map maker, they tend to migrate to new locations and change in size and importance.
In the mid-16th century, the Strait of Anian was located near what is now the Bering Strait. The Strait was a short channel of water between northeastern Asia and northwestern America. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Strait of Anian migrates south, closer to California. In these maps, the Strait joins up with other waterways that stretch across North America, creating the mythical Northwest Passage. Many hoped (and believed) in a marine route that would connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but spare travelers the dangerous and long voyage around the southern tip of South America. Surely a tempting prospect, the idea of a Northwest Passage across North America was bolstered by falsified travel stories and imperial ambition. The Strait of Anian became the western access point to a navigable route that eventually ended in the French-owned Hudson Bay.
The fabled and fictitious Strait was finally removed from maps in the early 18th century, thanks to westward expansion and exploration.