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Natural Resources Canada


"Natural Resources Canada is proud to be recognized for its scientific and technological accomplishments in geomatics. This honour is a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of our staff and partners who have advanced geomatics innovation in Canada and beyond." 

— The Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P., Minister, Natural Resources Canada

Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Geomatics Canada has achieved many scientific and technological accomplishments and advancements. The organization’s legacy evolved through three key stages over the past fifty years. Each stage represents a period in which the organization has grown and made significant contributions to the field of geomatics. These breakthrough stages embodying NRCan’s past, present, and future are defined as:

  • Early History & Digital Foundation (1968 – 1994)
  • The Era of Collaboration (1995 – 2005)
  • The Era of Societal Integration (2006 – Future)
  • Early History & Digital Foundation (1968-1994)

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, NRCan (then Energy, Mines, and Resources) played a lead role in advancing the development of automated cartography for the production of topographic mapping. In the 1980’s and early 90’s, NRCan began migrating its business from paper to electronic products and databases, and built a strong digital foundation for Canada.

Atlas of Canada.

The Atlas of Canada’s story begins in 1906, when the trailblazing map-maker James White published the inaugural edition. It was the second national atlas in the world after Finland in 1899. Over its 100-year history of six editions, the Atlas has dramatically evolved into presenting over 400 maps covering Canada’s physical, economic, and social dimensions.

In 1994, the Atlas of Canada migrated from paper to an online interactive mapping application. The interactive web-based Atlas became the first of its kind in the world. This new Atlas allows users to apply a geographic context in understanding a diverse array of concepts, issues, and decisions from a national to local scale, and is used as an educational tool by teachers and students.

In honor of its long-standing contribution to Canada’s mapping heritage, the Atlas was displayed on the back of the Canadian 100 dollar bill in 2004, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) awarded its Gold Medal in 2006 at the Atlas of Canada’s 100-year anniversary.

Automated Cartography.

NRCan played a foremost role in the development of automated cartography in the 1960s. In 1968, the department established a research and development project to accelerate the production and maintenance of maps through the use of computer graphics. The automated cartographic team developed design specifications in 1969, and began work on the AUTOCARTO system for the digitization of existing graphics.

In 1977, NRCan acquired an interactive stereo digitizing and map editing system which led to the development of an integrated digital terrain information system. The system contains aspects of digital mapping including: data acquisition, data handling, and data representation, and the creation of the Digital Topographic Database. Acquiring this new system was an achievement for NRCan, as it was the first federal organization to use the software before it was subsequently implemented in other jurisdictions.

Sixth International Symposium on Automated Cartography.

The 1983, the Auto-Carto Six conference: Automated Cartography: International Perspectives on Achievements and Challenges, marked a quantum step forward in the evolution of geographic information systems and science research, education, training, and applications in Canada and internationally.

Natural Resources Canada was instrumental in bringing together government agencies, businesses across the GIS spectrum, and academics from more than 20 countries. It also played a central role in creating a two-volume, 1100-page proceedings, which is regarded as one of the premier, early publications in geographic information systems and science.

National Digital Topographic Database (NDTB).

The establishment of a centre of expertise in Sherbrooke, Quebec initiated the digital production of topographic data. The key product emerging from these efforts was the National Topographic Data Base (NTDB). NTDB was produced by a leading-edge, digital cartographic editing system based on the Computer-Aided Resource Information System (CARIS) software platform.

NTDB’s advanced production techniques resulted in the creation of detailed, large-scale mapping (1:50 000 and 1:250 000 scales) of Canada that included hydrography, contours, vegetation, roads, electric power networks, designated areas, land forms, and wetlands. The data derived from NTDB has and continues to be widely used for applications in public safety, natural resources management, and land development.

National Conference on Geographic Information Systems.

Challenge for the 1990s: Geographic Information Systems was the theme of Canada’s first National Conference on Geographic Information Systems held in 1989. The conference was established by the Canadian Institute of Surveying and Mapping, and NRCan played a major role in promoting the conference, organizing the proposal review process, producing the conference program, and publishing the conference papers.

Interchange Standards.

NRCan was also a pioneer in establishing data inventories and interchange standards. In 1983, the department created a directory of digital, small-scale, mapped data from agencies across Canada. This directory was produced in digital form to enable searching by computer.

As part of its standards mission, NRCan conducted a comprehensive survey of the digital geographic datasets of the federal government. From this, an inventory of 314 federal digital data sets was made available to the public in thirty-five different formats. Unfortunately, commercial vendors at that time had little interest in data formats other than their own. In response, NRCan, through the Canadian Council of Geomatics (CCOG), developed a successful standard for the exchange of topographic data between the federal government and several provincial agencies.

The Era of Collaboration 1995-2005

Throughout the 90’s, NRCan worked with domestic and international partners to establish the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure and Radarsat program. The organization also contributed to the development of international interoperability standards, making Canadian geospatial data more accessible and more widely used.


NRCan’s Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS), in conjunction with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, provided the foundational work that led to the successful launch of the RADARSAT Program in November 1995. This program, using space-borne Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), provides support for operational and commercial services to users worldwide for applications such as resource management, environmental monitoring, Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, and foreign defence policy.

CCRS also pioneered various remote sensing-based applications to monitor environmental changes on the Earth’s surface. These applications track natural disasters such as forest fires, flooding, and oil spills; as well as detect subtle shifts in sea ice, vegetation cover, and water resources. Monitoring these events from space has significantly enhanced the world’s capacity for environmental stewardship and emergency response.

Canadian Earth Observation Network (CEONet).

CEONet, which became the main search and discovery portal for geospatial information, was launched by CCRS in 1997. The data integrated in the portal was obtained through government, academic, and private industry sources. CEONet provided access to more than 500 databases across Canada, and over 8,000 world-wide from 1,600 suppliers. In its early years, over 7 million people had acquired information through CEONet, and the portal was described as a “resounding favourite” by its international peers. NRCan’s standards work for CEONet also provided foundational work for the Open Geospatial Consortium’s development of key interoperability standards for the search, discovery, and access of information.


NRCan launched the GeoGratis project to publicly distribute full-resolution geomatics data sets through the Internet free of charge. The business model was successfully integrated with the public digital release of the National Atlas of Canada and the Canada Land Inventory in January 1999. Today, GeoGratis is known as a best practice model through demonstrating principles and issues associated with the distribution of geospatial data in a Web environment. (http://geogratis.cgdi.gc.ca/geogratis/en/index.html)


In 1999, the GeoConnections Program was established to develop the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI). The program continues to develop technically sophisticated infrastructures. GeoConnections’ partnerships and services are making Canadian geospatial data more accessible and widely used in an ever more diverse set of applications that benefit Canadians, government, academia and the private sector.

Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC).

Geomatics Canada played a central role in the advancement of standards and specifications for the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), which supports Canadian companies in becoming international leaders by contributing their standards expertise for geo-processing products. The funding, endorsement, and deployment of these standards led to the Canadian Geospatial Data

Infrastructure becoming one of the largest single implementation communities for OGC. CGDI is recognized as a global model for national spatial data infrastructure development using OGC standards, and GeoConnections is a key player for OGC's global outreach.

Geomatics Accord.

The Geomatics Accord created a framework to allow federal and provincial government agencies to collaborate their efforts in initiating efficient collection, distribution, and maintenance of geomatics data. A vital component in the infrastructure of Canada's information economy, the Geomatics Accord pertains to the changing demand for geomatics technology and data.

Key outcomes from the accord include:

  • Facilitated access and distribution of geomatics information;
  • Foundation of national and international standards for the integration of data;
  • Creation of cost-efficient arrangements for geomatics data collection and management;
  • Common policy frameworks for data access and licensing;
  • Establishment of new collaborative programs (e.g. the GeoBase initiative).
  • GeoBase.

GeoBase provides national geospatial imagery and datasets by collaborating with data-producing organizations. These partner organizations are breaking new ground in optimizing resources, eliminating data duplication, and increasing the availability of data for all users.

The ERA of Societal Integration 2006 - Future

NRCan will continue to design and create innovative projects and initiatives to provide local and global businesses, organizations, and the public with integrated mapping and geospatial services. The following projects outline ongoing and future initiatives that are designed to shape the world of geomatics and Earth observation for years to come.

Map Generator.

After 15 years of development in digital topographic databases, the Government of Canada required a system to publish maps from the best available data in the form of print-ready digital files. Geomatics Canada capitalized on this need by creating the Map Generator, which updates and publishes a new generation of

Canadian Topographic Maps. The system establishes a common ground between digital topographic databases and paper maps in recognition of the high demand which remains for paper maps that are widely used by geologists, military personnel, and recreational users.

Map Generator also provides a variety of application-based services and products including, for example, safety and security mapping applications for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, and more than 1600 map sheets to support activities involving resource development in Northern Canada and arctic sovereignty.

This mapping system is a key tool in building relationships between data producers, data managers, map publishers, and map users; and represents a new environment of collaboration and innovation.

Emergency Management.

GeoConnections established the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS) in 2008. MASAS is an interconnected system involved in the exchange of real-time, geospatial-based emergency information. The system uses open geographic data and standards, allowing public safety and security agencies to connect their systems and obtain a common view of an emergency situation.

MASAS continues to be implemented across the country by Public Safety Canada and the Centre for Security Science, and has been identified in Canada’s Communication Interoperability Strategy as a common national architecture for public safety. In addition, the US/Canada Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competiveness calls for the harmonization of MASAS with the U.S. Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to improve the coordination of response efforts during disasters affecting both sides of the border. (http://frontline-security.org/index_archives.php?page=579)

Pan-Canadian Action Plan.

In 2010, NRCan led the first Canadian Geomatics Conference (CGC), which prepared the foundation for the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Action Plan. With the goal of advancing Canadian geomatics, the plan outlines tactical actions to be taken by the Canadian geomatics community in response to a rapidly changing technological environment.

Northern Development.

NRCan’s Surveyor General Branch did critical work in 2010 on the boundary between Nunavut and Canada’s Northwest Territories. The 2,100 km boundary was defined in the 1993 Nunavut Act but never physically marked on ground.

There is a vast amount of development activity and mineral exploration that straddles the boundary, with resources valued in the billions of dollars. The implementation of a physical land boundary is essential in determining which territorial jurisdiction has the right to administer the lands and resources. Consequently, 668 km of the boundary was surveyed and 312 monuments were set.

Open Data and ESS GeoPlatform.

NRCan’s Mapping Information Branch (MIB) contributed to the Government of Canada’s open data portal by providing over 260,000 open geographic data sets, making it the single largest contribution of open data in the federal government.

In support of the Open Data Initiative, MIB and Geomatics Canada developed the Earth Science Sector (ESS) Geo-Platform. The platform was built to produce and house mass-market technologies and standards so that Canadians are offered unlimited access of data free of charge. A key benefit is that government departments and private corporations can use the acquired geographic data to build analytical models and make better business decisions.

The no-fee access policy for the ESS Geo-Platform resulted in a significant increase in demand for information. For example, in 2007 there were approximately one million downloads of the national topographic information, whereas in 2011 this figure increased to 12 million.

Earth Observation and Geomatics.

The first meeting of the Federal Committee on Geomatics and Earth Observation (FCGEO) was held between NRCan and 20 other government departments in 2011. Geomatics Canada co-chairs this initiative along with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

The purpose of the committee is to integrate geomatics with Earth observation, and share geospatial information across government departments and agencies to better serve decision and policy makers, spur innovation, and drive competitiveness.

Selected Awards and Recognition.

The nomination statement outlines a truly impressive body of achievements that has been acknowledged by numerous citations, commendations, and honours. The table below presents a selection of the awards received by the agency, and is indicative of the esteem in which Natural Resources Canada is held by government, private industry, and academic members of the geomatics community at the national and international levels.

Selected Awards & Recognition 

  • 1976 - Atlas of Canada received the Gold Medal of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
  • 2001 - Government Technology (GTEC) Distinction for Enabling Electronic Service Delivery with CEONet
  • 2004 - The Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) award for work with GeoBase and leadership in Service Innovation
  • 2004 - Atlas cartographers and geographers developed a unique but familiar representation of Canada for the new $100 banknote
  • 2004 - ESRI Award of Excellence to Elections Canada, Statistics Canada, and Natural Resources Canada for advancing the development of an addressed national road network
  • 2006 - Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) awarded the Atlas of Canada a Gold Medal at its 100-year anniversary
  • 2006 - Canada Post Atlas of Canada 100th year anniversary commemorative stamp to recognize the Atlas’s contribution to Canada
  • 2008 - North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Awards for International Emergency Response for the emergency management team at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS).
  • 2010 - ESRI Canada Award of Excellence to the Centre for Topographic Information of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) for accelerating map production and boosting national mapping productivity with the Map Generator Application.
  • 2011 - NASA’s William T. Pecora Award presented to CCRS for advancing the understanding of the Earth over a period of 40 years through the development of important technologies and innovative applications.
  • 2011 - GeoSpatial World Forum Premier Mapping Agency Award which recognised the exemplary contributions made by NRCan to the growth of geospatial technology and industry around the world.


Throughout its history, Natural Resources Canada (formerly Energy, Mines, and Resources Canada) has played a leading, innovative role in the evolution of geomatics internationally. It has done so through equal measures of research, education, training, and applications in all aspects of geographic information systems and science; and has thereby served governments, private industry, independent researchers, the academic community, and ordinary citizens in Canada and the world at the highest level.

In recognition of the agency’s exemplary contributions to research, education, training, and applications in geographic information systems and science, Natural Resources Canada is nominated for induction into the URISA GIS Hall of Fame.

Back to URISA's GIS Hall of Fame 

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