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Statistics Canada


"Statistics Canada is honored to be recognized by the URISA GIS Hall of Fame for its leadership role in advancing GIS technology for the production and dissemination of statistical data in Canada. The Agency is most proud of its staff who have partnered with organizations in Canada and internationally to develop and adopt innovative GIS solutions to meet increasing and evolving user needs."

— Rosemary Bender, Assistant Chief Statistician, Informatics and Methodology, Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada was an early adopter of GIS technology and has been instrumental in promoting and enabling its use within Canada for the last five decades. The nomination statement outlines the  Agency’s many significant contributions to the advancement of geographic information systems and science, and includes several website links for readers who may wish to know more about the agency’s services and products.

Statistics Canada, which is the statistical agency of the federal government and is responsible for  census activities on behalf of the Government of Canada, began developing and applying GIS technology in the 1960s to conduct the 1971 census. Since then the agency’s GIS expertise and geographic data holdings have grown significantly, and the use of GIS technology to conduct operations has greatly expanded in both scope and functionality.

Consistent with data user needs and improvements in technology, Statistics Canada has been a leader in producing and disseminating geographic data products and statistics at increasingly finer levels of geography, that is, scale. These data are used by all levels of government, industry, the academic community, and the public. Through the dissemination of digital products, the provision of advisory  services, and participation in conferences and committees, the agency has played a key role in  facilitating the adoption of GIS in Canada.

Statistics Canada has also provided technical assistance in systems and concept development to other national statistical offices (e.g., Benin, Eritrea, and Peru) seeking to incorporate GIS in the conduct of their operations, and it has been active on United Nations Expert Committees on Census and GIS.

In the Beginning.

The first major step by Statistics Canada into the field of geographic information systems and science was taken in the mid-1960s, coinciding with the increasing interest in Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere in small-area data analysis. As part of its response to this emerging need for small-area data, Statistics Canada undertook the development of a highly sophisticated geocoding system in 1966. The agency  used GIS technology to develop the Geographically Referenced Data Storage and Retrieval System (GRDSRS). The GRDSR System produced custom-area statistics which could not be derived using the programs of the day.

The GRDSR System included the development of the Area Master File (AMF) containing a digital named and addressed road network, hydrographic network, municipal and enumeration area boundaries, and block-face representative points for metropolitan areas. The responses to the census were spatially referenced by geocoding the data to block-face representative points in metropolitan areas, and to  enumeration area representative points in the remainder of the country. The new GIS application supported the production of custom, statistical data for a user’s individual area of interest.

Employing that innovative technology for the 1971 census, Statistics Canada used data encoded to enumeration area representative points, and proprietary algorithms to automatically delineate areas for the purpose of creating the weights used for the census long form sampled data. This was a most significant advance in combining geography and statistics for census purposes.

Building on Success.

Drawing on lessons learned from these initial GIS-related experiences, the agency recognized that using computer-assisted graphics to represent and display statistical data provided a critical foundation to support greater analysis of the spatial dimension of phenomena. A new Geocartographic Section was established in the late 1970s to advance the research, education, training, and applications aspects of this work.

Serving both the agency and external clients, the Geocartographic group produced custom digital  products and provided a myriad of services: Geocartographic data entry and edit; Geocartographic data display; Computerassisted drafting; Computer-assisted graphics; Computer-assisted cartography; Computer-assisted geography; Geocartographic systems development and maintenance; and  Geocartographic consulting.

As will be especially appreciated by readers of Foundations of Urban and Regional Information Systems and Geographic Information Systems and Science, produced for URISA’s 50th anniversary conference, through its work more than three decades ago Statistics Canada was an early and significant contributor to identifying and elaborating many core geographic information system and science domains.

Expanding into Data Collection Via Remote Sensing.

Also, in the mid-1970s, Statistics Canada went beyond its traditional data base development and applications activities by participating in the work of the Canadian Advisory Committee on Remote Sensing. In this initiative, the agency partnered with other government departments to evaluate the use of satellite data based on departmental objectives. In 1979, remote sensing was implemented within Statistics Canada to monitor annual crop changes.

Although remote sensing is a valuable data collection technique in its own right, the integration of GIS and remote sensing created a new data development and application capability within Statistics Canada. One prominent example is the Crop Condition Assessment Program (CCAP). The CCAP delivers timely, quantitative and objective information about crop and pasture conditions on a weekly basis. As a result of this successful initiative, Statistics Canada’s CCAP is recognised as the longest running, continuous crop monitoring program using satellite data in Canadian history.

Pushing the GIS Research, Applications, and Education Envelopes.

For the 1981 census, and again demonstrating its leading edge role in GIS research and applications, an increased suite of digital cartographic products was produced and disseminated, including expanded AMF coverage and digital cartographic libraries of boundaries (CARTLIB) for geostatistical areas. The agency was creating more and varied atlases using automated techniques, making the statistical information increasingly more available to the public, resulting in the release of the highly successful 1986 Census Metropolitan Atlas Series.

For the 1986 census, Statistics Canada expanded the use of the AMF and computer-assisted mapping technology to produce census collection maps in metropolitan areas. The agency also broadened its interaction with external users by conducting more training workshops and providing consultation services on the use of mapping packages, digital databases, statistical mapping, and systems development.

Statistics Canada continued to expand its use of GIS technology during the late 1980s, developing a Computer-Assisted Mapping (CAM) application, and a Computer-Assisted Districting Program (CADP) for use in the 1991 census. These applications automated several key business functions, such as the creation of maps for collection activities and the delineation of census geographies. The use of GIS technology for these operations greatly increased efficiency for these previously-manual tasks.

Another important breakthrough, which was also the product of expanded GIS use, was the creation of the national enumeration area boundary file. This file, based on what was then the smallest standard geostatistical area used in the dissemination of census data, was released for the 1991 census. The file contained 45,995 enumeration areas from which all higher-order boundaries could be created by aggregating these basic units. As a result, and marking a major achievement by Statistics Canada, by connecting statistical data and geographic information systems and science, national small-area mapping of statistical data was possible for the first time.

In addition to its statistical and census responsibilities, Statistics Canada works to preserve Canada’s rich digital cartographic heritage of maps, geospatial data, and associated technologies. By way of an example that will be familiar to many in the GIS community, the Agency, working with Natural Resources Canada’s National Atlas of Canada, Archives Canada, and a private sector consultant, was  instrumental in a 1995 project to restore the Canada Land Inventory (CLI). CLI is a vast collection of digital maps covering 2.6 million km; assembly of the maps began in 1963, but the collection fell from use in the late 1970s and 1980s. The project restored the massive amounts of data, and placed the files on GeoGratis (http://geogratis.cgdi.gc.ca/geogratis/en/index.html - update link after April 30) where they remain verypopular. Project members were awarded a Government of Canada Distinction


Branching off in yet another direction, in the late 1990s Statistics Canada joined with Elections Canada to develop the first national, named and addressed road network dataset available for Canada. This was a significant endeavour, incorporating Statistics Canada’s road network file, Natural Resource’s digital National Topographic Data Base (NTDB) data, and Statistics Canada’s analog place map series to create a national dataset. This national road network dataset facilitated the introduction of a new geostatistical area, the dissemination block, for the 2001 census. Equivalent to a city block, and  bounded by intersecting streets, the nearly 500,000 dissemination blocks cover all of Canada.

This development resulted in a significant increase in the geographic resolution of Canadian statistical data, thereby greatly increasing the ability of users to perform detailed spatial analysis on a national level. The detailed national road network and boundaries data also permitted Statistics Canada, for the first time, to produce all maps for the 2001 census solely using GIS. The release of the 2001 census results was enhanced by the development of a leading-edge web-mapping application permitting the user to spatially explore, display, and print data from the national level to the block level. Statistics Canada was awarded web-mapping developer awards by ESRI in 1997, 2001 and 2007. GeoSearch.

Further, and as faculty and student members of the academic community across Canada can attest, Statistics Canada has long been active in the education community. Through outreach initiatives, including workshops, seminars, and conferences, the Agency has promoted the adoption of GIS in secondary and post-secondary educational curricula. And, demonstrating that it knows what it takes to make things happen, the Agency has made statistical and geographic data products easily accessible, and through the spatial referencing of statistical data it has contributed to encouraging expanded spatial analysis of social, environmental, agricultural, and business events, situation and processes.


Three summary comments outline the exceptional contribution that Statistics Canada has made and continues to make to the evolution of geographic information systems and science.

First, since the development of the GRDSR System, Statistics Canada has vigorously and thoughtfully contributed to advancing the use of GIS through a commitment to research and innovation. One major consequence of this dedication is that the Area Master File (AMF) has evolved into a comprehensive Spatial Data Infrastructure supporting all phases of the agency’s activities including collection,  processing, analysis and dissemination of statistical data.

Second, the geographic data products developed, operationalized, and disseminated by Statistics  Canada over the past 30 years have helped users adopt GIS for the mapping and analysis of data, and were a key input in the development of many geographic data sets by governments at all levels, by firms in a wide range of sectors, as well as by faculty members and students in universities and colleges across Canada.

Third, many members of URISA from Canada, the U.S., and abroad have benefitted and continue to  benefit from the methodological expertise and practical experience that Statistics Canada professionals brought and bring to geographic information systems and science-related workshops, seminars,  conferences, and published works, including those hosted by URISA. It appears fair to say that  Statistics Canada, and its companion agency the U. S. Bureau of the Census, are due the utmost regard for the role they played and currently play in enabling URISA members to become the foremost group of professionals who excel at connecting census data, geographic information systems and science, and urban and regional information systems.

In recognition of its exceptional dedication to the education of users of GIS technology, the provision of increasingly diverse, user-oriented digital files for input to GIS technology, the advancement of research and innovation in numerous aspects of geographic information systems and science, the archiving of digital holdings, and improving the analytical potential of statistical data through the use of GIS  technologies, Statistics Canada is nominated for induction into the URISA GIS Hall of Fame.

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