Geomatics Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Geomatics Canada

Geomatics Canada, along with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Polar Continental Shelf Project, became part of the Earth Sciences Sector of the Department of Natural Resources in the mid-1990s. It was formerly known as the Surveys, Mapping and Remote Sensing Sector.

Geomatics Canada

Geomatics Canada, along with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Polar Continental Shelf Project, became part of the Earth Sciences Sector of the Department of Natural Resources in the mid-1990s. It was formerly known as the Surveys, Mapping and Remote Sensing Sector. Geomatics Canada is the principal federal government agency responsible for a reliable system of surveys, maps, remotely sensed data and geographically referenced information about Canada.

What Is Geomatics?

"Geomatics" is a term which encompasses gathering, analysing, managing and distributing spatially or geographically referenced data. It includes the fields of surveying, mapping, remote sensing, cartography, geodesy, photogrammetry and hydrography. The goal is to study and understand Canada's vast and complex landmass.

Much of Geomatics Canada's work is now done using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Canada has been a world leader in the development of GIS since 1967 when the first computerized applications for geography were developed. The Canadian geomatics industry is also known around the world for its expertise in the use and development of remote sensing and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies. Geomatics activity in Canada is worth approximately $1.3 billion annually, and in the private sector provides more than 20 400 jobs across the country. Geomatics Canada encourages effective partnerships between a variety of Canadian and international governments, scientific agencies, universities and industries.

Most of Geomatics Canada's employees work in Ottawa, but there are also regional offices across the country. They are organized into 4 main areas of activity: Legal Surveys, Mapping Services, Geodetic Survey and Remote Sensing.

Legal Surveys

Legal Surveys was created as an organization in 1871 when the Canada Lands Surveys Act was passed by Parliament. Their continuing role is to provide a regulatory framework for all legal surveys of boundaries on Canadian territory and to identify, document, register and protect land interests. An aspect of Legal Surveys includes the International Boundary Commission, a bilateral treaty organization permanently established in 1925 to maintain the 8891 km (5525 mile) long official Canada/US national border. Commission crews continuously inspect, repair, relocate or rebuild damaged official monuments or buoys, keep the boundary line cleared and erect markers at new road crossings.


Early explorers, geologists and other scientists drew maps by hand to try to graphically reproduce Canadian geography. Computers and satellites have now replaced pen, paper and surveying instruments as the essential tools in cartography. Mapping Services of Geomatics Canada is responsible for the research, design, printing and distribution of Canadian topographic maps, aeronautical charts and the National Atlas of Canada.

Topographic maps show contours of the land along with major natural or constructed surface features, such as lakes and roads. They also often feature the boundaries and geographic names, or toponymy, of the area. The Centre for Topographic Information maintains Canada's complete set of topographic maps at the 1:250 000 scale and the incomplete set of maps at the 1:50 000 scale. Topographic maps are updated as required by client request. They are sold at Regional Distribution Centres and at map dealers in every province and around the world. Topographic maps are now produced using computers which convert satellite images into geographic data sets. These are stored in the National Topographic Data Base and can then be used in a variety of GIS and mapping applications.

Aeronautical charts are specialized maps used for air navigation. The first Canadian aeronautical chart was the "Winnipeg District Map" produced in Ottawa in 1926. Today the Aeronautical Charts Service, together with Transport Canada, NAV Canada and the Department of National Defence, supplies reliable and accurate flight information to Canadian civilian and military pilots, air traffic controllers, government planners and domestic and foreign airlines.

Mapping Services also support the activities of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names and the National Air Photo Library. The Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names maintains the database of over 350 000 current and former official Canadian place names. The National Air Photo Library in Ottawa stores over 6 million current and historical aerial photographs, which are also available to the public.


The role of Geodetic Survey is to establish and maintain the Canadian Spatial Reference System (CSRS). Since 1909, Geodetic has been responsible for national networks of survey markers, numbering over 100 000 at last count. Today, continuous tracking of GPS satellites is a principal method used for defining this framework. The CSRS serves as the primary reference for obtaining precise positions, or co-ordinates (latitude, longitude and elevation above mean sea level), for locations on or near the Earth. Accurate information on positions is made available to Canadians through various CSRS products and services and includes a facility to improve the accuracy of GPS. These products and services are used in surveying, mapping, navigation, hiking, farming, construction work and by an increasing number of GIS applications. Other CSRS-related activities include the National Gravity Program and the QUASAR-based Very Long Baseline Interferometry. Space geodesy is now a primary focus of Geodetic Survey scientists and has provided the opportunity for this group to play a key role in partnerships with international, provincial and private-sector agencies.

Remote Sensing

The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing was established in 1971. It is responsible for gathering, processing, analysing and storing earth observation data on the Canadian landmass and for developing remote sensing applications and related systems. Remote sensing evolved from early aerial photography and now uses orbiting satellites, such as RADARSAT, to take images of the Earth. Two ground receiving stations in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and Gatineau, Québec, acquire the data and once the images are processed, they are analysed by the Centre's scientists. The resulting information is used in many applications such as mapping, detecting forest fires, studying crop growth, tracking ice floes, and monitoring floods and other disasters. The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) works closely with the private sector to support the growing Canadian remote sensing industry. CCRS is internationally recognized as a centre of excellence in the use of earth observation data.

National Atlas of Canada

Editions of the National Atlas of Canada have been published since 1906 and provide an overview of the socio-economic and environmental components of the geography of Canada. The 5th edition, published in 1995, contained 93 maps plus graphs, tables, digital cartography and remotely sensed data. The 6th edition will be released in the summer of 1999 and be fully posted on the Internet.

Internet Developments

In keeping with current technology, Geomatics Canada now has an active web site both for information and for fun. It provides geographic and spatial information to Canadians and the world via the Internet. The Canadian Earth Observation Network (CEONet) is a directory and distribution centre for maps, atlases, earth observation and geographical data. In the near future most of Geomatics Canada's products will be available to purchase or download using the "GeoConnections" Internet web site.

Further Reading