Data, Data and More Data – but what about Core Canadian Data?

Mar 10, 2014

In my day job I am constantly thinking about the state of play in the geospatial data world. I often ask myself questions. I’m guessing that if you are reading this you may have had many of these same questions too.

How are our needs for ‘Core’ or ‘Foundational’ data changing? Are the geospatial data sets most needed to drive innovation and economic growth broadly accessible? With the evolution of the network of Canadian Spatial Data Infrastructures, explosion of location services and advent of open data, do we need to re-evaluate the state and availability of core geospatial data in Canada?

When I look back over the last decade, Canada made significant advances in improving data access and sharing within and between jurisdictions, with industry and the public. Most provinces have developed Spatial Data Infrastructures. Many data custodians have started to release data under an Open License but… have we removed enough of the barriers to accessing core data? Can we say that we provide ubiquitous access right across Canada? Equally importantly, has the definition of core data changed from 10 years ago?

Internationally, governments have been addressing priorities for core geospatial data release. The European Union, Australia and New Zealand (ANZLIC) and the United Kingdom have all been reviewing and making policy changes related to core data provision. ANZLIC defines core or ‘Foundation Spatial Data’ as authoritative geographic information that underpins, or can add significant value to, any other information that supports evidence-based decisions across government, industry and the community. ANZLIC also agreed on characteristics of core geospatial data as fulfilling one or more of the following requirements that it:

  • Is essential for public safety and well-being?
  • Is critical for a national or government function?
  • Does it contribute significantly to economic, social and environmental sustainability?
  • Does it enable innovation by government, industry, research and academic sectors?

Here is a handy comparison table of Geospatial Data Priorities in the U.S., EU, Australia, and the UK:

United States (FGDC) European Economic Union (INSPIRE) Australia/NZ – Foundation Spatial Data Framework UK (Location Strategy – Initial Set of Core)


CadastreClimate and weatherCultural resources


Geodetic control


Government units, and administrative and statistical boundaries


Land use – land cover

Real property




Water – inland

Water – oceans & coasts

Annex 1Coordinate reference systems


Geographic grid systems

Geographical names

Administrative units


Cadastral parcels

Transport networks


Protected areas

Annex 2


Land cover

Ortho imagery


Annex 3 – enumerates 21 additional themes

Geocoded addressingAdministrative boundaries



Place names

Land parcel and property




Elevation and Depth

Land cover

Geodetic FrameworkTopographic


Mapping including Heights of Land

Geographic Names



Land and Property Ownership



Statistical Boundaries

Administrative Boundaries


In June 2013, G8 leaders signed an Open Data Charter that raised the expectation that collectively, governments would move more aggressively towards advancing the release of Open Data. The G8 tied their principles and recommendations to economic growth, supporting innovation and supporting public policy. They also identified ‘high value’ data categories, many of which have a geospatial dimension.

While working on the Data Sources dimension paper we thought of a number of candidate core data sets. Do you have thoughts on what should be defined as ‘core’ and ubiquitously available across Canada? Let us know what you think …


Possible Candidate list:


  • Parcel and Property
  • Spatial Reference System / Positioning
    • Geodetic Control
  • Physical Address
  • Includes Geocoded addresses
    • 3D addressing (multi storey buildings)
  • Postal code geography
  • Transportation
    • Road network
    • Rail
    • Transit
    • Air
    • Recreation
  • Imagery
  • Administrative Boundaries
    • Census geographies
    • Elections geographies
    • Health and education geographies
    • parks and protected areas
  • Topographic Base
    • Toponomy / Place Names (National Gazetteer)
    • Water
    • Land Cover
    • Elevation and Depth data / DEM
  • Vegetation Cover
  •  Wildlife


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