September 2013

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Author: Liam Currie

Title: The Role of Canadian Municipal Open Data Initiatives: A Multi-City Evaluation (2013) (Available here)


In this thesis I undertake a study of Canadian municipal open data initiatives in order to assess the current state of the programs and to gauge the role(s) that these initiatives may play in regards to improving public engagement in local government issues. After an initial literature review, I adopt two separate approaches. The first approach involves the creation of an inventory and evaluation of the contents of all twenty three (23) Canadian municipal open data catalogues in existence during the summer of 2012. The second approach involves asking questions of key informants in the field through the execution of nineteen (19) semi-structured interviews with open data experts from both government and civic realms in ten (10) case study cities across the country.

The results of the research illustrate the major differences and similarities between the structure, output, and roles of open data initiatives in various Canadian cities. The data provided by these programs mostly consists of politically neutral geographic data, though there are a few exceptions. I find two major program structures in Canadian cities: (1) The first type of open data program is created and operates within a specific municipal department and the (2) second type of program operates across a number of departments. Each approach has its own benefits and challenges. The open data initiatives across Canadian cities also appear to have different approaches to public engagement. Several cities have developed strong collaborative relationships with local open data advocates which are explored in some detail. Larger themes about the current state of open data, its current and future role, and the challenges faced by operators and users, are also described in this thesis. I conclude with some recommendations for improving municipal open data initiatives in the future.

M.A Thesis, August 2013
Department of Geography,
Queen’s University, Kingston, ON


  • SSHRC – Funding
    Dr. Betsy Donald – MA Supervisor
  • Harvey Low, John Jones, Reham Gorgis-Youssef, Gina Porcarelli, Matthew Dance, Mack Male, Robert Giggey, Mary Beth Baker, Edward Ocampo-Gooding, Diane Mercier, Michael Lenczner, Andrew Durnin, Alyssa Daku, Andrew Dyck, Steve Czajka, Robert Lunn, Blair Labelle, Joey Coleman – Interview participants
  • Dr. Tracey Lauriault (,, David Eaves (, Dr. Michael Gurstein (, James Mckinney (, Keith Macdonald (City of Toronto), Cyrille Vincey (, David Robinson ( – Additional input and support
  • The discussions and links hosted at the following blogs and listservs were also invaluable:,,,,,,

The first real open data project in Canada, is arguably, GeoGratis, launched in 1997. It disseminates geomatics legacy data, archived data or data used for independent research.  Like the DLI it used FTP in the early days of the Internet as a way to transfer data in the formats within which datasets were created and data transformation services were pointed to.  Today it disseminates data via a portal and other web services.  Geogratis is a Natural Resources Canada program, under the aegis of the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) which is being devlivered by GeoConnections.  Shortly thereafter, as part of the CGDI, GeoBase was launched to disseminate free national scale framework data.  Both projects, unbeknownst to their creators, were revolutionary, Geogratis for launching the first free open data project at the Federal level, and Geobase as it was data being created as part of a provincial and territorial accord.  These innovations became even more significanr once a decision was made to share the data under an Unrestricted User Licence, a first for Canada. It was a way to work around Crown Copyright.  GeoConnections continues to be innovative in its data dissemination, open specifications, interoperability and standards based approach to data.  See their Operational Policies and other related documents to read more about their work. It is the gold standard in Canada, and most of the data found in the OpenData portal run by the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada, are from Natural Resources Canada.

GeoGratis: A Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure Component that Visualises and Delivers Free Geospatial Data Sets (1999)


Many countries are in the process of setting up geospatial data infrastructures. The United States Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has assumed leadership in the evolution of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). Similarly, the National Geospatial Data Framework (NGDF) of the United Kingdom facilitates collaboration, standards and access to geospatial data. The Canadian Geospatial Data Initiative (CGDI) has five objectives to facilitate access, partnerships, framework data sets, supportive polices, and standards. GeoConnections is the program to build the CGDI. GeoGratis is an operational and fundamental component of Geo-Connections. The GeoGratis objective is to provide a wide range of free vector and raster geospatial data sets of the Canadian land and water mass to the public. During the early stages of GeoGratis, previously archived geospatial data sets were distributed using an Internet based File Transfer Protocol (ftp). Data sets include the Canada Land Inventory and a sample of panchromatic, multi-spectral and hyperspectral imagery. Recently implemented delivery methods are based upon the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that permits the development of a friendlier user interface and a screen to capture a client’s profile. The client is prompted to download the file in the original format and projection or the user can change these parameters according to individual preference. GeoGratis supports the distribution of framework data sets that meet national and international standards. Free and open distribution ensures that these frameworks will be widely accepted. The National Atlas of Canada base maps are the essential framework data sets in GeoGratis. In Canada, GeoGratis reflects the philosophy that the widespread distribution of free or low cost geospatial data stimulates research and development, and promotes a more diversified user base. GeoGratis develops partnerships across government departments. Many departments are protected from the vagaries of the Internet by strong firewalls. The GeoGratis project provides a simple operational tool for these departments. Recognising the needs of a diverse and new user base, GeoGratis plans to use a variety of technologies that offer a range of interfaces to view and access the data sets. Levels of complexity range from simple bitmaps to a more complex on-line GIS with file conversion facilities. The GeoGratis project is developing database design, visualisation software and access methodologies, which may be applied to any country’s geospatial data infrastructure.

Cameron Wilson, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0E9 Canada
Robert. A. O’Neil, Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0E9 Canada

The DLI, is arguably, one of the first attempts by the research and university library communty to make census data accessible to Canadians.  The DLI cannot be considered an Open Data project since data are behind a paywall, irrespective, it was one of the first real lobby efforts to make data available, to work around StatCan’s (back in the day when we had a census) regressive cost recovery and data pricing policies.  The paper provides an excellent review of the history of data advocacy in this community of practice, introduces the associations and also discusses early Internet FTP data transfer, standards, and the data consortium or group purchase model.  Today the DLI serves thousands of faculty and students in research libraries, and its boot camps continue to provide ongoing education and builds capacity in Canadian Research Libraries.  Many of the organizations mentioned remain actively involved in Research Data Canada, the creation of trusted digital repositories and work on the preservation of research data.

The Canadian Data Liberation Initiative: An Idea worth Considering? an International Household Survey Network Paper


The Data Liberation Initiative (DLI) is a Canadian program aimed at providing Canadian post secondary institutions affordable access to Statistics Canada data resources. It is a partnership between Statistics Canada and the academic sector. While it initially focused on the dissemination of public use microdata files it now encompasses all publically-available data. This paper describes the background of this project and some of the key success factors so that other agencies may be able to determine its applicability for their own situations. It was written in the hopes that other agencies may find the Data Liberation project as a useful model to consider. It was also written for a Canadian audience that is interested in the history of this project which has now been in operation for over 16 years.


Ernie Boyko is a former staff member of Statistics Canada where he held a number of Directorships, including Agriculture, Corporate Planning, Electronic Publishing, and Operations for the 1991 Census. It was during his time at Statistics Canada that Wendy Watkins and he co-founded the Canadian Data Liberation Initiative. He is an active member of the Canadian Association of Public Data Users and the International Association for Social Science Information Services and Technology. He is currently an Adjunct Data Librarian at the Carleton University Data Centre and occasionally works on projects with the International Household Survey Network. .

Wendy Watkins is the Manager of the Carleton University Library Data Centre. Her inspiration for Data Liberation came while working at Statistics Canada for a two year period. She is a founding member of the Canadian Association of Public Data Users and active in the International Association for Social Science Information Services and Technology.

Steve Reitano conducted a survey and shared the results of his organizational management research project on the benefits of Open Data which he did as part of his Master’s Degree in Executive Management at Royal Roads University.

The Benefits of Open Data (Canada)


The purpose of this research project is to examine the benefits and the challenges of publishing Open Data for government organizations. It is presumed that open and accessible data offers multiple benefits, including improved openness and accountability, as well as an increase in innovation and economic growth. This paper aims to help public organizations make sound and informed decisions for extending their Open Data initiatives by determining the social, economic and environmental benefits of publishing Open Data, thereby creating a more cost-effective, transparent, efficient and responsive government.

I am posting these here, as open data is maturing in Canada, and we are begining to see studies outside of government and done in Universities.  There are a few others and there are some older ones which are about the topic but a little older.  Open data is not new in Canada, it goes back to the 1980’s, and I will endeavour to post what I find here so that we may have a new and an historical perspective on the issue.  There are a few timelines floating around as well, and will point to these once I consolidate them.