Unpublished paper: GeoGratis: A Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure Component that Visualises and Delivers Free Geospatial Data Sets

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