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How to Get Ontario Topographic Data

Looking for Ontario Topographic Data?

Recently, someone contacted me looking for information on where they could find Ontario topographic data for the Thunder Bay area, so I assumed that they must have already checked the Canadian data page and suggested that they check out the Ontario Basic Mapping website (OBM).

The Ontario Basic Mapping (OBM) site by the Geography Network is a great online resource with simplistic interactive interface that provides users tools to create customized map views and the ability to download various topographic base mapping data for the entire Province of Ontario. The site contains GIS layers created from 1:10,000 base maps from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources that people can download including layers for transportation, water, municipal, elevation, parks and conservation areas. The portal created with ArcIMS makes it pretty easy to use and a convenient way to obtain mapping data in a variety of formats for virtually any area of interest in Ontario.

Ontario Topographic Data - Ontario Base Mapping Download Site

However, that person replied back to me a few days latter telling me that the site was only an online web map viewer and they needed actual data to use in a GIS, and wanted to know if I had any other sources of mapping information for Northern Ontario.

Now, I thought that the e-mail was a little strange since I have used data from the Ontario Basic Mapping web site before while planning various aerial surveys in Northern Ontario, so I decided to go check out the web site to see if the downloading data feature that I had used had been removed. Turns out the site is still the same, it can be used as an online web map viewer to customize and print maps but the downloading option still exists providing the ability to download the map layers in the viewer to use with your own GIS software packages like ArcMap or MapInfo.

It seems like a pretty simple mapping application to me but maybe it is not as obvious as some people need it to be, so I decided to share some of the notes on downloading topographic base data from the OBM site that I provided to them, in case others have trouble figuring how to download the data as well (And summarized in the video at the bottom).

The OBM site is an ArcIMS site with a simplistic look and an interactive interface that provides users with tools to create customized map views and the ability to download the various topographic base mapping data in the map window. If you are not interested in downloading GIS layers but still want to make some maps then like most typical map viewers, they also provide printing options where you can create either paper or digital PDF maps.

Ontario Topographic Data - Ontario Base Mapping - Thunder BayWhen you first open the viewer you are zoomed out to the full extent of the province with mapping tools represented by icons on your left and accessible data layers on the right hand side. Using the AOI icon, you first need to define an area of interest that will zoom the map window into your specific area, populating the map window with more detailed GIS layers and features.

From the list on the right hand side, you then select the visible layers that you wish to download. Next using the FME icon from the tools on the left hand side, a window will open up prompting you to log-in, create a free user name and password (or enter your existing log-in) and then a download options window will appear.

You then need to click a check box to agree with the license terms and click the Download Data button to continue. Finally another window with instructions for acquiring the data in a variety of formats (e.g. SHP, DWG, DXF etc.) and in either Latitude / Longitude or Lambert Conformal Conic coordinate system. Then there will be one final window with a message telling to check your e-mail for a message.

You will then get a machine-generated e-mail from the Geography Network with a custom download link with the Ontario topographic data layers that you specified for your area of interest that you defined. And that is all there is to it, so if you are looking for Ontario topographic GIS data layers to download or  just want want to create online maps then the Ontario Basic Mapping (OBM) site could help you out.

If you know of other Ontario data sources that I have not yet added to the Canadian data  collections then let me know about it and I will add it to the site.

Niagara College

Niagara College GIS Certificate

Location: Niagara on the Lake, Ontario
Program(s): GIS Certificate
Prerequisites: University degree or College Diploma

Niagara College GIS CertificateAt Niagara College they combine GIS, remote sensing and geodatabase management together throughout the three terms. The one year GIS Certificate program at Niagara on the Lake Campus includes a thesis project that students work on for the whole term while working along side with employers to help design and implement real world GIS projects.

Niagara continuously updates their GIS program to meet the changing and evolving needs of the Geomatics industry. A full year long thesis project is required where students get to work with real employers designing and implementing real world GIS skills on a real world project. The Niagara College offers a $750 bursary to eligible students who are enrolled in full time Graduate Certificate Program such as the GIS program.

“When deciding to go back to school at the age of 36, I wanted to get into the Niagara College GIS / Geospatial Management program. When I found out that I needed to have a degree or relevant work experience to get in; I spent 5 ½ years in university to obtain a BSc. in Geography.

This program is THAT highly regarded.

While centered mostly on ESRI software and products, this program also provides experience in MapInfo, Manifold, AutoCAD Map 3D, ERDAS Imagine as well as various elements of programming. The best part of this program is the year long thesis project in which students apply to and partner with industry to provide real world GIS solutions to real clients.

While the program can sometimes be demanding, students will be incredibly prepared to enter the workforce. I do not know one person who ever regretted taking this program. The skills I learned in the program I use every day. ” Darren Platakis – Niagara College GIS Graduate

See the Course Web Site for more details.

[sources: niagaracollege.ca / wikipedia.org / Darren Platakis]


If you are a student, facility or someone who has any more knowledge, feedback or comments to share about the GIS program at Niagara College then I encourage you to share it .

Canadian GIS Software

Geographic Information SystemsGIS software packages come in many different formats and designed to handle many applications. Some are more robust then others offering a wide range of tools and applications while others are much more simple, the software you use should depend a lot on what your needs are.

There are also many other things to consider such as cost, usability, supported data formats just to mention a few. Canada has many software companies that offer GIS software related packages and many others that sell packages made abroad but available here.

Free GIS software

Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) – GRASS software is a free GIS package with multiple functionality including image processing, both raster & vector compatibly, 2D/3D vector network analysis and much more functionality. It operates on various system platforms including shell and a graphical user interfaces.

Google Earth – new twist on traditional GIS that allows you to create 3D maps with existing aerial data sets

Licensed GIS software

PCI Geomatica – Geomatica 2012 from well known Canadian based PCI Geomatics is a powerful easy to learn GIS and Remote sensing package with a wide range of traditional remote sensing, photogrammetry, GIS, cartography, and web development tools.

MapInfo GIS desktop mapping application that now includes CAD tools and .NET program-ability.

ESRI – ArcGIS v10 is the most popular and dependable GIS desktop mapping application available, used world wide.

More software …

Other Mapping Tools

Need to quickly convert spatial coordinates from MTM, UTM or LAT/LONG?

 DataAppeal – Online mapping tool that provides Highly Effective & Interactive 3D Maps

Google Map Maker for Canada

GPS Software

Trimble GPS Planner – handy little FREE software package for planning of GPS Missions, allows you to optimize your base destination region with multiple station locations allowing you to determine where it would be best to record observations, determine elevation masks, generate graphs showing satellite coverage, DOP coverage, and create sky plots of GPS satellites.