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People & Culture

2013 Gold Medal winners: NRCAN, Mapping Information Branch

For an achievement by one or more individuals in the field of geography, or a significant national or international event
  • Dec 31, 2013
  • 244 words
  • 1 minutes
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“NTS 059H12,” as it’s officially coded, is an important map, and not because it’s centred on 1,700-metre Pyramid Peak and the surrounding High Arctic landscape of Nunavut’s Axel Heiberg Island. It’s one of tens of thousands of such topographic maps by Natural Resources Canada’s mapping information branch. What made it stand out when it was created in March 2012? It was the final piece in a 65-year, 1:50,000- scale puzzle.

In 1947, the Canadian government launched a monumental mission to create detailed topo maps, at that scale, of every corner of the nation (all 9,984,670 square kilometres of it). Led by program director Douglas O’Brien, the current mapping team of more than 50 at Natural Resources Canada — the government ministry responsible for natural resources and Earth sciences, mapping and remote sensing — completed the task after a final three-year push to make the remaining 1,600 map sections.

A lot changed in 65 years. In the 1970s and ’80s almost 400 people were mapping Canada’s topography for the organization. By the early 1990s, the focus had turned to data collection and storage and the conversion of traditional paper maps into digital files. The team’s work is never truly done, of course; they’re continuously updating data and improving access to the maps on

“This is a milestone for Canada,” O’Brien says. “We now have a complete topographic picture of Canada’s geography from coast to coast to coast.”


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