’50 in 50′ Series: Digital Mapping (1991)


Lower Trent Conservation is celebrating its 50th anniversary! To commemorate this milestone occasion, we have released our ’50 in 50′ historical blog series. This special series features 50 articles highlighting some of the achievements, milestones and events of the past 50 years. We hope you enjoy them!

The year 1991 marked a tipping point in technology use at Lower Trent Conservation. Personal computers were all the rage and we had purchased our first digitizer. Tech-pioneers in many industries recognized the value of these new tools.

1990’s IBM desktop computer

Traditionally, maps were drawn by hand on large sheets of paper. The cartographers who produced them were highly artistic and very adept in geometry and mathematics. However, sharing and reproducing maps was a challenge, and updating them was costly and time consuming.

Did you know that the very first digital mapping system in the world was developed for the Government of Canada? The Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS) was developed by a consulting company in Ottawa, Ontario to collect, store, manage, and analyze vast amounts of geospatial data for the Canada Land Inventory. This dataset documented areas most suitable for agriculture and forestry. This would have been one of the very first digital mapping datasets received by Lower Trent Conservation.

Mapping software to deal with this data was still in its infancy. Initially, Lower Trent Conservation used AutoCAD to visualize this data as points, lines, and polygons. AutoCAD allowed us to receive digital data for the flood, fill, and shoreline mapping of the Trent River. By 1992, in partnership with the Trent-Severn Waterway, Lower Trent Conservation began undertaking spatial analysis by combining different sources of digital mapping using SPANS software (SPatial ANalysis System). This project provided maps for site reconnaissance identifying potential sites of hazardous substances along the shoreline of the Trent River.

AutoCAD install floppy disk

Today, Lower Trent Conservation relies heavily on digital mapping for our day-to-day work. Experts from all departments can tap into centralized geodatabases which are designed to store and manage digital mapping data. Sadly, much of the artistry of traditional cartography has been lost during the digital revolution; however, nowadays the data is more current, more accurate, and more reliable. Thanks to digital data, staff always have access to the best available mapping information.

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