History of CanSIS

Historical Overview

The Land Resources Research Centre (LRRC) spent many years gathering and compiling data on Canada's land resources into the National Soils DataBase (NSDB) using ARC/INFO. The spatial data define the location of the major types of soil in Canada including some associated landscape features such as slope and rock outcrops. The non-spatial attributes comprise those characteristics that are relevant to a soil's biological productivity; that is its potential to grow plants, and indirectly to support animals. To a lesser extent, the characteristics are also relevant to how easily vehicles, animals or people can move across the soil; that is its trafficability. Where assessments of biological productivity or trafficability have actually been made, they also are included as part of the data in the system. For purposes of analysis and output, the data are frequently represented as maps, including lines, symbols and legends.

The NSDB is designed to be one layer in what constitutes a complete geographical information system. It deals with soil, and landscape features. It includes some climate, census, and land use data, collected and added as part of special projects.

The CanSIS system includes regional offices as well as Ottawa. The central unit in Ottawa (the hub) acts as the principal source of system development and the central archive; it is the national repository of information collected on field surveys or created by land use analysis projects. Arranged around the hub, and connected to it like spokes of the wheel, are the regional staff which collect data during field inventories or create it through regional land evaluation projects. Overlapping most of the regional units are the provincial equivalents of CanSIS, some large, some small, some quite compatible, some considerably less so. What started, years ago, as a highly centralized system has since diversified as regional staff adopt technology that is compatible with provincial systems.

Up until 1992, the Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research (CLBRR, the successor of the LRRC) was the sole custodian of most federal and joint federal-provincial soil map data in digital form (only British Columbia had a computer system for provincial data). With the development of commercial GIS software and, in particular, software suitable for implementation on microcomputers, many provinces are actively developing local GIS capability. There is a variety of regional GIS capability ranging from federal equipment with provincial support through joint ventures to provincial systems with federal support as well as individual agency systems.

Historical Development

By 1971, the soil survey discipline had developed a complete methodology, organized the science with a taxonomy system for classifying soils and was actively working to characterize the land resources of Canada with emphasis on the agricultural regions. The quantities of data had become so large that the National Committee on Soil Survey recommended that they be organized and stored within a computerized system.

Starting in 1972, CanSIS was developed by the Land Resources Research Centre of the Research Branch of Agriculture Canada. From 1975 to 1986 it was run with computer programs written by the Centre's own computer scientists. Early on, as a world leader in the field of Geographic Information Systems, the CanSIS system could be modified and developed as necessary. Later, as other agencies developed their own systems, often based on commercial GIS software, it became difficult to exchange information. The Centre's original custom designed software was not compatible with the principal types of commercial software that were becoming ubiquitous, and it was no longer cost-effective to maintain the original CanSIS software.

Prior to 1986 the CanSIS system (MacDonald and Kloosterman, 1984) had the following groups of files:

  • Cartographic: map lines and symbols
  • Detail: soil profile (site) information
  • Wetlands: site information for peatlands, etc.

The information contained in these files has either been transferred to the new files, as in the case of the cartographic data, or has been stored as it stands.

In 1986, the Centre purchased commercial ARC/INFO software from Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). This software is used by many other federal and provincial agencies across Canada that deal with spatial environmental information. The transfer of the original CanSIS system to this commercial software has required not only a transposition of the fundamental data, but also a substantial revision of the structure of the system itself. The old manuals and operating procedures became obsolete. For a while the computers were maintained by the department's computer services staff, but by 1993 responsibility for the entire collection of computers, digitizing stations, and plotters reverted to the CanSIS staff.

In 1993, the system was moved to HP Workstations, but ARC/INFO was retained as the software. A new archiving system was created. Starting in 1994, documentation was converted to hypertext, and CanSIS became one of the first federal sites on the Internet. In 1996, the initial version of the Soil Landscapes of Canada was completed. In the same year, CanSIS deployed the world's first first fully-distributed World Wide Web mapping applications, where the maps produced on the mapping server were based on data provided in real-time by another server.

From 1997 - 2003 CanSIS staff played a leadership role in the development of Geomatics technology in Canada, as part of the GeoConnections program. During this time, WMS and WFS services were deployed, and the first implementations of what would become WPS and TJS were developed.

From 2003 - 2009 CanSIS staff were fully engaged in developing the GIS capacity for the department, as part of the NLWIS major crown project. In late 2009, the CanSIS organization was transfered to the department's new Agri-Environmental Services Branch, and a series of new datasets, maps, applications, and XML-based data services have emerged.