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Finding GIS Data for Canada

The Canadian government offers a vast amount of free downloadable GIS data for use in personal or public projects. The Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) uses these resources, along with U.S. data, to compile blended Great Lakes Region data with detailed boundaries and added fields for things like basin statistics and population estimates.

The table below summarizes Canadian federal sources often used by GLIN to locate GIS data for projects.

Data Source Types of data available Examples of use
Government of
Open Data
Political borders, Roads, CENSUS, Environmental data, and more CENSUS data is available based on political boundaries, e.g. provinces, or smaller units like dissemination blocks. Smaller CENSUS units are useful to estimate populations when government boundaries do not apply, such as for a user-defined buffer areas or sub-sub-drainage areas.
Government of
Natural Resources Canada
Canada hydrology & hydrography (drainage areas, lakes, rivers, etc.), Land Cover, Geology, Ecosystems, Imagery, and more Watershed boundaries can be overlaid with population and political boundaries to understand which areas are hydrologically connected for decisions on water conservation and healthy integrated water use.

Tips to locate GIS data:

  • Download and review multiple similarly looking datasets to ensure you have found the best one for your project.
  • Get to know the terminology of what you are looking for, such as bathymetry for lake depths versus topography for the earth surface.
  • When looking for international data determine the terms commonly used by that country. For example, what is often referred to as watersheds in the U.S. is commonly referred to as drainage areas in Canada.
  • Beyond what is federally available, provinces or other local sources might have additional data and/or data more closely matched to your research area which will save processing time.