Are there too many GIS post-diploma programs and University GIS certifications in Canada?

In the late 1980s, the prevailing notion was that we had three GIS post-diploma programs in Canada, at BCIT, SSFC and COGS. Just over a year ago, I completed a curriculum review of GIS programs for Esri Canada. At that time, my list included 25 universities and 10 colleges. It was not intended to be a comprehensive list but rather to allow an investigation of the curriculum variations in post-secondary education institutions that were using Esri products.

Has the supply at the entry level exceeded the demand? This question can be best answered through contact with new graduates. Part of GoGeomatics response to this question, as we’re seeing, has been to offer a retraining program for GIS graduates who may be interested in the opportunities in the surveying industry.

A third approach is to ask how and if these technologies are being used for teaching and research in different inter-disciplinary programs? Can we design a post-secondary curriculum which has a better mix of concepts, applications and technology? For example, at the University of Alberta, GIS is not treated as a disciplinary specific skill set.

Finally, stepping up to another level, what are the societal demands for a geographic approach to complex problems? One model from the United States is UC Santa Barbara and the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences.

I would make the following argument. In Canada, we have a huge, complex geography. We have significant issues related to land claims, land use, marine and coastal ecosystems. We are experiencing dramatic changes in our resource economy. Thus, it’s not a question of too many programs but rather developing the expertise in understanding these complex societal issues, and learning the appropriate use of GIS and other technologies. This requires a radical rethinking of the discipline of Geography, and its inter-relationship with the Earth, Social and Space sciences. It requires a rethinking of ‘geographic data’. Who owns it? How it can be shared for the common good?

Without dating myself too much, I pulled two books from my bookshelf by Carl Sauer: Man in Nature and Northern Mists. Both were written around the 1970s, published through Turtle Island Press. Here is a renowned Cultural Geographer, writing texts for the general public and schools, which describe both the geography and history of the North American continent (including Canada).

Move forward fifty years, imagine access to the current technologies, how would we treat these subjects? How would that curriculum impact our society, our economy, and back to the original question, our use of GIS technology?

I would encourage the wider academic community to address the curriculum question, as it relates to society’s future needs.

I would encourage citizens to demand better, easier access to geographic data about our landscape.

I don’t think there exists an over-supply of programs but rather a lack of appreciation for the future demand, along with more effective curricula.

Last month, we completed an article on the Story of COGS for Jon Murphy, which he published on the GoGeomatics web site. This led him to ask me to clarify the ‘myth of COGS’, which has taken up some of my time in March.

We interviewed Gary Gaul, Head of Maintenance at Lawrencetown and asked him about his recollections of student life in the 1980’s. This was followed by a gathering in Annapolis Royal. We invited Bill Power, Marlin Gould, Roger Mosher and David Colville to discuss their time at NSLSI when they were students. Subsequently, they became instructors in the various Computer Programming programs. Thirdly, I contact Val Thomas at Virginia Tech. She was a student at COGS in the late 1990’s.
The end result of these conversations has been a better understanding of the COGS reality. You can look forward to another GoGeomatics article in early April. While it tries to address the myth, it, in fact, offers more content for the story.

In attempts to reach out to graduates of COGS, this month I have been in contact with Karen Reinhardt, Harold Hunt, Daniel Munroe, Gwen MacNairn, Jeff Tracey, Bert Seely, Edward Wedler, as well as all of the instructors mentioned above.

Please keep passing on the word, and look out for my next contribution to GoGEomatics, on the ‘myth of COGS’.

Bob’s Blog – the Story of COGS – February 7/13 update

 1)   Why Lawrencetown ? Why the Survey school ?

Downtown Lawrencetown, Nova ScotiaHeather and I have been inspired by the hard work of JB Hall and Major Church. Together, these visionaries over a hundred years developed and implemented the concept of a technical training institution in Annapolis County.

Lawrencetown was selected because it was the birthplace of JB Hall. Hall recognized the need for this type of education in rural Canada based on his experience of technical education in Germany. He set aside funds for the establishment and operation of this type of facility.

Major Church, who retired to Lawrencetown as a gentleman farmer, after a career in the military and as a civil engineer, recognized the need to train surveyors after the Second World War.

He leveraged the JB Hall funds to set up the ‘Survey School’. These actions led to the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute in its present location in 1975.

Subsequently renamed the College of Geographic Sciences in 1986.

2)   Article submitted to GoGeomatics

logo GoGeomaticsJon Murphy of GoGeomatics was seeking an opinion piece on Geomatics leadership in Canada for his online publication. So I contributed an article that I wrote in January titled ‘Thinking about GIS or whatever happened to the Geography teacher’.

The title of the article leans on the book of the same title written by Roger Tomlinson, as well as the forthcoming book by Donald Savoie ‘ Whatever happened to the Music teacher’.

The article received several comments and feedback and I recommend you read the comments from The Hill Times, if you want to fully appreciate the Savoie reference in the article.

3)   Scrapbooks and photographs in the Library

As a result of a conversation with Trish Leblanc, COGS Librarian, we have discovered scrapbooks and photographs compiled by Donna Eisner (previous Librarian before Terri Milton). Theses include many newspaper clippings from  1979  to 1999.  We are in the process of determining the best mechanism to use for sharing this rich resource with everybody.

GIS Summer Institute 1987 lobster boil4)   Slides of GIS Summer Institute 1987

Simeon Roberts provided me with slides from the 1987 GIS Summer Institute, that I have included on the web site. The photos depict a canoe trip down the Annapolis River, as well as the traditional lobster boil on the Bay of Fundy.

In the photos I can identify Roger Tomlinson, Michael Goodchild, Peter Keller, Tat Ma. If we compare the photos to the GIS87 class list, there will be more. I also have photographs contributed by David Woolnough that I must revisit. They include the visit by Paul Martin to COGS.

5)   Georgetown Letters

The Annapolis Valley Spectator is seeking letters from the public leading to the Georgetown conference, ‘Rural redefined’. ( If you want to submit a letter, contact Bob is formulating his thoughts on the role that COGS can play in the creative rural economy.

6)   Kings County Cultural map

Genevieve Allen and Ed Symonds (COGS) unveiled an online cultural map for Kings County last night (Feb 6) ( It is based on open source GIS software. The strength of the web –based product is its ability to tell stories about the people in the county. Each story is geo-referenced.  The methodology follows the work of Greg Baeker, cultural consultant with MBD. (

Well until next month,