While COGS (College of Geographic Sciences), as it was named in Provincial Legislation proclaimed in 1986, is a relatively recent occurrence, its roots stretch back over 40 years before that date. The early history of “Major Church’s Survey School”and, as it evolved in 1958, to the “Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute” (NSLSI) is well documented in the excellent book A Life Worthwhile, authored by the last principal of NSLSI, James F. Doig. The book chronicled the life and achievements of a most remarkable man, Major James A. H. Church. The Major, as we locals and graduates referred to him, had a drive and determination coupled with a technical education teaching philosophy, unique in its delivery, that resulted in the small village of Lawrencetown becoming the “go to place” for technical training in Surveying and Mapping in Canada.

Several important events occurred in the early 1970’s. NSLSI was bursting at the seams with demand for graduates by industry and government agencies far exceeding those surviving the rigorous training regime. Also, the first “rock star” instructor on faculty, Walter K. Morrison, a cartographer formerly with the National Geographic Magazine in Washington, needed expanded photomechanical facilities to train cartographic technicians in modern techniques. Then principal, James F. Doig, secured the funding from the Department of Education and closely supervised the construction of the excellent facility still technically functional today. The new building, surrounded by extensive acreage for field exercises, not only provided space for existing training programs, but anticipated future growth with extra classrooms and labs.

The second event was the beginning of the paradigm shift from analog to digital technologies in the geographic and related surveying and mapping sciences. While the seeds of this shift had been developed in government and industry labs in the late sixties and early seventies, they did not become widely used commercially until the mid to late seventies,  with the development of Landsat satellites, mini and desktop computers, electronic distance measuring devices, and eventually global positioning systems (GPS). Perhaps most importantly of all geographic information systems (GIS) were the vehicles that led these revolutionary changes. In a GIS system digital data bases are linked to digital maps so that spatially related statistical analysis can be performed on topics as diverse as forestry, agriculture, population statistics and where to locate the next Tim Hortons. The GIS technology was developed by Dr. Roger F. Tomlinson in Ottawa in the 1960’s. He took a great interest in seeing training programsestablished to use this technology and was a mentor and advocate for this training in Lawrencetown.

New technologies and related training programs required that existing faculty re-educated themselves and that many new faculty members, with special skills and qualifications, be recruited. The massive cost of acquiring and maintaining the new hardware and software required innovative financing and the joint efforts of government, suppliers and manufacturers. Facilities and equipment cannot alone produce strong graduates without an inspired and dedicated faculty and support staff. The selfless attention to their students and the extra work needed to keep ahead of the rapidly evolving technologies, while maintaining the “learn by doing” training philosophy of Major Church, made this exceptional group of professionals  “rock stars” in their own right.

By the mid eighties it became evident that a new name was needed to accurately describe the broadened training programs. The acronym COGS was easy to pronounce and, as influenced by Dr. Tomlinson, the College of Geographic Sciences’ new identity was proclaimed. The acronym became recognized internationally and graduates are keenly sought by government agencies and commercial enterprises around the world.

John F. Wightman, Principal of COGS (1986 – 1994)

… continue to Preface

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,