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Esri Canada’s Roads & Addresses Program

Roads & Addresses are among the most important layers in any local government’s GIS database. Learn what Esri Canada is doing to help organizations improve their content in these key layers. 

Many of you are familiar with Esri Canada's Community Maps Program. Since its inception in 2010, Esri Canada has been building a seamless, multi-scale and up to date basemap by aggregating data from authoritative sources. The map that is produced from this data is published and made available to all our users. You may also know that I served as the program manager for the Community Maps Program until late in 2022 when I embarked on a new role as the program manager for Esri Canada’s new Roads and Addresses Program.

The program might be different, but the underlying philosophy remains the same as that of the Community Maps Program: utilizing authoritative contributor data to build something greater than the sum of its parts. The goal of the Roads and Addresses Program is to build an accurate and updated national roads and address database.

The Importance of Roads and Addresses

Why are we undertaking this? And what specific outcomes do we hope to achieve?

Roads and addresses hold immense importance in our daily lives. These physical elements are crucial for locating and navigating to destinations such as work, school, grocery stores and more. Businesses and governments use roads to deliver services to specific locations (addresses). In the digital world, these features lie at the core of any local government’s Geographic Information System (GIS). These digital layers are invaluable for emergency services, city planning and the delivery of services such as garbage collection. Furthermore, they play a pivotal role in defining school catchment areas, electoral and statistical boundaries. Among all the data layers in a local government database, none are more important than roads and addresses.

The significance of roads and addresses extend beyond local governments. Provincial and federal governments, as well as businesses rely on accurate and up-to-date roads and address data to efficiently deliver their services. For those willing to pay, commercial providers offer road and, to a lesser extent, address data. For those seeking no-cost alternatives, Statistics Canada produces the Road Network File, updated annually and Natural Resources Canada formerly maintained the National Road Network, although it too is now maintained by Statistics Canada. Some provinces maintain their own provincial road networks, which may or may not be available through open data. Most of these provincial layers rely on local government data for updates, but the aggregation of these updates into the provincial road network may take several months. Given the frequent changes in roads and addresses, particularly in rapidly growing communities, these sources may not be ideal.

Local governments are generally the most reliable source for the latest roads and address data in their respective areas. There is a clear business case for communities to possess accurate road and address data, as they are best positioned to monitor changes in their regions. Consequently, it makes sense to leverage these data sources and incorporate them into a broader, national database. The challenge is accomplishing this quickly to ensure that local-level changes are promptly reflected.

Three maps showing the same area currently under development. The first shows the municipal roads, is more up-to-date and shows more roads than the others. The middle map shows roads provided by the provincial government and has less content than the municipal map. The third map on the right shows roads from the federal government and shows the least number of roads since it is not as up-to-date as the others.

A comparison of road data provided by a local municipality (left), by a province (middle) and by the federal government (right). All data was accessed on the same day. Data from the provinces and the federal government can be a year or two out of date, highlighting the need for an automated update process to aggregate local sources automatically.

The Roads and Address Program at Esri Canada, aims to adopt the same model that is being used by the Community Maps Program. In this model, local authoritative data providers share updates, which are automatically integrated into the database creating accurate, complete and up-to-date roads and addresses content. As part of this process, Esri Canada will automatically match roads from neighboring contributors to eliminate gaps or overlaps at jurisdictional boundaries.  This process will result in a seamless national database of roads and addresses derived from authoritative providers.

Maintaining road and address data can be particularly challenging, especially for small to medium sized communities experiencing rapid growth. Keeping addresses up to date can be a formidable task. In addition to officially approved addresses, there are many unofficial sub-units created by homeowners without municipal approval that still require mail delivery and emergency services. When you consider the number of local governments across Canada, it becomes apparent how challenging it would be for a single entity to update and maintain this data at a national scale. How would someone in Toronto, for instance, know about developments or what is correct in Cold Lake, AB, Mount Pleasant, NL, or any of the other 3,700 municipalities scattered throughout the country? And how could this be done in a timely manner given the vast geography of Canada?

In addition to striving to build a seamless national database of roads and addresses, which will enhance the Community Map of Canada, the Esri Canada Roads and Address Program is also working towards building a network of connected communities committed to improving road and address data. Our aim is to facilitate collaboration among neighbouring communities, encouraging them to agree on mutual boundaries and road network connections. Beyond that, we hope to foster knowledge transfer, sharing and insights among those who create and maintain roads and addresses across the country. We are looking to assess local data by comparing it to other authoritative sources and providing feedback to the data creators who can then, in turn, improve their own data. We also hope to promote best practices and common data standards for roads and addresses.

In the coming months I hope to share with you more details about the Roads and Address Program at Esri Canada, specifically how we hope to automate the process of incorporating local level data into a seamless national road network, the importance of quality address data, best practices and resources for both creating and maintaining roads and addresses and how, through all of this, we hope to build a community of likeminded individuals and organizations to build this nation-wide database.

About the Author

Paul Heersink is a cartographer and Program Manager of Esri Canada’s Roads & Addresses Program: an initiative that is aiming to build a seamless topographic basemap using contributor data. He has over 25 years of cartographic experience, working in both the public and private sectors. Paul has always been interested in mapping and drew his own atlas at the age of 10. He took a detour in his career through the fields of psychology and social work before returning to cartography.

Profile Photo of Paul Heersink