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Celebrating inspiring stories in GIS with the Geographical Thinking podcast

Quickly finding missing children, using cows to fight wildfires, engaging the public to identify human remains—what do these stories have in common? They are powered by geographical information and technology. More can be found on Geographical Thinking—the Esri Canada podcast that shares human stories on how GIS is changing our lives.

I’m Guan Yue, host of our podcast Geographical Thinking.

I am captivated by how very different people and organizations use the lens of geography and location analytics to build stronger communities and a more sustainable future. Telling those stories is what Geographical Thinking is all about.

I’ve talked to 50+ leaders and innovators who use geographic information systems (GIS) to take on complex challenges, searching for ways to create a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future. 

It’s been fascinating and it seems many of you agree. We recently celebrated having received 150,000 listens!

These are some of my favourite episodes.

The Toronto Humane Society (THS) used GIS technology to understand which neighbourhoods could benefit most from a visit from their mobile vet clinic. The clinic offers to spay and vaccinate people’s pets for free. It helps with general pet health and builds relationships. THS is planning to use GIS technology to boost their fundraising efforts, discover where most of their donors live and maybe put on local events. 

Steve DeRoy, co-founder of the Firelight Group, reminded me that maps only give us their creator’s truth. He coined the term “indigenize mapping” as a way of saying those maps should reflect and connect with the people who live there and know it best. I learned Firelight Group runs workshops that help Indigenous leaders practice culturally appropriate and inclusive geospatial technologies.

Matawa, a tribal council that looks after nine massive First Nation communities in northern Ontario, taught themselves how to fly drones and used the drone imagery to create the first high-resolution maps of their land in only six months. They’re now also helping other First Nations communities use drones!

Community pride and community engagement has been one of the podcast’s big themes. I was amazed to learn that 20% of ocean debris is lost fishing gear. It may be gone from sight, but it continues to devastate marine life and kill fish, threatening both the health of the ocean and people’s livelihoods. Sustainability starts with geography and GIS is being used along Canada’s east shore by volunteers and local fishers to find and retrieve what they call ghost gear.

COVID taught us how important maps are to understanding the spreading of a virus as trillions of people saw the Johns Hopkins dashboard chronicling the spread of the pandemic around the world. Some doctors were ahead of the curve, and some responded to it. 

Once Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a Halifax- based physician, understood that some of her patients were travelling hours to see her, she began to look for clinics close to where they lived, for tests and routine tasks. To do that she needed to map her patients and other medical professionals and clinics. So, she started GeoView, a mapping project, to reduce both the pressure on clinics in Nova Scotian cities and reduce travelling time and expense for her patients.

An online map in Newfoundland and Labrador showed where to find Naloxone kits if someone overdosed. The map exploded in popularity in the local social media.

Speaking of safety…

After a fire or flood, communities often find their street signs are gone, making relief efforts difficult. I was so impressed by Team Rubicon, a volunteer disaster relief organization made up of emergency responders and military vets. When they fly into an unfamiliar place, they want to ensure all the damaged homes are assessed safely and efficiently. Their GIS staff developed digital maps and workflows based on locations so they can quickly get to work.

I never cease to be shocked that the pizza guy can find you, but an ambulance may not be able to. Joann Fox told me about the transformation of Canada’s 911 system. This will enable the system to both respond to cell phone calls but receive medical records, photos, etc. What does it take to do that? It all starts with geography.  A complete and updated national road network record system ensures the accuracy and efficiency of call routing and dispatching help.

In a nutshell 

Hearing people’s stories about how they used the the one thing have in common—where they are—to grapple and solve complex difficult problems is both inspiring and crucial for our health, growth and prosperity. I hope you’ll join me for future episodes of Geographical Thinking

Want more great podcasts from Esri Canada? 

If you want to dive into the nitty-gritty of Esri software with the experts, check out our new podcast, Spatial Report. A smart conversation about the latest trends in the ArcGIS universe is the perfect podcast for geogeeks everywhere.

We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at

About the Author

Guan Yue is Esri Canada’s Manager of Community Outreach. She works with a wide variety of communities to learn about their evolving needs and help them see the benefits of integrating spatial thinking into solutions. Her journey with GIS started over 10 years ago when she came from China to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where she used GIS to map traditional knowledge on urban bird habitats. She sees spatial insights as vital to better understanding businesses, organizations and more broadly, our world, but believes their value is under-recognized across sectors. Guan loves trying different food, going on hikes, exploring art events and reading to her daughter at bedtime.

Profile Photo of Guan Yue