Accessing geospatial data

Map of Devastating 2003 Heat Wave in the Netherlands Observed from MODIS Satellite. Mehdi Aminipouri (PhD Candidate in Geography at SFU)

Course guides focused on geospatial data sources

SFU-purchased data (SFU login or librarian-mediated access)

The licensed geospatial data that SFU Library has purchased are available for instant download in SFU's section of Abacus. Browse datasets or use the search box in the top right to search by keyword(s). All of the DMTI Spatial datasets are in Abacus. This is a popular collection of detailed geospatial data for Canada that includes current and historic datasets of road networks, parks, water bodies and rivers, rail infrastructure, business locations and building footprints, digital elevation models, neighbourhood and community boundaries, postal codes, and more. The most recent DMTI data is the 2019 CanMap Content Suite.

Note: the DMTI Spatial datasets are licensed for specific uses only. Make sure to carefully read the Terms of Use section in the Cataloging Information tab for each dataset in Abacus. In particular, the DMTI Spatial datasets are to be used exclusively for teaching, academic research and publishing, and/or planning of educational services within SFU. This means the data can only be accessed by educators, students, and other staff members at SFU, and cannot be used for any contract-based or income generating work (whether privately or through SFU). Also, no vector data can be published - any journal article or research communication can only include raster images. In this context, 'published' could also mean uploading map products to online web GIS platforms such as ArcGIS Online or StoryMaps.

Abacus also contains statistical and numeric data.

See also the Public Data Collection in Abacus (no login required). 

Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS) Data
Read about ICIS data here. The GIS & Map Librarian (Sarah (Tong) Zhang; can download the following datasets on behalf of SFU researchers. These datasets can be downloaded by regional district or for the entire province.  Download the list for available dataset (on Abacus, under the Data&Analysis tab, ICIS_File_Manifest.pdf) to see what files are available. 

  • Cadastral data for all of BC
  • AddressBC Data - A central authoritative, accurate and accessible point-based civic address registry for British Columbia.
  • BC Assessment Data - Geospatial representation of the assessment roll. It contains a record for almost every assessed property in British Columbia.  Unlike a legal cadastre fabric, it is an ownership fabric. This means there may be many legal lots represented by one assessed property or folio.
  • Canadian Wildlife Service
  • Agricultural Land Reserve
  • Health Authority Locations
  • Conservation Parcels
  • Police Jurisdictions

BC Geographic Data - Many products on this page are free and can be downloaded by anyone, Raster Topographic Maps, for example. However, some have a cost. The GIS & Map Librarian (Sarah (Tong) Zhang; can download the following products on behalf of SFU researchers for free or a reduced cost. These products are made accessible to the SFU community via a license agreement negotiated by the Library and are for academic use only. 

LandScan Global Population
Country-level demographic data, 1st level admin demographic data, pixel (1km²) level data, and a layer with area calculations for population density. Country and 1st level admin level data include age, gender, and age-by-gender population breakdowns. 

Covid-19 Specific GIS Data [new]

British Columbia 


University of Toronto Map and Data Library's Covid-19 GIS & Maps guide
A guide on Covid-19 related spatial data for provinces/territories level, nationwide level, and global level. 


UC Berkeley Library's Covid-19 Specific GIS Resources
A guide on Covid-19 cases data, mobility data, and economic stimulus data. 

Selected open geospatial data sources


An open-source geospatial discovery platform for Canadian open research data, indexing data from Scholars Portal Dataverse and Federated Research Data Repository (FRDR), which includes content from over 70 Canadian research data repositories.  It is a map-based searching interface, meaning you can point to a location on the map and get geospatial research datasets retrieved back to you. 

GeoGratis (NRCan)
Canadian geospatial data. Vector mapping data is available in scales ranging from 1:250000 to 1:30 000 000 in a variety of file formats. ​See also: Geogratis API - Search

Scholars GeoPortal
​Includes many open datasets, including Census Boundary Files from 1911-2011.  

Government of Canada Open Data Portal
Search by keyword and use the options on the right of the page to limit to geospatial data. There is an option to limit to shapefile (SHP) under File Format.

Open data portals across Canada
Not an exhaustive list. If you don't see the area that you're looking for, try searching for the name of your municipality, region, or province + "open data" in Google. Note that sometimes you won't find data at the most granular level and will have to take a step back—for example, you can often use regional, provincial, or even national data to get a municipality. 

National Soil DataBase (NSDB)
Soil, landscape, and climatic data for all of Canada. The NSDB includes GIS coverages at a variety of scales.  

Abacus Public Data Collection 
British Columbia Research Libraries Data Services

Building Outline Repository
11,842,186 building footprint polygon geometries from all Canadian provinces and territories in GeoJSON format, produced by Stats Canada with Microsoft. 


British Columbia

BC Open Data Catalogue, including spatial data. It also provide Web Map Services (WMS). Click on this link to get a search result of all B.C. Data Catalogue records with Public WMS available.

Metro Vancouver Open Data Catalogue 
Geospatial data for Greater Vancouver region. 

Province of BC Geographic Data and Services
Provides links to a number of important resources, including web mapping applications, raw data catalogues, and location services such as BC Physical Address Geocoder, Geographical Names Web Service, and Route Planner.

US Government open data portal

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) - Maps, Imagery, and Publications  

A range of data products including:

Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER)
United States Census Bureau data.


Open Data Inception - 2600+ Open Data Portals Around the World
List maintained by OpenDataSoft.

European Union Open Data Portal
Open data  produced by the institutions of the EU arranged by subject.

United Nations Cartographic Section
General maps of countries and regions, peacekeeping maps, thematic maps and more.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) GeoNetwork
Interactive maps, GIS datasets, and satellite imagery.

Ordnance Survey Open Data (UK)
Open datasets provided by Britain's mapping agency.

A collaborative catalog of open data websites from around the world.