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-licensed 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 CanMap Content Suite v2022.3. Read the data dictionary to find what data files are included. Note: you will need to log into Abacus before you can download the datasets. 

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) 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 Files tab, ICIS_File_Manifest.pdf) to see what files are available. Note you will need to log in to Abacus to download the file. 

  • 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 Utility data (BC Hyrdo, Fortis, etc.)

BC Assessment Data
SFU Library is participating in a pilot to enable SFU researchers to access BC Assessment (BCA) Data including value assessments and sales information for properties in British Columbia. SFU Faculty may request access to the data and can use the data in course assignments under the terms of the agreement. For more details on what data is included and how to access the data, refer to this page

Access for both the PCCF and PCCF+ is available via Abacus. The Postal Code Conversion File (PCCF) provides a link between the six-character postal codes and census geographic areas such as dissemination areas, census tracts and others. Different from PCCF,  PCCF+ is a SAS program using a population weighted random algorithm to increase accuracy where postal codes span over more than one geographic area. For more assistance, please refer to this guide by Queens University Library. 

PCCF and PCCF+ can be used to connect your own data with Census geographic areas for mapping and spatial analysis purposes. 

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) 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. 

Selected open geospatial data sources

By geography


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

Lunaris is Canada’s national discovery service for multidisciplinary data from research institutions across the country. Use "Map search" to enable a map-based searching interface, meaning you can point to a location on the map and get geospatial research datasets retrieved back to you. 

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. 

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.

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

GeoScience data by GeoScience BC
Data for hundreds more mineral exploration and development reports in British Columbia searchable by location.

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.


ArcGIS Living Atalas of the world
Collection of geographic information from around the globe. It includes maps, apps, and data layers to support your work. Site includes publicly-available and subscription-only content.

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.

By domain/subject 

Basic cartographic data

Natural Earth
A public domain map dataset available at 1:10m, 1:50m, and 1:110 million scales. Featuring tightly integrated vector and raster data, with Natural Earth you can make a variety of visually pleasing, well-crafted maps with cartography or GIS software.

Canadian Census data

Census boundary files from Statistics Canada: 20212016, 2011
For more details on where to find and download Census data, refer to this SFU Library guide: Canadian Census
For how to format census data to be joined to census boundary shapefiles and how to map the data, refer to this SFU Library guide: How to map Canadian Census data.


Contours by province (on Abacus requires SFU Login), search for "CanMap Content Suit", then search for "contours". 
Geospatial Data Extraction by Minister of Natural Resources. Map-based interface for extracting DEM and other data 
Canadian digital elevation models CDEM by Minister of Natural Resources.1:250k NTS tiles. 90m resolution. 
Canadian digital surface model CDSM by Minister of Natural Resources.1:50k NTS tiles. 30m resolution. 
High resolution digital elevation model (HRDEM) 1-2m resolution 
Lidar BC high resolution (1 to 2m) elevation data 

Land parcels in BC 

ParcelMap BC
ParcelMap BC is the current, complete and trusted mapped representation of titled and Crown land parcels across British Columbia. Note: if you want cadastral data, refer the ICIS data section above. 

Crowd-sourced data 

Unlike Google Maps and other proprietary mapping data, OpenStreetMap offers free data (which means you are free to use the data for any purposes). There are a few ways to download data from OpenStreetMap. For more details, refer to this guide Working with OpenStreetMap by Carleton University, and this video Extracting Data from OpenStreetMap using QGIS & QuickOSM.

iNaturalist is an online community that allows you to share observations to discuss, identify, and create research-quality citizen science data for science and conservation. It is alao a great resource to download crowd-sourced science geospatial data. 

Lidar data

Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) is a technology used to create high-resolution models of ground elevation with a vertical accuracy of 10 centimeters. 

Lidar BC
The Province of British Columbia has made significant investments in LiDAR and starting 2021 has released provincial LiDAR collections, making it freely available for anyone to download and use.

Open Topography
High-resolution (meter to sub-meter scale), Earth science-oriented, topography data acquired with lidar and other technologies.

Lidar data for the U.S. Read more about how and where to to download USGS Lidar data here

Indigenous peoples and lands 

Indigenous Peoples and Lands
Interactive maps, static maps, and data about indigenous communities, treaties, and reserves. 

Native Land
A Canadian non-profit website and mobile app that has created a searchable global map of Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties.

Canada Lands surveys: Maps
Canada Lands by province and territory, including reserves. 

Survey Plan Search
Put in a Canada Lands Survey Records number of an Indian Reserve to find the survey information about the land. 

Environmental Health

The Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium develops a unique repository of standardized metrics of urban, suburban, and rural characteristics. Data are freely available to academic researchers who agree to the conditions and distribution restrictions imposed by the Data Liberation Initiative and the data developers.

SFU Burnaby campus data 

Orthophoto, Simon Fraser University Burnaby Campus 2022
Available from Abacus. 10cm resolution. If you wish to view the orthophoto before downloading it, click here