Open Data in BC? TRIM Data – Open It Up!

The British Columbia government’s Terrain Resource Information Mgmt Program – (TRIM) mapping program of the late 1990/early 2000’s was one of the first GIS projects I worked on (from a distance). With a comprehensive aerial photography collection programme in place (and awesome guys in Victoria managing it all), we held out breath for several years waiting for good enough weather to finish our Cariboo Region photo coverage. (I’ve stopped cursing the mountains now)

Watching my colleagues digitising from photos and seeing the huge contracts being let to photogrammetry outfits was mind-numbing at best. The sheer volume of data was astounding and the detail (at a 1:20,000 scale) was superior to anything I had ever seen in a GIS. Of course the orthophotos and elevation models were the best eye candy, but the detailed attribution of vectors with innumerable feature codes was really cool. Sure there were limitations, but if I recall correctly, it was limitations with the GIS at the time, not the data. We spent a lot of time working with Safe Software’s FME to arm wrestle this info into submission – but it was actually kind of fun 🙂

Private users had to pony up some good cash to get access to the data – and at the time it seemed well justified as copying DVDs of data around was still new. FTP transfers were still the norm, but you needed a Data Sharing Agreement with the Province to get that level of access. In essence you had to be big business (or working for them) doing work related to government resources (forest management, utilities, etc.) to get that level of access.

All that to say, not too long ago a Few Good Men stood up a WMS to share the TRIM resources (using MapServer, I do believe). This revolutionised my little universe. As a GIS consultant in forestry it meant we could do our job a lot better. For example, no more waiting for DVDs or FTP transfers. But most of all it meant quick access to data we needed on a daily basis – not having to make a choice based on whether it was worth the bother to ask for the data, instead we just used it! Once ArcGIS finally supported WMS, we were able to pull up some background photos and just get the job done reviewing/editing our clients’ data.

How much did we help reduce backlogged data access requests by using this service instead? With this more efficient distribution I thought eventually the data would just be blown open and we could start getting easier access to lower levels of the vector data we really needed (rural roads, elevation models/contours, etc).

So when I saw the announcement this week about the release of a new Open Data policy and catalog at the BC Government, you can guess what I went searching for first.

In short, my searches for elevation, terrain, and contour all provided unrelated results. I did found one for “TRIM” and it sounded very promising: “Topography, Planimetry, Elevations, and Toponymy (place names) for all of British Columbia” – doesn’t that sound like pretty fundamental geodata? But it was precisely the same data source I’ve been using for years, available in KML and WMS only.

Reviewing the metadata shows business as usual (aka “cost recovery”):

I’m not going to judge this “open data” move as pure hype, because I don’t think it is. I assume there are many, many other great datasets released this week – I will enjoy going through more of them eventually. But so far I’m disappointed that this foundational set of base mapping data is still truly locked up. Please open it before it’s so out of date that it’s not usable!

Thanks again to those who got us to having WMS access – my recommendation: put them in charge of getting us vectors or some sort of raw data access and they’ll find a good solution.

Next up, I’ll check on the state of VRI & Forest Cover – the inventories of one of our great Crown timber assets. Are they open now? Or not?

(Hit me on twitter: @spatialguru with your comments)

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Tyler Mitchell

Product and marketing leader, author and technology writer in NoSQL, big data, graph analytics, and geospatial. Follow me @1tylermitchell or get my book from

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