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Free Canadian Topographic Maps E-mail
(17 - user rating)
Written by Brian Grover   
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 07:07

Canada's topographic maps are now available for download, free of charge, from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Since April 1, 2007 high resolution scans of many different cartographical datasets can be found at Geogratis, the distribution portal operated by NRCan. Of particular interest to outdoor recreation enthusiasts will be the 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 topographic series.


Unfortunately, the Canadian Hydrographic Service's (CHS) nautical charts are not yet available. Though not as detailed as the CHS charts from a maritime perspective, the Geogratis topo maps should still be quite adequate for most of the kayaking routes described in BC Car-Free. Use charts from the main branch of the Vancouver public library to add in critical details like tidal rapids, campable beaches and so on.

Since the Geogratis portal is not particularly easy to navigate follow a direct link here. Click the link for "geogratis " followed by the link labeled "latest". From there you'll be presented with an array of choices including the two scales mentioned above in both TIF and PDF format. Clicking any of these links will bring up a series of directories organized according to NRCan map codes. So for example to find the trailhead for the Mid-Coast Trail you will need map 92 E/10. Navigate first of all to folder "92". From there choose folder "E" and then move on to the appropriate downloadable zip file: These can be rather large, often on the order of 30 MB or more.

Detail showing the trailhead of the Mid-Coast Trail.
Topographic Map.

Personally I prefer the raw scans in TIF format as these retain the highest quality for further editing in a program like Corel Draw, Photoshop or Illustrator.

Frequently a route will skirt the edges of several such maps. The Mid-Coast Trail is a case in point, requiring both 1:50,000 sheets 92 E/8 and 92 E/10. Using editing software these can be ganged up with extraneous details cropped out. Annotations like planned route, known hazards, water sources, safety information and so on can be added, then the whole thing can be printed tabloid-sized [11x17] for ease of use in the field.

Another option is to add a wider view in the 1:250,000 topographic series on the reverse to give a greater sense of the lay of the land.

Whenever resizing any of these maps be sure to copy and paste in an image of the scale so that this can be accurately resized along with the rest of the map. Also include the magnetic declination if available.



+1 #6 RE: Free Canadian Topographic MapsBrian Grover 2013-07-31 17:05
FYI Geogratis has stepped it up with improved search tools, replacing TIF with JPEG 2000 in the bargain. Visit Geogratis to begin your search here:
0 #5 IndexBrian Grover 2010-11-04 01:18
Of course, Duncan, that information is supplied within the context of each outing description in BC Car-Free.

From a broader perspective, NRCan could do a much better job by providing an online index. Write them and demand it!

In the meantime, Maptown has a clickable index at the link:
+2 #4 Ваиль 2010-11-04 00:47
I'll have to give it a try.
+2 #3 NRCan codesDuncan 2010-11-04 00:42
Great website, one question.
Is there a way of finding the NRCan map code online, or do I have to have a directory of some sort?

+2 #2 Nice Tip!floria 2010-11-04 00:39
"Another option is to add a wider view in the 1:250,000 topographic series on the reverse to give a greater sense of the lay of the land."
+2 #1 linda 2010-11-04 00:34
Free? I can't believe it.

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