Roger Tomlinson changed the face of geography as a discipline when he introduced geographic information system technology (GIS) in the late 1960s, which scans maps into a computer and allows data built into those maps to be analyzed along with related statistical information about the region.
This meant mapping the whole environment – not just physical landmarks, but population patterns, animal migration routes and land suitable for tourism, compiled together for ease of reference.
It began during a chance encounter with Lee Pratt, then head of Canada Land Inventory, on a flight from Ottawa to Toronto in 1961. Mr. Pratt was tasked with developing a comprehensive map of one million square miles of Canadian land, and took to Mr. Tomlinson’s ideas during the chance meeting. Mr. Tomlinson’s work on that project evolved into the Canada Geographic Information System, and Canada the became the first country in the world to have a computerized GIS.
Mr. Tomlinson’s mapping system is the enabler of our modern computer mapping and global positioning systems. It laid the foundation for Google Maps and GPS receivers in cars.
The Ottawa-born geographic information systems are now used in over 400,000 institutions in more than 135 countries; far from being just an academic success, millions of people are now involved in the $51-billion per year industry.
Mr. Tomlinson is the recipient of The Geospatial Information & Technology Association’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honour the association can bestow, which recognizes an individual’s lifelong contributions and long-standing commitment to the geospatial industry. He is the principal of Tomlinson Associates, Ltd., Consulting Geographers; clients have included the World Bank, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.