In the past, SPCs bought Census data directly from Statistics Canada on an individual basis. When the 1996 Census was released, a small group of people from several SPCs developed a relationship with Compusearch to purchase a software product called Zephyr. A group was formed to collectively purchase the package and the Statistics Canada data (1996 Census) it contained. Over time14 SPCs had in-house access to census data as well as some elementary mapping capabilities. A key benefit of the Zephyr product was that it could be easily learned and used by a wide variety of people. Compusearch discontinued Zephyr and the company was subsequently purchased by MapInfo. Also, it is not possible to feasibly and reliably import 2001 numeric and geographic census data into the existing Zephyr product.

A small group of people from across the SPNO have been meeting to look into options for the 2001 census data. After an initial search into other options, it appears that there is no one product that is suitable for the census data access requirements of the various SPCs (similar to what Zephyr was). As a result, the Geographical and Numeric Information Systems (GANIS) working group was formally charged by the SPNO to investigate potential options.

Past Activities

With direction from the GANIS working group, the SPNO submitted a proposal to the Ontario Trillium Foundation in the spring of 2003. A group of social planning councils, under the leadership of Community Development Halton, has formed a consortium for the purpose of acquiring 2001 census data, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software. This will provide the member organizations with the capacity to analyze and map census data, and to combine census with other data, providing a powerful tool for analyzing and understanding local social and economic trends. This is important information for community planning purposes.

GIS for social mapping is a powerful decision making tool that merges geographical information with social data in order to provide answers to social questions of importance in the community, such as:

  • What area or neighbourhood has the highest incidence of poverty?
  • How does homelessness affect different neighbourhoods?
  • How do rental costs compare across different neighbourhoods?
  • How is municipal spending distributed across the city?
  • How are services distributed in relation to an agency’s clients?

By answering these and other questions, GIS social mapping provides tremendous benefits to the community through applications such as social planning, housing development, funding allocation and so on. The maps facilitate effective community decision-making because they synthesize and integrate information from different sources enabling decision-makers to more accurately understand trends and assess the implications of their decisions.

The participating organizations are:

The proposal was approved by the Ontario Trillium Foundation in August 2003 and project work finished in the spring of 2006. Software (ArcGIS) and data (2001 Census data and related geography files) were purchased and are being used to create maps of social data.


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