Careers in Cartography Where do Cartographers Work?

The short answer is indoors–a point worth noting, for cartography is primarily an indoor job. Maps are often associated in people’s minds with outdoor activities like surveying and exploring, but specialization has long rendered that image obsolete. Opportunities for field work may arise–ground-checking information obtained from airphotos, for example–but they are the exception rather than the rule.

The long answer is that cartographers are widely employed in both the public sector (especially in government and education) and the private sector. Some cartographers in Canada work for the government, and details of the more important federal and provincial mapping agencies are given below. But opportunities also exist with commercial mapping companies, with colleges and universities, and–especially for cartographers with a knowledge of GIS–with a broad range of businesses. More maps are being produced now than ever before, and the trend will continue, especially now that desktop mapping has brought high-quality cartography within the reach of anyone with access to a microcomputer.

The Federal Government

The premier mapping organization in Canada is the Surveys, Mapping and Remote Sensing Sector of Natural Resources Canada. Its various divisions do work in geodesy, surveying, photogrammetry, remote sensing and GIS, as well as making maps. The principal agency of cartography in Canada is the Earth Sciences Sector of Natural resources Canada. Various divisions of this sector deal with geodesy, land surveying, photogrammetry, remote sensing, GIS, as well as production of maps. One of these divisions, the Centre for Topographic Information, amongst other things produces large scale topographic maps covering all of the country and maintains the National Topographic Data Base. Another division, the Data Dissemination Division, publishes the maps and data of the Atlas of Canada as well as geological maps at various scales. This sector employs all types of cartographers some of whom are in the research and development foreground of the cartography of today. The Centre employs cartographers of all types, some of whom are at the very forefront of research and development in cartography today.

Many other federal agencies engage in mapping and related work. The most important are the Geological Survey (part of NRCan), the Atmospheric Environment Service and the Water Planning and Management Branch (both part of Environment Canada), the Directorate of Geographic Operations (National Defence), the Canadian Hydrographic Service (Fisheries and Oceans) and the Geography Division (Statistics Canada). Several of these are engaged in innovative work in computer cartography and GIS. Special mention must be made of the Cartographic and Audio-Visual Archives Division of the National Archives, which maintains a map collection of almost two million items.

Provincial and Local Governments

To a degree mapping activities at the provincial level mirror those at the federal level, though there are necessarily differences because of differences in jurisdiction. Each province has its equivalent of a ‘surveys and mapping branch’ that produces topographic maps at scales not covered by the federal government, and maps are also produced by departments responsible for geology, transportation, tourism, forestry, land registration, and so on.

Provincial mapping agencies, like their counterparts at the federal level, are heavily involved in computer cartography and GIS, especially in connection with topographic mapping and land registration. Most provincial governments also maintain their own cartographic archives. At the regional and municipal levels of government cartographers are employed in planning and public works departments and assessment offices.

Colleges and Universities

These obviously are where most teaching cartographers are employed, but it should be noted that many university departments, especially departments of geography, geology and engineering, also employ staff cartographers to produce maps and other graphics for teaching and publication purposes. Most of their work is in black-and-white, but sometimes university cartographers get involved in major projects such as atlas production. Examples are the Economic Atlas of Ontario and the Historical Atlas of Canada, both produced at the University of Toronto. Most universities also have map libraries where cartographers may be employed.

Private Sector

The situation here is very complex, but certain broad divisions can be identified. First, there are companies engaged in a range of environmentally-related activities, such as oil companies, surveying and photogrammetric firms, public utilities, engineering and construction companies, and planning and consulting firms. Many of these make extensive use of computer cartography, remote sensing and GIS, and offer excellent employment opportunities for cartographers. Second, there are the private companies that specialize in smaller-scale thematic mapping, such as the making of school atlases, wall maps, road atlases and street plans. Third, there are the vendors of computer mapping, remote sensing and GIS products, who employ cartographers in research, development, applications and marketing roles. The importance of private sector activities is reflected by the existence of the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada to represent companies involved in this general area.Moreover, aeronautical charts, necessary for airplane pilots, are produced by NAV Canada, a company which deals with the control of the Canadian civil air traffic.

These are the places cartographers earn their livings, but how much do they earn? Needless to say, this varies according to education, responsibilities, experience and employer.