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Remembering the Father of GIS

Today, we honour the life of a great visionary. Dr. Roger Tomlinson, whom we fondly knew as the “father of GIS”, passed away on Friday, February 7, 2014 at the age of 80.

Dr. Tomlinson invented the first computerized GIS back in the ‘60s, when he developed the Canada Geographic Information System for use by the Canada Land Inventory.

Thanks to his innovation, we can now easily overlay unlimited amounts of data on dynamic, digital maps and analyze information in numerous ways previously not possible. From climate change, overpopulation, poverty, disease outbreaks and flooding, to managing power outages, emergencies and optimizing site selection, GIS is being used today in various industries to help solve virtually any location-based problem.

Dr. Tomlinson’s invention of GIS led to the development of today’s computerized mapping technology, digitizing tables and global positioning systems. As well, his work advanced mapping as a profession and established a thriving industry that employs thousands worldwide. Research firm Global Industry Analysts estimates the global GIS industry is expected to grow to $10.6 billion by 2015. 

He was a great friend to Esri Canada and an inspiration to many geographers. His work spanned over five decades and has helped organizations worldwide apply GIS to increase efficiency in map production, provide fast and easy access to digital data, and improve decision-making through visual spatial analysis.

In 1963, Dr. Tomlinson established Tomlinson Associates, a geographic consulting firm that served international clients including the World Bank, and the US and Canadian Forest Services. He was a sought-after speaker at GIS events worldwide and presented at several Esri conferences.

For his outstanding work, he received the Esri Lifetime Achievement Award (1997), the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal (2003) and the National Geographic Society’s Alexander Graham Bell Medal (2010).  In 2005, he became the first recipient of  the Association of American Geographers’ Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award.  He was made an Honorary Member of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors in 2011 for his leadership in the area of GIS.  In 2001, he was named a member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour, and was promoted in 2013 to an Officer of the Order of Canada for transforming the field of geography with his invention of GIS.

Dr. Roger Tomlinson was named an honorary member of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors at the 2011 Esri Canada User Conference in Ottawa.

Read more about Dr. Tomlinson and his work in this article: The 50th Anniversary of GIS.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to meet him in person at an employee event here at Esri Canada. Thinking of all that he has done for the GIS industry and the impact of his achievements on the world, I couldn’t help but be in awe of his brilliant mind and presence. Thank you, Dr. Tomlinson, for your remarkable legacy. You will be missed.  

See Dr. Tomlinson's obituary.

On February 14, 2014, Canada's House of Commons paid tribute to Dr. Roger Tomlinson, known as the "Father of GIS".  He passed away on Feb. 7, 2014, leaving a remarkable legacy that laid the foundation for modern digital mapping and transformed the field of geography. (Source: Parliamentary Broadcasting Services).

Since we heard of his passing, many colleagues have shared their own memories of meeting this industry giant and I wasn’t surprised that the single most common thing people share about their thoughts of him was his passion for GIS.

How did Dr. Tomlinson and his work inspire you? Share your thoughts and memories of him by leaving a comment below.

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Joy Chan
Public Relations Specialist
Joy Chan is a Public Relations Specialist with Esri Canada. She manages media relations and writes news releases, customer success stories, articles for trade publications and content for the company’s various social media channels. Joy has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and has over 10 years’ experience in the technology industry.