Blazing the Trail for Advanced Cadastral Mapping

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Alberta, Canada has a long history of providing reliable, accurate and high-quality digital mapping data that has been achieved through the province’s commitment to an advanced cadastral mapping system. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the system has flourished, leading to the creation of many new datasets and products that promote the efficient delivery of government services.

Alberta’s forward-thinking approach to cadastral mapping was born out of the same challenges that are faced by many provinces across the country–the survey information fabric used to be manually updated and stored in antiquated filing systems–often in paper or hard copy. Land titles could sometimes be inconsistent with parcel mapping and the process of updating data lacked efficiency; updates to the map representations and base datasets could often take anywhere from 3 to 8 months from the time changes were submitted.

These inconsistencies led to high costs and did not provide a solid basis for strategic planning. As a result, the province recognized a clear need for a spatially-referenced cadastral fabric that could be updated and managed through streamlined, automated processes.

Building a Robust, Spatially-Referenced Cadastral Fabric
The Government of Alberta established an independent and entrepreneurial entity to manage the provincial mapping data. Spatial Data Warehouse (SDW) is a not-for-profit corporation that’s the first of its kind in Canada; its core purpose is to maintain and promote the broadest possible distribution of provincial digital mapping to meet the immediate needs of the Alberta marketplace, while preserving the mapping system over the long term. SDW works to reduce redundant data collection and maintenance, promote regulatory requirements and develop products and services that support a digital mapping infrastructure.

Serving as the operating agent for SDW is AltaLIS–a joint venture comprised of three Alberta-based consulting companies– Martin Newby Consulting Ltd., North West Geomatics Ltd. and The Silvacom Group. Responsible for the day-to-day activities related to Alberta’s base mapping infrastructure, the organization reengineers and updates provincial base, terrain and property data. It has also developed a number of customized, online surveying tools that help surveyors improve the quality of the plans of survey that are submitted to the Land Titles office.

With an aim to make Alberta’s base mapping infrastructure more available, accurate and affordable, AltaLIS has succeeded in transforming the province’s mapping program into a low-cost, selfsustaining initiative, helping to save the province millions of dollars annually. Through their work, spatial information has become centrally stored, efficiently managed and readily available in both CAD and GIS formats, to better support users.

Streamlining Plan Integration
As a truly progressive province, the Land Titles system in Alberta has been automated since 1988 when the Alberta Land Titles Automation (ALTA) system was first implemented. In 1999, the Plan registration system was also converted to a totally electronic system, including electronic submission, examination, registration, storage and dissemination of over 250,000 survey plans in the province. To create an even more efficient process, in 2010, the Government of Alberta introduced a new requirement for the submission of digital CAD files to be georeferenced to ensure positional accuracy.

"Reduced resources at the Land Titles office coupled with this new requirement drove the development of a Web-based plan checking system that’s the first of its kind in Canada," explains William Martin, ALS CLS President, Martin Newby Consulting Ltd. "The Survey Plan Online Checker reduces human intervention and provides an automated process for ensuring the quality and accuracy of survey plan CAD files."

The Survey Plan Online Checker (SPOC) is a custom geo-processing service that imports CAD files and performs various business rule checks to validate content and formatting. Developed as a Rich Internet Application, it leverages GIS technology to provide users with spatial analysis, data management and mapping functionality. Esri’s ArcGIS for Server technology serves as SPOC’s map engine and provides the integrated map view, while an Oracle SDE Enterprise Geodatabase houses supporting features.

Using this tool, surveyors can submit their CAD files through a Web-based interface; the content is automatically checked to ensure that the file conforms to the required layer and element structures. A spatial overlay module ensures the CAD file is spatially geo-referenced in accordance with provincial legislation. The dimension checker module identifies closure errors prior to registration. The user is also able to view their plan relative to the complete and current cadastral fabric for Alberta. This visual map component enables the user to readily identify plan anomalies or conflicts prior to submission to Alberta Land Title Registries, which can save the surveyors and their clients thousands of dollars.

Once a plan is submitted and registered at Alberta Land Titles, it is integrated into the cadastral fabric in near real time and can then be accessed online using the Alberta Registries Spatial Information System (SPIN 2), which allows for the province-wide search, view and download of registered plans of survey.

Automating Quality Assurance
The integration of SPOC has effectively moved the quality assurance process for digital CAD files closer to the source– the Surveyors. This in turn saves time at the Land Titles Office and improves the quality of registration documents. The cadastral system developed by SDW/AltaLIS has essentially become the most advanced system of its kind in the country, with a unique ability to continuously improve its quality and accuracy as new plans are added. As a result, operational data maintenance and management costs are significantly reduced, and there is a much faster turnaround for cadastral fabric updates. SPOC was released to the user community in the spring of 2010 and all surveyors submitting plans to Alberta Land Titles are utilizing the service to validate and improve the quality of their survey plan file submissions.

Esri Canada ( provides enterprise GIS solutions that empower organizations to make timely, informed decisions by leveraging geography. The company serves over 10,000 customers across Canada.

An Esri Canada business partner, Martin Newby Consulting Ltd. ( is a Geomatics Engineering firm specializing in Spatial Data Management, Cadastral and Parcel Digital Mapping, GIS, and Data Conversion. The company focuses on providing clients with practical and innovative data collection, mapping and GIS solutions.

A 454Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE