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Gold Medal

2003 Recipient - Roger F. Tomlinson

A Geographic Visionary

Photo: Colin Rowe
ROGER TOMLINSON was a freshly minted geographer in his twenties when he came up with a concept that would revolutionize his field. It was the early 1960s, and he was working at an aerial surveying and mapping company in Ottawa, involved in a project to find a site for a pulp and paper mill in Kenya. The job required manual analysis of reams of maps at different scales, a time-consuming and expensive endeavour. After he was told twice to sharpen his pencil on cost estimates for the project, Tomlinson thought that if there were a way of entering maps into a computer, it might crunch the information more effectively and cheaply. Soon after, he began developing the world’s first geographic information system (GIS).

GIS is a computer system for integrating, analyzing and displaying data about Earth from maps, charts or related statistics. The technology is used all over the world for national defence, pollution monitoring, policing, school-bus routing and forestry management, among countless other applications. For his singular vision and achievement in the field of geography, Tomlinson has been awarded the RCGS Gold Medal.

The widespread use of GIS shows that "geography is becoming a vital component of just about every job you can think of," says Tomlinson, who likens the impact of GIS on geography to that of the microscope on biology. "We’ve got a tool that allows us to describe the world with much greater facility than we ever have before. And, by definition, that’s going to change what we understand about it."

— Monique Roy-Sole

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