Why Administrative Boundary Maps Are Going Digital

To make informed decisions it’s important to know exactly where you stand. That’s why the regional, municipal and electoral administrative boundaries of our province were recently digitally mapped and released as open data, bringing clarity and efficiency to land issues while also reducing dependence on physical mapping materials.

Administrative boundaries divide us and connect us. They determine things like who provides our emergency services, which elections we participate in, where we pay our taxes, who maintains our roads and more. Now publicly available in the BC Data Catalogue, the new digital maps of legal administrative boundaries can be easily shared, supporting the work of local governments and bringing clarity to issues involving lands.



The boundaries of 161 Municipalities, 157 Regional District Electoral Areas, 28 Regional Districts, Islands Trust and 13 Local Trust Areas are now easier to access and share than ever before.

To do this precision mapping work, GeoBC and the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (MCSCD) sourced data from the Letters Patent for each local government. The Letters Patent contain the definitions of administrative areas in B.C. called metes and bounds. Since the late 1800s, these written descriptions have set out the size and shape of administrative areas using elements like roadways, bodies of water, geographical features and legal lot descriptions to define boundaries.



The process of developing these digital maps helped identify anomalies, which are being individually reviewed in partnership with local governments. The collection of maps is now going through the process of becoming the legally accepted version of administrative boundaries and until that work is done the metes and bounds descriptions will prevail where there is a discrepancy.

There’s also a green element to going digital. Users of the open data can share maps amongst partners without having to rely on printing and copying resources.

While the primary users of digital administrative boundary maps are local governments, there are also opportunities to use the open data by businesses, community groups and private individuals who rely on accurate mapping. We’d love to hear how you’re using it. Leave a comment and tell us your open data story.

As with all Open Government licensed, publicly accessible, geographic data – this data can be viewed via a variety of web mapping tools, accessed via web service APIs and downloaded in a variety of formats. See the following catalogue records for more information:


2 responses to “Why Administrative Boundary Maps Are Going Digital

  1. Paul

    For the technical, some technical info on how this works would be interesting. Metes and bounds had the advantage that one could print them in a book and have the Legislature pass them or Cabinet sign them. When the Legislature passes a bill referencing a digital boundary, how is the boundary referred to? How would a user know that the file they are using is identical to the file referenced in a bill? Will the bill include a format and a hash code? A list of lon/lats?

  2. Elizabeth

    Great question, Paul.

    Up until 2010, each local government administrative boundary was described in metes and bounds (a written description of the boundary). The digital data (or dataset) that has recently been released was created through the conversion of these written descriptions to a digital format. Each local government dataset is linked to the most recent Order in Council (with accompanying Letters Patent for the specific local government) that made an amendment to the administrative boundary for that local government. This means the dataset corresponds to the most recent boundary approval and no other.

    For each boundary amendment, a map is created from the existing dataset illustrating the area of change to the boundary. This map is attached to the amending Letters Patent which goes together with an issuing Order in Council. Once Cabinet approval is received, the map (and the dataset used to create the map) becomes the legal boundary for the local government.

    There is no change to this dataset until a further boundary amendment is requested by the local government and approved by Cabinet. Only Cabinet can provide approval for a change to a local government boundary. It is also important to note that boundary extension requests are not routinely received from local governments. In other words, while the Town of XYZ requested and received a boundary extension in 2016, it does not necessarily mean that they do this on an annual basis. It could be a number of years between boundary amendment requests. And during this time, the dataset for the boundary does not change. Hence the dataset will contain the identical data used to create the boundary on the map that is part of the Letters Patent and issuing Order.

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