Roger Tomlinson

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Roger Tomlinson

Roger Frank Tomlinson

(1933-11-17)17 November 1933
Cambridge, England
Died7 February 2014(2014-02-07) (aged 80)
  • British
  • Canadian
Alma materUniversity of Nottingham, Acadia University, McGill University, University College London
AwardsUCGIS Fellow,[1] Order of Canada, Alexander Graham Bell Medal of the National Geographic Society, Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Murchison Award of the Royal Geographical Society , honorary Doctorate of Science University of Nottingham, honorary Doctorate of Science Acadia University, honorary Doctorate of Science McGill University, honorary Member of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors, honorary Doctorate of Science University of Lethbridge, URISA GIS Hall of Fame

Roger Frank Tomlinson OC FRCGS (17 November 1933 – 7 February 2014)[2] was an English-Canadian geographer and the primary originator of modern geographic information systems (GIS), and has been acknowledged as the "father of GIS."[3]


Roger Tomlinson was a native of Newmarket, England, and prior to attending university, he served in the Royal Air Force from 1951–1954 as a pilot and flying officer.

After his military service, Dr. Tomlinson attended the University of Nottingham and Acadia University for two separate undergraduate degrees in geography and geology, respectively. He received a master's degree in geography from McGill University where he specialised in the glacial geomorphology of Labrador. His Doctoral thesis at University College London was titled: The application of electronic computing methods and techniques to the storage, compilation, and assessment of mapped data.

Dr. Tomlinson's early career included serving as an assistant professor at Acadia, working as the manager of the computer mapping division at Spartan Air Services in Ottawa, Ontario (following his studies at McGill), and work with the Government of Canada first as a consultant and later as a director of regional planning systems with the Department of Forestry and Rural Development.

It was during his tenure in the 1960s with Ottawa-based aerial survey company Spartan Air Services that Dr. Tomlinson conceptualized combining land use mapping with emerging computer technology. This pioneering work led him to initiate, plan and direct the development of the Canada Geographic Information System, the first computerised GIS in the world.

From the 1970s until his death, Dr. Tomlinson worked in geographic consulting and research for a variety of private sector, government, and non-profit organisations, largely through his Ottawa-based company, Tomlinson Associates Ltd., which has branches of consulting geographers in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

He was Chairman of the International Geographical Union GIS Commission for 12 years. He pioneered the concepts of worldwide geographical data availability as Chairman of the IGU Global Database Planning Project in 1988. He was also a president of the Canadian Association of Geographers.

Awards and honours[edit]

He was recipient of Canadian Association of Geographers rare award for Service to the Profession. The Association of American Geographers in the United States awarded him the James R. Anderson Medal of Honor for Applied Geography in 1995 and he was the first recipient of the Robert T. Aangeenbrug Distinguished Career Award in 2005.

Dr. Tomlinson was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and winner of their Murchison Award for the Development of Geographic Information Systems. In 1996 he was awarded the GIS World Lifetime Achievement Award for a lifetime of work with GIS, and he was the first recipient of the ESRI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. In 2004, in recognition of his numerous achievements in the industry, the GIS Certification Institute awarded Dr. Tomlinson the GISP Certificate for Lifetime GIS Achievement and he was inducted into URISA's GIS Hall of Fame Archived 22 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine[4] and awarded lifetime membership. In 2010 Tomlinson received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal of the National Geographic Society (together with Jack Dangermond).[5] In 2011, he was presented with an Honorary Membership in the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors. Tomlinson also received the Geospatial Information & Technology Association Lifetime Achievement Award.[6] In 2013, Tomlinson was awarded a Fellow of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science.[7]

More recently, he was made a fellow of University College London and received honorary Doctorates of Science from the University of Nottingham, Acadia University, McGill University, and the University of Lethbridge. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and was awarded the Order of Canada by the Governor General for "changing the face of geography as a discipline." In 2013, he was promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor General.[8]


  1. ^ "Roger Tomlinson | UCGIS". Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  2. ^ Roger Tomlinson, Geographer
  3. ^ Greiner, Lynn (17 December 2007). "Putting Canada on the map: Father of digitized mapping recounts how a stroke of luck led him to develop the world's first geographic information system". The Globe and Mail.
  4. ^ David Sampson. "Roger Tomlinson". URISA. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
  5. ^ David Braun (13 July 2010). "Nat Geo awards Alexander Graham Bell Medals to GIS pioneers". National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 24 December 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  6. ^ "Roger Tomlinson Named Recipient of GITA's 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  7. ^ "Roger Tomlinson | UCGIS". Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  8. ^ "The Governor General of Canada".

External links[edit]