Military Geomatics
Mar 15, 2008

“Ostendamus Viam” (We Show the Way) – the motto of Mapping and Charting Establishment (MCE) is as appropriate for the current military tempo as it was when first approved during the Second World War. Combining this with the parent Canadian Military Engineers branch honour “Ubique” (Everywhere), it becomes clear that these simple Latin words more than adequately describe the diversity and change facing Canada’s military geomatics technicians since it was formed a decade ago.

The combined 142 Geomatics Techni­cian Occupation, created in 1997, merged the Topographic Surveyor and Map Repro­duction trades. This merger provided the CF with a highly skilled mapper able to manipulate state-of-the-art Geomatics Informa­tion Systems (GIS) to provide Terrain Analysis and Visualiza­tion, Data Access and Management, Operational Repro­graphics, Map Supply and Distribution, Geodetic Field Survey and Command Advice and Liaison.

Such diverse skills are not unique to today’s mappers, Canada’s military cartography can trace its roots back to 1903 when a fledgling Mapping Branch was formed in Ottawa. During the Great War, 177 Canadian military Mappers served under the tutelage of the Royal Engineers, but wearing the Canadian Engineers cap badge, employing sound ranging and flash spotting equipment and helping pioneer the use of aerial imagery to update trench maps. By November 1918, Canada’s mappers had accurately located 93% of all German artillery batteries facing the Canadian Corps, and used wireless communications to transmit flash spotting information. Map production during WWI resulted in 6,000 square miles being surveyed, printed and published, with an average daily distribution of 5,000 maps.

Mapping gave commanders a complete up-to-date topographic picture of the ground on which they were fighting.

During the Great War, trench maps could be continuously updated by using the aerial imagery that was being collected by the Royal Flying Corps. By 1917, updated topographic maps could be issued to section commanders – not just battalion and company commanders, as had been normal practice. Dissemination of topographic information to the lowest levels of command was a key element to Canadian Corps victories during 1917-18.

The work of Canadian Geographers was considered so important that a separate mapping section was incorporated into 16th Field Company, Canadian Engineers. The 16th Field Company was part of the Canadian Siberian Expediti­onary Force (CSEF) that served in Vladivostoc, Russia, from October 1918 until June 1919.

The Second World War saw a huge expansion of survey and mapping, with over 700 Mappers seeing active service overseas in three Royal Canadian Engineer survey companies (Air, Survey and Topographic) plus a Map Depot, Survey Training Depot and a highly specialized Air Survey Section. These survey companies pioneered rapid mapping, mensuration of aerial imagery and continued the tradition of topographic survey.

Throughout the winter of 1944, using oblique aerial photography in stereo, 1 Canadian Field (Air) Survey Company calculated required bank heights of the Rhine River in preparation for the upcoming Allied offensive across the Rhine River to strike into Germany. This allowed senior commanders and planners to assess the types of landing and assault craft required to cross this major river obstacle. As the date of the crossing neared, map printing increased reaching 3,000,000.

By May 1945, over 8 million maps were issued to the 1st Canadian Army – a total of 14 million maps were ­handled by Canadian military mappers during WWII.

Sgt Phil Lefebvre operating ATF Chief single colour press.

The immediate post-war period saw the establishment of a permanent full-time military mapping unit consisting of surveyors and cartographers based in Ottawa, which in October 1946 was named the Army Survey Establishment (ASE). The focus of this period, until 1967, was the National Mapping Program. This entailed accurate topographic mapping of all of Canada (1:250,000 scale), a task that ASE shared with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EM&R). As a result, no Canadian mappers were deployed to the Korean War, but saw yearly survey expeditions to the Canadian Arctic with new map sheets being produced back in Ottawa. Major changes during this time saw the introduction of helicopters to replace the packhorses and towed sledges to move survey teams in the field, new distance measuring devices and photo reproduction and lithographic machinery. The ‘look’ of maps also changed at this time with metric scales, different grids and conventional signs being adopted to reflect NATO standards.

Demonstrating the mappers’ ability to get the job done, the National Mapping Program was finished on time and under budget in 1967, with ASE completing approximately 40% of the maps and 75% of the Arctic and sub-Arctic surveying. In 1960, EM&R and ASE moved into their new purpose-built home at the corner of Booth Street and Carling Avenue in Ottawa, the location they still occupy today, 48 years later. October 1966 saw a name change from ASE to the now-familiar Mapping and Charting Establish­ment or MCE, a name that reflects the unit’s support to all three elements of the Canadian Forces.

The 1970s and 1980s saw MCE settle into the task of continued Arctic surveys, updating existing Canadian map sheets, practicing rapid mapping for National Survival/Aid to the Civil Power, as well as introducing newer map products such as pictomaps, Military City Maps, black maps for night operations, and Joint Operations Graphic (JOG) aeronautical maps to support CF operations. All of these maps were designed to support CF operations which, for the most part, were NATO commitments to Europe.

Always at the forefront of technology, newer survey techniques and equipment such as Inertial Survey Systems and Global Positioning Systems were adopted that employed the latest in computer and satellite technology.

In addition to attending CF college and staff exercises, where young Officers were introduced to the field capabilities of MCE, a Field Print capability also supported the Army by participating on many Division and Brigade level exercises such as the RENDEZ-VOUS Exercise Series.

The mid-1980s saw MCE take on a new direction. Primarily a desk-bound support unit, emphasis now shifted from training and unit outlook to that of a field deployable asset. In ­addition to surveys and mapping, the new focus included field training and, more importantly, the ability to provide value added input ­concerning terrain to the ­battle procedure.

Societal changes were also reflected at MCE during this time with the introduction of women into both the Cartographic Survey and Map Reproduction Trades.

Prior to 1993, MCE had scant experience sending personnel on UN missions – with only a handful mappers seeing service as surveyors in the Gaza Strip, the Congo and the Golan Heights.

This changed dramatically  after 1993, as MCE began sending Geomatic Support Teams (GSTs) overseas to The Former Yugoslavia with both the UN and later NATO. GSTs have served with the UN in Haiti, Mozambique, and Ethiopia and Eritrea. In recent years, mappers have also seen service with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai and the African Union in Ethiopia. Since early 2002, MCE GSTs have been actively supporting Canadian and NATO coalition operations in Afghanistan.

At home, MCE has continued several mapping programs but has also sent GSTs to assist during national emergencies. During the Red River Flooding (Winnipeg 1997), MCE maps incorporated the latest satellite imagery overlaid on topographic maps  so that changes in the flood area’s dynamics could be easily traced, and ground resources dispatched to the areas most in need. For the Ice Storm (Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec 1998), special topographic maps allowed recovery crews to plan their road moves within the region. MCE also loaned out its field generators and heating units to several needy farming operations in the Ottawa area. For the flooding along Fraser River (2007), MCE used valley profile information, water flow information and elevation data in order to accurately map areas of potential inundation. This gave civil authorities a baseline in which to plan for evacuation.
1998 – Sgt Sweeting checks ink densities on the MCE 50 inch press.

These three domestic operations demonstrated the ability of Canadian Military Mappers to work with several levels of government, service industry and security agencies and employ their digital data in order to produce maps that met the needs of diverse customers.

Whether it is running a map depot, surveying international boundary lines, flying and processing high resolution imagery or inserting the latest intelligence information onto a map, all of these tasks have allowed Canada’s military mappers to hone their geomatics skills in diverse environments and to produce mission specific products.

Perhaps today more then ever it is the MCE motto “Ostendamus Viam” (We Show the Way) and the CME motto, “Ubique” (Everywhere), that truly encompass the way in which MCE provides Geomatics support to the CF.

WO Storey has served in the CF since 1978 joining MCE as a Reproduction Technician in 1982. He was the first MCE NCM deployed in The Former Yugoslavia in 1993. His overseas experience also includes tours to Central Africa, Central America and a return visit to Bosnia. WO Storey is currently the MCE GI&S Sqn 6 Tp WO and the Unit Archivist.
© Frontline Defence 2008