» The Living Atlas Ecotrust Canada
A web-based mapping tool is showing Clayoquot residents how climate change may affect them, which areas were logged in the past 40 years, and how wildlife populations have changed over time. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

An interactive thematic atlas focused on the changing geography of a place over time, the Living Atlas is an online mapping tool which allows users to view spatial data and multimedia information related to a community or region without the high cost of commercial software or training.

Living Atlas aims to help communities understand, for instance, how climate change may affect them; how land use changes have impacted the environment; which areas have been logged in the past 40 years; or how human/wildlife interactions have changed. Developed by Ecotrust Canada’s Knowledge Systems & Planning (KS&P) team, in partnership with the Central Region Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Living Atlas was successfully deployed in 2010. It has since been customized for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in Clayoquot Sound (livingatlas.org) and for the Okanagan Nation Alliance (voicesontheland.org).


The goal is to bring together information, projects and ideas from a region in a single location, and provide a means to view this information over time (using a simple time scale slide). Acting as a data repository for information, it allows decision makers and the public to interact with information on different scales, addressing the need to have some information accessible at the watershed level, and some at the localized level. More than this, the Living Atlas supports an appreciation and understanding of the concept ‘everything is one and all is interconnected’. This appreciation is achieved by tracking specific knowledge themes over time through different voices and information types.

How it works

Knowledge is power. How we use that knowledge, however, is key: effective decision-making requires the ability to manage vast amounts of information and data. The Living Atlas gives users this ability.

A technically advanced yet user-friendly web-based mapping tool, the Living Atlas allows people to easily access, and understand, complex data from a variety of government, academic and community sources. This makes it ideal for both educational and community planning use. Features include:

  • A ‘time slider’ tool, displaying data chronology. This gives users a view of changes to a region over time – they can even look into the future to see projected changes, such as temperature and rainfall;
  • Data grouped by theme;
  • Multimedia content – a place to store and share cultural data, such as photos, videos, stories, traditional place names and historical documents.

The technology

All components are built with open source software to ensure low development and implementation costs. Open source software is computer software that is available in source code form for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change and improve the software. Open source software used in the Living Atlas includes:

  • Django Web Development Framework
  • OpenLayers – a Javascript library for displaying map data in web browsers
  • Postgres/PostGIS relational database
  • MapServer – Spatial data visualization
  • jQuery

Future projects

We are working to upgrade and enhance the existing system to make further use of Living Atlas:

  • First Nations Technology Council (FNTC) The FNTC has commissioned Ecotrust Canada to enhance Living Atlas to meet requirements for future installation in more First Nations communities. This as part of the effort  to improve decision-support and innovative land use planning tools.
  • First Nations Health Atlas In partnership with the FNTC, work has begun on the creation of the Online First Nations Health Atlas, to be used by all 203 First Nation bands in BC and a wide range of health practitioners and analysts. This project comes at a time when First Nations are taking control of health data and services.


Current partners include: Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations; Okanagan Nation Alliance; as well as other First Nations, communities, municipalities and schools.


The Living Atlas was co-funded by Geoconnections Canada, Ecotrust Canada, The Clayoquot Central Region Board, RBC Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and an anonymous foundation. Graphic design was done by Skipp Design.