Graphic Monday: Mapping same-sex couples

by Patrick Cain

My colleague Leslie Young for most of January has been putting out our #graphicmonday feature, which is a way of getting value out of a mass of material we have around that’s interesting, but doesn’t fit a conventional story format. (Although it has turned out that some of them did become stories, on second thought.)

Today’s, the first I’ve done, uses data from the 2006 census to map same-sex couples across Canada.. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are mapped specifically, but the underlying map shows any Canadian community from the large town size up.

The 2006 data is the most recent available. In 2011, Statistics Canada asked a question designed to count same-sex households, but the question was poorly designed and didn’t distinguish clearly between same-sex couples and two people of the same sex sharing accomodation. At the last minute (actually the morning of the census release), StatsCan decided not to release the data. My efforts to pry it loose with an access-to-information request were unsuccessful, in the end.

The main surprise in the data was a sharp difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada: gay and lesbian couples segregate much more from each other in Montreal, Hull and Quebec City than in cities elsewhere in the country.

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Open data and the news

By Leslie Young

It’s generally accepted among journalists that in Canada, it’s very hard to get an interesting news story out of the data that governments make available for download on their various “Open Data” sites.

Quite simply, it’s usually very dry material.

Locations of public drinking fountains and city trees might be nice for app developers, but rarely makes for a story that has any impact or tell us something we’d like to know.

So it’s always refreshing to see a fun data set on an open data government site. I recently came across sales data for B.C. Liquor Stores on the Data BC site. Even better, it was broken down by region and drink type. Immediately, I thought that this would make a fun map that people might like to play with.

I downloaded the data set and went looking for population data and geography.

Luckily, this was B.C., so the excellent B.C. Stats site became my source. In my experience, B.C. has in this website the best and easiest-to-navigate source for basic demographic and geographic data in the country. It is much, much easier to find regional populations and boundary shapefiles for B.C. than for Ontario, for example.

On the B.C. Stats site, I was able to find population estimates for those aged 19 and up (I’m assuming everyone’s obeying the law here) as well as the geography files. So I put together a map showing average litres of alcohol purchased per person. Fun!

This is the second map I’ve done using B.C.’s open data. (The first is here.) I really hope other governments take note of the work Data BC is doing, and that Data BC continues to add interesting datasets to its collection.

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Graphic Monday: Canadian arms exports

By Leslie Young

This week’s Graphic Monday feature is an interactive look at some of Canada’s arms exports.

I was surprised to see how many Canadian guns went to Denmark, of all places. Much less surprising is that the U.S. is the biggest recipient of Canadian weapons (at least the ones selected).

This piece uses Statistics Canada data, generously provided and formatted for me by the agency. I tend to have very good experiences with them, as they generally send me a very tailored report based on my usually pretty general question.

This week’s question was, “Where do Canadian guns go?” It was inspired by this CP story about how Canadian merchants can now apply to sell fully-automatic rifles to Columbia. 

Click the image below to see our graphic.


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Graphic Monday: Bankruptcy maps

By: Leslie Young

In today’s Graphic Monday, we take a look at bankruptcy data from across Canada. It seems that the Prairies have a much lower rate of bankruptcy than other parts of Canada, which is interesting. 

I would have liked to have it all in one big, nationwide map, but unfortunately Canada is a little too wide from east to west for our website and Fusion Tables to easily accommodate. According to some conversations I’ve had on Twitter, this is a common problem for those who do mapping online.

Click the image below to see the feature on

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Graphic Monday

By Leslie Young

We’ve decided to start a new weekly feature on : Graphic Mondays.

Every Monday, we will add a new graphic or interactive map (or something we haven’t even thought of yet!) on a different topic.

There’s lots of data out there, and not all of it makes it into a full news investigation. But it’s interesting stuff, and we think this is a great way to make use of some of the bits of information that come across our desks. 

This week, we’re taking a close look at Order of Canada appointees and where they’re from. Look forward to lots more fun features to come!

Click below to visit the feature on


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How we built the Gardiner map

By Leslie Young

(crossposted from

Building our interactive map of the Gardiner Expressway was a long process.

It started with an idea, of course. After hearing so many reports of concrete falling from the Gardiner during the summer of 2012, I wondered if maybe there was something we weren’t hearing. Was there more concrete falling than we knew about? Were there other problems?

This sort of thing tends to be well-documented by cities, so Freedom of Information seemed like the answer.

I made two Freedom of Information requests to the City of Toronto, one for all emails and communications products dealing with falling concrete on the Gardiner, and the other for all engineering and inspection reports.

When I got the information, it was a little more than 2000 pages long. So, I of course had to read it. It was at this stage that words like “punch-through” really jumped out at me.

The feeling was that if we were going to release a story like this online, it would be a shame not to visualize it. The obvious choice for a visualization seemed to be a map, since people were going to want to know where the problems were.

So we wanted to make a map.

The first step was to catalogue each event. This involved deciding on our criteria (loose concrete that presented some kind of risk. Either it had a high chance of falling, or it was above a high traffic area). I took my cues on the criteria from the documents themselves. Many of them are specifically categorized in this way.

This involved putting every document we had into Document Cloud, a tool for sharing and annotating documents, for easy categorization.

So, I read through every report that fit those criteria, looking for any mention of a location. I then entered those details into a spreadsheet and created a Document Cloud reference for every incident.

Almost all of the locations were referred to by “bent number” instead of an intersection. This meant that you would see a reference to “Bent 23-25” for example. So, changing this into a useable latitude/longitude coordinate for mapping purposes required some extra work.

We purchased a technical drawing of the Gardiner that listed bent locations from the City of Toronto. Then I went through each incident, first placing it on a bent, then manually assigning coordinates.

Once the spreadsheet was ready to go, it was loaded into a Google Fusion Table. Global News’ newest web developer, Kate Grzegorczyk, built the interface in Javascript, drawing upon the Fusion Table data to create an interactive in-depth experience.

Since we published the story, the Gardiner has been a hot topic at city hall, with city officials responding with press conferences and councillors debating the merits of different plans for the Gardiner. The problems we raised were news to both the public and to councillors, so the debate might have been very different without it.  

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Flood risk in the GTA

Hurricane Sandy motivated us to move a project that’s been lurking around for over a year to the front burner: mapping areas that would be at risk of flooding in a similar extreme storm in the GTA. The most obvious starting point is Hurricane Hazel, still Canada’s most lethal natural disaster and the basis of Ontario flood planning ever since. Our story/map package looked at the 42 areas thought to be at risk of destructive flooding in a similar extreme storm.

One typical problem area is the historic village cores of now-suburban, once-agricultural towns in the 905. Many were built around mills, which of course needed access to river water. The resulting communities, however picturesque, would never have been built today where they are.

Here’s how it played out on Twitter.

A good example of the problem is downtown Brampton, focus of Mark McAllister’s story for TV last night (this was our other digital-to-TV story).

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