How Nanaimo Became Best Known Google Earth Town

Those of you who are astute readers of this blog (and other geo-spatial blogs) will probably already know that the small town of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada has been garnering the reputation of the best town to leverage Google Earth. Even Google has helped with this reputation when Google Earth Chief Technologist Michael Jones last year mentioned Nanaimo in a couple keynote presentations.
Nanaimo has set out to make the most out of GIS and mapping technologies. And, they’ve chosen Google Earth and Maps for many of their public-facing applications. One of the chief architects of the effort in Nanaimo is a GIS professional named Jason Birch who is a regular GEB reader, and has his own techie blog called Random Nodes. Nanaimo has some of the highest resolution imagery of any town inside GE. He recently appeared on national TV about the project. Now Nanaimo has received even bigger exposure through an article in Time Magazine called “How Google Earth Ate Our Town“. Which talks all about the project.
Nanaimo has some amazing content available for GE which includes maps, information on city parks, 3D visualization of the buildings, parcel information, and complete business listings. Recently Nanaimo announced (PDF) they have a new tool allowing citizens (and the world) to track real-time fire department incident reports on Google Maps (or you can save it to your My Maps and view it in Google Earth as well).
Visit the City of Nanaimo web site to find out even more about this very geo-progressive town. There are more maps and GIS information available there. All the news about these data and tools, combined with the beautiful summer-time aerial photography of Nanaimo, is sure to improve the tourism and possibly even increase the population of this very pretty town.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. While Jason’s enthusiasm and technical abilities are laudable, the critical distinction between Nanaimo and 95% of the public entities (state, province, county, city, etc.) in North America tasked with collecting and disseminating GIS data, is that the upper management not only had a vision of widely publishing their data in a variety of user-friendly formats, they also fully supported their creative and resourceful staff.
    Risk-averse senior managers’ fealty to their Proprietary Software Vendor have created a continent’s worth of crappy map portals and dispirited battalions of junior staff charged with keeping said portals on AJAX-free Web 1.0 life support.
    Brian Timoney

  2. demjan rozman says:

    what happened to Daily Planet,On Earth?
    the link is gone!

  3. Thanks for the write-up Frank. I’d have to say that Michael’s comments were the catalyst for this whole thing. There are other communities out there (e.g. Portland) that have done cool things with KML, but they haven’t managed to get the media’s attention.
    Brian is right that it is incredibly important to have a supportive management team and a corporate culture that allows for creative initiatives. However, it is just as important for staff to have vision and to push for adoption of their ideas. Those of us on the front lines need to act as evangelists within our organisations, building strong business cases for providing higher levels of service to the public.

  4. Jim Endicott says:

    I am not allowed to view it using Firefox???

  5. What Jason Birch and the technology team at Nanaimo City Hall have done is just great. It’s a real honour to have our city named the “Capital of Google Earth”. The biggest drawback seems to be that it takes several hours to learn how to use Earth Nanaimo, and it only works with MS Windows and Internet Explorer 6.0+. You must download and install a MapGuide plug-in and have to turn off your pop-up and ad blockers. I’m afraid the technical issues will frustrate the vast majority of Nanaimo citizens, but hopefully the navigation will become easier as time goes by. So hang in there Jason, and keep up the good work!

  6. I didn’t realize Nanaimo was so famous on Google earth, we will have to look at how to make best use of it on our site.
    Thanks for the info.

  7. Fantastic news, I loved the article in Time in the Spring. I also love the various details of past city events (like fire etc) that you can view…

  8. Hmm. I should have come back to this thread.
    Our Google Earth data is browser-agnostic (well, except that it requires decent KML reader like Google Earth), and can be found at
    Our main GIS web map is (and has been for 9 years – before my time) Internet Explorer only. At the time it made sense to push an internal application to the 96% IE public for limited incremental cost (support, software, hardware).
    We’ve been working on a replacement for this using MapGuide Open Source for quite some time, and it should be released in an initial public beta soon. Watch for more developments.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.