Canada Land Inventory (CLI)

Canada land Inventory (CLI)

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The Canada Land Inventory (CLI)

building the baseline for integrated resource management for rural development.

By Jean Thie. Former Director and Director General of the Lands Directorate, Environment Canada responsible for the Canada land Inventory (CLI) and the Canada Geographic Information System-CGIS.

In 1963 the Federal Government in consultation with the Canada Council of Resource Ministers approved the undertaking of the Canada land Inventory (CLI). The CLI challenge was formidable:

 Link to the original printed CLI maps now available in JPG. files 


The Government of Canada developed the Canada Land Inventory (CLI) under the auspices of the Department of Regional and Economic Expansion (1963-1971) and the Department of the Environment - Lands Directorate (1971- 1994). The program was officially discontinued in 1994.

The process to transfer the data and intellectual property to the National Archives of Canada started in 1995. Since 1995 several Canadian federal departments have been instrumental in extracting the data from the old tapes to modern formats and media, including: National Archives of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Statistics Canada, and Natural Resources Canada.

Area covered by the CLI

Canada Land Inventory: The Federal Role and Impact

The rapid program implementation required significant innovation in federal provincial program cooperation, organization and horizontal program integration strategies to allow scaling  from national to provincial and regional perspectives.  The Federal government role (in addition to financing) focused on:

The Classification Methodology

For each of the four sectors - agriculture, forestry, recreation, and wildlife - there are seven classes used to rate land capability. Class 1 lands have the highest and Class 7 lands the lowest capability to support land use activities of each sector. Subclasses are used to identify specific limiting factors for each class.
Land areas with uniform characteristics were mapped using aerial photography and existing information. Capability ratings were then based on field checking and interpretation of all information known or inferred about an area. If a unit is relatively homogeneous, only one class and its subclasses are noted. If, due to limitations of map scale, two or more distinct areas are encompassed by the map unit, then a compound notation is used.
For example, a symbol describing a map unit composed of two capability classes might be:

CLI capability rating class and subclass

This symbol describes a map unit made up of 60 percent Class 1 land with no limitations and 40 percent Class 3 land with limitations due to factors E (erosion) and T (topography). Users of CLI must be aware of various assumptions underlying this rating system. The CLI classification is independent of location,accessibility, ownership, distance from cities or roads, and present use of the land, but it does assume good management. Individual sector rating systems are described in greater detail in a series of methodology reports available as PDF files on this site.

The CLI Map Production

The CLI resulted in over 15,000 map sheets at scales varying from 1: 50,000 to 1: 1 million.

Sample of a Printed Canada Land Inventory 1:250'000 scale Map

sample canada land inventory map for agriculture at the 1 to 250000 scale

Visualizing Canada Land Inventory Capability Maps on Google Earth

Overlaying the CLI maps on Google Earth provides an effective way to correlate land capability with the visual landscape. It reinforces the participation of all stakeholders in the regional resource planning and management process. More...

Sample of an overlay of the CLI Agriculture Map on Google Earth for the Toronto - Hamilton - St. Catharine Area.

This map overlay shows a striking example of the large amount of Class 1 Canada's best) around Toronto. The Last few decades have seen a striking amount of high capability land loss for agriculture, wildlife, and wetlands as result of unbridled urbanization.

CLI high capability agriculture around Toronto overlay on Google Earth

The Canada Land Use Monitoring Program (CLUMP)

Measuring land use change to inform land resource planning, management and policy development

The Canada land Use Monitoring Program was started in 1978 to systematically monitor Land use change in Canada following the completion of the the Canada Land Inventory (CLI). The CLI, in addition to land capability for agriculture, forestry, wildlife (waterfowl and ungulates) and recreation, mapped 'present' land use between 1966 and 1976. The CLUMP program, part of the Lands Directorate of Environment Canada, continued this mapping on a 5 year cycle until 1988.


  1. Canada Land Inventory. 1970. Objectives, Scope and Organization. Department of Regional Economic Expansion. Ottawa. Report No.1

  2. Coombs, D.B., and J. Thie. 1979. “The Canada Land Inventory System.” Pp. 909-933 in Planning the Uses and Management of Land. ASA, CSSA, Soil Science Society of America.

  3. Thie, J. 2010. Issue-Driven Integrated Landscape Management and Innovation in Canada. In: "Sustainable Places" , the 10th anniversary edition of Policy Research Initiative - Horizons, Volume 10, Number 4, pp 16-25, Government Of Canada Policy Research Initiative.

  4. Canada, CLI (Canada Land Inventory). 1976. Land Capability for Agriculture. Report No. 10.

  5. Lacate, D.S., Chair Subcommittee on Biophysical Land Classification (comp.). 1969. Guideline for Bio-Physical Land Classification. National Committee on Forest Land, Canadian Forest Service, Publication No. 1264, Ottawa.

  6. Rees, W.E. 1977. The Canada Land Inventory in Perspective. Canada Land Inventory Report No. 12. Ottawa: Lands Directorate, Fisheries and Environment Canada.

  7. Thie, J., W.A. Switzer, and N. Chartrand. 1982. The Canada Land Data System (Canada Geographic Information System) and Its Application to Landscape Planning and Resource Management.

  8. Tomlinson, R.F. 1967. An Introduction to the Geo-Information System of the Canada Land Inventory. ARDA, Canada Department of Forestry and Rural Development.