Civil Engineering Trip – Cadets Get the Real Deal

3rd year Civil Engineering trip to the Mapping and Charting Establishment in Ottawa:


Written by: 25362 Jim Sarsons

The Civil Engineering Class of 2012 had a refreshing and informative change to the regular schedule of Survey Camp. After conducting several geomatic exercises last week in the cold and rain on the grounds around RMC, the group headed to the nation’s capital for a day to see the real deal of Geomatics in Canada at the Mapping and Charting Establishment of Canada (MCE).

John Healey speaking to the group (OCdt Morris, Cressman and Hood in foreground)

We arrived at MCE at around 1000hr where we met with our host for the day, Captain George. The tour then hit the ground running with a brief from the Commanding Officer LCol Cairns, which outlined MCE’s organizational structure and capabilities, as well as what we would be seeing from the four squadrons of MCE that day. Moving quickly, the group split into two and were toured first-hand through the tasks and technologies of 1 squadron and 2 squadron.

Satellite Image of Quebec City

1 squadron, or the Geospatial squadron, was introduced to us by MCE staff as a high pace, high tech team. This crew is essentially a Quick response team for the CF whose job it is to gather, update and create the map products needed immediately by the decision-makers in any of the CF’s operational theatres. The squadron does this by deploying small teams (4 or less) of Geomatic technicians into the operational theatre, who then create any and all of the specific map products that the operation. When needed, this group acquires this information using state-of-the-art surveying and photogrammetric equipment (some of which RMC OCdts have already had a chance to work with in Survey Camp). With teams at a 48-hour stand-by ready for deployment – we could see the packed rucksacks sitting beside the door – this was an impressive crew.

Map of CFB Wainwright

2 Squadron were the GI & S team who handle the master database of geo-spatial information for the Government of Canada. The amount of information that is electronically stored by this group is absolutely mind-boggling. The external hard-drives that they use contain 1 petabyte (1 000 000 gigabytes) of information. This world-wide data is constantly being updated and organized so that the users can easily access whatever they need. One of the databases that this squadron manages is the combat training system used at the Wainwright Combat School. This database records the positions,  movements and actions of all soldiers in the training area through the use of GPS and motion sensors which are embedded in what was described as super advanced laser-tag gear. Situations are then reviewed and decisions are dissected, allowing officers and soldiers to be coached on what went right or wrong – very cool stuff.

OCdts Bouwman (right) and OCdt Hood (left) examing a map

The 3rd squadron was the Digital Production (DP) squadron.  This group handles the main workload of creating the finished products of MCE, which are then supplied to various departments of the Canadian Government.  They do this using a massive printer that produces 8500 maps/hour on average! Another cool part of the DP squadron was the virtual reality systems that they were developing.  We got to see one project that has recently been developed which uploads various geo-spatially accurate virtual landscapes that can be uploaded into a simulator software. This then allows hundreds of soldiers to conduct realistic training exercises in a video game type setting in Canadian Forces Bases like Gagetown – without ever stepping foot in a swamp.

Virtual Reality simulator

The 4th Squadron was the School of Military Mapping, led by the Commandant Maj. Primeau. The briefing detailed all of the exciting opportunities that arise when specializing in Geomatics as a CME officer. Of particular interest to many of us cadets were the Masters programs in the United Kingdom and at UNB which are available through MCE. Maj. Primeau’s personal experiences about switching between geomatics and troop commander positions helped to open up our eyes on how much more CME officers can be exposed to outside of the field troop commander career path.

OCdt Robb inspecting a map.

As an overall experience, the trip to MCE was a terrific introduction into the possibilities that geomatics offers for us as junior officers in the CME branch; however, it was also a demonstration of the incredible capabilities that the CF has access to through MCE. The Civil Engineering Class of 2012 would like to extend their sincere thanks to all of the staff at MCE for taking time out of their days to give us a glimpse into our potential futures working in an incredible and exciting profession. A special thank you goes to the members of MCE, especially Captain George for hosting us for the day, and of course to our own Captain Arndt and Major Vlachopoulos for organizing this enlightening trip.