Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016
Cartographic boundary files (CBFs)

Release date: November 16, 2016


Cartographic boundary files (CBFs) portray the boundaries of standard geographic areas together with the shoreline around Canada. Selected inland lakes and rivers are available as supplementary layers.

Reported in

2016, 2011, 2006, 2001 (cartographic boundary files)
1996 (digital cartographic files)
1991, 1986, 1981, 1976 (CARTLIBs)


The boundaries of the geographic areas reflect those in effect on January 1, 2016 (the geographic reference date for the 2016 Census of Canada).

Cartographic boundary files are created by integrating Canada's external shoreline with the selected source boundary layer from the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI). The boundaries extending into water bodies are 'erased' and replaced by the shoreline and offshore islands. The hydrographic features are also from the SDI. Further adjustments are made, such as the feature selection and the ranking of features for scale-dependent mapping.

Cartographic boundary files (CBFs) are intended for thematic mapping and analysis purposes. The positional accuracy does not support cadastral, surveying or engineering applications. CBFs can be used in conjunction with road network files (RNFs), since both products are derived from the same sources, and features are generalized in the same manner. The roads in RNFs provide additional geographic context when used with CBFs. CBFs can be used with Census of Population, Census of Agriculture or other Statistics Canada data. Geographic codes provide the linkage between the statistical data and geographic areas.

The maps in Figure 1.4 below show the differences between cartographic boundary files and digital boundary files.

Figure 1.4
Example of a cartographic boundary file and a digital boundary file (provinces and territories)

Figure 1.4 Example of a cartographic boundary file and a digital boundary file (provinces and territories)

Description for Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 shows two representations of Canada's provincial and territorial boundaries. The map on the left shows an illustration of Canada as it appears in a cartographic boundary file. It is a detailed representation of Canada's land masses (including islands) and shorelines. Internal bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers, are also shown.

The map on the right shows a map of Canada as it appears in a digital boundary file. It is a generalized illustration of Canada's boundaries. Each province and territory is represented by a single polygon, thus the boundaries extend into bodies of water, rather than follow the shoreline. As a result, boundaries may cut through lakes, extend into oceans, or follow the approximate centres of rivers.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population.

Refer to the related definitions of digital boundary files (DBFs); road network file (RNF); Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) and to the Boundary Files, Reference Guide (Catalogue no. 92-160-G).

Changes prior to the current census

Not applicable

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