Nearly 300 attend GIS Day

Students and staff at Fort Frances High School, as well as the general public, had a chance to learn about Geographic Information Systems on Wednesday as six district organizations sponsored booths for the worldwide celebration of GIS Day.
“The purpose was to get people to know what GIS is and how it can be used,” Penny Hutton, a GIS analysts with Abitibi-Consolidated here, explained.
“We had a really good turnout,” she remarked, noting close to 300 people, mostly high school students and staff, attended the open house, which ran from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
“And we hope to do it again next year and would like to see even more people out,” Hutton added.
Other booths featured displays from Rainy River First Nations, the Town of Fort Frances, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Rainy River Future Development Corp., and the Rainy River District School Board.
“Most people are not aware that GIS is used in everyday business, such as with the MNR and town planning,” Hutton noted. “For instances, GIS could be used when locating a good area for new business.”
GIS, which is a collection of tools used to retrieve and display geographic information, also assists in crime investigation, forestry, and disaster response.
Students also had a chance to do some hands-on learning Wednesday at many of the displays, with computer programs to use, a stereoscope to try, and several demonstrations.
“It was really weird,” Grade 9 student Keifer Morneau said of the stereoscope. “I could see the hills and rocks almost like it was 3-D.”
Paul Jewiss, with Abitibi’s Forestry Division here, explained the stereoscope is used to see the heights and depths of the rocks and trees.
“It’s old technology when compared to all the computer-based GIS programs that are available now,” he remarked, pointing to the table-top device. “That’s what I used to use.”
The demonstrations set up in one of the school’s computer classrooms allowed people to view Fort Frances traffic incidents from 2004, visualize Mount St. Helens before and after its May, 1980 eruption, and examine the effects of the January, 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada.
In addition to all these activities, more than 50 students completed a GIS scavenger hunt, where they had to find answers to several questions.
“I think the scavenger hunt was a good way to get students to learn,” Hutton stressed. “It encouraged students to engaged in conversations with the [demonstrators].”
She indicated the attitude from students was mixed—some attended only as a class outing while others were really interested in it.
“There were a few I spoke to who were really keen,” Hutton noted. “And that’s what made it worthwhile.”
This is the first GIS celebration in Fort Frances, in conjunction with Geography Awareness Week (Nov. 13-19), which is aimed to promote geography awareness in schools.