Under the hood

I have created about 100 maps, of varying levels of sophistication, for the Web. The early ones used a proprietary system invented at the Star in 2004, while more recent ones use conventional KML. Some involved boundary sets I created, while others use boundary sets imported from formats intended for print, like .shp files.

At the moment, our most complex maps show about 1,000 census tracts in the Toronto area, each with its own customized popup box.

My ambition is to create maps like this one on the New York Times site, which shows about 6,000 areas and loads very quickly. I am also exploring the storytelling potential of a Google Earth animation presented to the reader as a movie file with voiceover.

Here is a recent video. Mouseover the image below to start:

Here is a screenshot from one recent map:

Use of FOI laws

I have been an active user of the access-to-information system since the mid-1990s. Since the launch of Map of the Week in the spring of 2008, I have filed about 50 FOI requests with different levels of government in pursuit of geodata. Our best original maps tend to be based on successful FOI requests, since they tend to produce maps which to my knowledge have never been seen in public before.

Sometimes officials are reluctant to meet their obligations under the law. I am an experienced user of Ontario’s FOI appeal system. One request, which I have been working on since the spring of 2008, is now in the early stages of judicial review after the ministry concerned appealed an IPC adjudicator’s decision in my favour.

Work for print

I have had two jobs copy editing for print, most recently in 2005 on the Star’s city desk. Here is some recent reporting for a traditional print format:

A look at participation in Ontario’s organ donor registry shows startling regional differences within the province, with Toronto coming dead last. Why? Reporter Megan Ogilvie and I try to find some answers.

Over 5,500 gay and lesbian couples have been married in Toronto since a court decision in 2003. Address information released under FOI sheds light on which Toronto neighbourhoods gay men and lesbians married here live in (the maps look quite different) as well as where in the United States American same-sex couples married here came from. I provided the data for this piece, while reporter Isabel Teotonio did the interviews.
A profile of Parkdale-based hangman John Radclive, the federal government’s official executioner in the period before the First World War, sheds light on a dark aspect of Canada’s past.
A feature looked at the Internet’s first blood sport, “scambaiting”: faking interest in a Nigeria-based scam artist’s scheme and wasting his time with drawn-out, bizarre e-mail exchanges than can go on for months.

What readers say

Imagine if you took the historic records of everyone who died in the first world war. Then you matched them to one area to see how it had been affected. Or if you wanted to see if one part of your city had an epidemic of bedbugs. Or if you wanted to find out where the most guns are. This is the work of data journalist Patrick Cain, quietly and methodically producing strikingly interesting maps of his home city of Toronto. It’s the pinnacle of what data journalism is supposed to be about.

Simon Rogers, The Guardian

Some media companies … are consistently producing good maps that are both visually engaging and educate readers.The Toronto Star’s online iteration produces maps using a combination of the Google Maps API and layers, tools that anyone can pick up and learn. What makes the Star exceptional is its chosen subject matter and the simplicity in which complex data is presented.


As a public health and medical reporter, I’m always looking for sites that use new technologies in ways that illuminate these topics. As far as newspapers are concerned, I’ve been mostly disappointed on this front. I see a lot of database-driven interactive features on meth labs, homicides, and severe weather — but not much on disease outbreaks or other public health concerns. … But at long last the Web site of a major daily paper has satisfied my yearning — and it’s so cool! … It’s very nicely done.


Why Doesn’t Every Paper Have “Map of the Week?”

I’m sure many readers know of the Toronto Star’s regular feature “Map of the Week.” It’s put together by Web editor Patrick Cain and covers all kinds of topics for the Greater Toronto Area that are not necessarily related to stories in the paper. He even includes a “Nerd Box” to share some of the tech and presentation issues he faces. … Why doesn’t every paper do this? … This has got to be a lot of work and the commitment to one a week is impressive. Great job!

All Points blog

One of my favourite newspapers is The Toronto Star, mainly because of Patrick Cain’s Map of the Week column.

Google Maps Mania

The Toronto Star has long been a global media innovator when it comes to using the Google Maps API. Web editor Patrick Cain writes a weekly column called Map of the Week, which invariably includes a useful Google Map mashup illustrating one aspect of Toronto life or local news.

Google Maps Mania

For those into crime maps … the Star has posted a whole bunch to their excellent Map of the Week blog.


When it comes to Toronto’s neighbourhoods, even well-versed out-of-towners have probably heard of Rosedale, High Park, the Annex, and the Beach. But Amesbury? Alderwood? L’Amoreaux? All those neighbourhoods and dozens more are now being named, shaped, and reshaped by the Star’s continually great Map of the Week blog.