The base layers we're including are boundaries, cities/towns, roads, water features, and buildings (Carleton and Ottawa only), which are what you'd generally want in a nice basemap. The datasets are organized by geography and those available only to Carleton community members are indicated by a Carleton logo.

Our Make a basemap for anywhere in Canada (including Ottawa-Gatineau) help guide may be useful.

Looking for elevation contours? Check out our Contours and Elevation Data page.

Base layers for Carleton Campus | Ottawa-Gatineau | Ontario | Canada | USA & North America | World & Polar

Carleton Campus Resource available to Carleton University students, faculty and staff only



If you're looking for a specific city or region, check if it has an open data site and, if so, search there first.

You can also find more information on our Make a Basemap guide.

Finally, there are provincial- and territorial-level datasets in the Natural Resources Canada products listed in the Canada section, below.


If you're looking for a specific province or territory, Topographic Data of Canada - CanVec Series from Natural Resources Canada is an excellent place to start, and it includes data by province/territory at various scales.

If that doesn't meet your needs, check if your province/territory of interest has an open data site and, if so, search there. All the datasets listed in this section are available for free.

United States & North America

If you're looking for a specific city, state, or region, check if it has an open data site and, if so, search there first. All the datasets listed below are available for free.

  • North American shapefiles
    • The Commission for Environmental Cooperation Atlas has many datasets that cover all of North America, including:
      • Lakes and Rivers 2009
      • Major Roads 2009
      • Political Boundaries 2010 (international, national, and provincial/state boundaries)
      • Populated Places 2009
  • USA shapefiles
    • An easy one-stop shop is the US Geological Survey
      • Go to The National Map
      • Zoom into your area of interest (use the Draw Rectangle button to outline your area)
      • In the list, select Small-scale Datasets
      • Check off what you need (e.g.: boundaries, contours, hydrography, transportation) with Data Extent: National
      • Click the Find Products button
      • You'll get a list of dozens of datasets, but search for contours, cities, roads, etc., and it'll reduce the list and you can download what you'd like
    • If all you want is State boundaries (select States (and equivalent) from drop-down menu) - US Census Bureau
    • Historical US shapefiles from NHGIS (can also get historical US census data from NHGIS as well)

The World & Polar Regions

If you're looking for a specific country or region, check if it has an open data site and, if so, search there first.

  • Shapefiles at individual country level
    • Bing Maps provides building open footprints from around the world in GeoJSON format.
    • Diva-GIS provides administrative areas, elevation, inland water (rivers and lakes), and roads.
    • Natural Earth has cultural, physical, and raster datasets for around the world
  • Shapefiles at continental/global level
  • Geospatial files for polar regions
  • OpenStreetMap has data downloadable for cities, regions, countries, and the entire globe
  • Historic country shapefiles
    • CShapes 2.0 has countries and their boundary changes 1886-2019.
      • Link goes to journal article which describes dataset. Click Supplemental Material in article menu, use navigation below PDF to go to material 2, then click Download. Files are in GeoJSON format.
    • Pleiades includes tens of thousands of places in the ancient world (dataset download options)
    • Not a country shapefile, but a collection of datasets (varies by dataset but ranges from 1500BCE - 1500AD) including shipwrecks, Roman road network, and ancient ports
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