Canada/Tagging guidelines

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This is a starting point for Canadian tagging guidelines and best practices. Specifics for each province can be found on the specific provincial page:


Municipality Names

Municipality names are to be spelt according to how they are listed in NRCan ( or other official source. That means:

  • Do not include "City of", "Municipality of" or similar in the name unless that is officially part of the name.   "Village of Queen Charlotte" (BC) is correct, "City of Toronto" is incorrect (should be "Toronto").
  • Do not expand "St." to "Saint" or "Ste" to "Sainte" just to conform to OSM's "don't abbreviate names" rule. If the city name is normally has it expanded, then it is maintained as expanded in OSM. If it is not normally expanded, then it is not expanded in OSM. "Saint John" (NB) and "St. John's" (NL) are both correct.

Street names

Many Canadian cities and towns use the grid based structure, the presence of numbered streets and avenues is very common.

Suggestion: Name these streets/avenues with the full name (such as 51st Street Northeast) and let the renderer sort out the abbreviation where required. Where the numbering system ends below 30, consider spelling out the numbers.

In parts of Ontario that primarily name streets in English, street and road names containing initial "St." or "St" should only be expanded to "Saint" when "Saint" is common usage for that street. To be clear, this overrides the general rule Abbreviations for "St." which does not stand for "street". As with other names in OSM, factors you might want to consider when determining common usage include spellings posted on street signs ("on the ground" rule), spellings used in local media, GeoBase street name data, and spellings used by official municipal sources including open data datasets. See discussion on talk-ca [1] [2].

Additional local guidance on street naming conventions can be found at:


See Canada/Tagging guidelines/Chains for handling of chain locations and list of canonical brands.

Named major highways

Named highways should have the name=* tag for the highway name – especially if the name predates the highway number (e.g. Autoroute Métropolitaine), or if the name applies to a portion of the route (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II Highway). Official or commemorative names that are not commonly used should be tagged using official_name=* instead (e.g. Veterans Memorial Highway) – especially when they are used for the entire route (e.g. MacDonald-Cartier Freeway). Likewise, tourist routes may also be tagged using official_name=* (e.g. Parks Route) or reg_name=* (e.g. Lighthouse Route).

When a named highway has a street name, use name=* for the street name in combination with nat_name=* or alt_name=* for the route name. Do not use name=* to indicate the route type or number alone, (see Name is the name only), except when it is used for addresses along the highway. Many highways in unpopulated regions are unnamed for this reason.

Named segments of a highway should together be part of a relation. Multiple relations can exist for names that apply to different segments of a route. For example, the Cobequid Pass is a segment of Nova Scotia Highway 104, which is in turn a part of the much-longer Trans-Canada Highway; each of these have a relation of their own.


See OpenRailwayMap/Tagging in Canada and OpenRailwayMap/Tagging_in_North_America


Because Canada is such a big country, with roads of many types stretching from the Arctic Circle, to the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the ideas of how roads should be classified suffers from a long-standing debate.

The guidelines below have been derived from discussions on the talk-ca discussion list, so if you have more ideas, please share.



A motorway is a road designed and built solely for motorized traffic. In English-speaking countries the term is used in the United Kingdom, some parts of Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, some other Commonwealth nations, and Ireland (a motorway is also called a mótarbhealach (plural: mótarbhealaí) in Irish). In Ireland, a road built to motorway standard, but without the designation (and the regulations and traffic restrictions resulting from that designation), is known as a High-quality Dual Carriageway. Motorways are identical to freeways as a road type, and comparable to the United States Interstate Highways as a classification.

In Canada, a highway=motorway is a controlled or restricted-access divided highway with two or more lanes in each direction, e.g. Highway 401 in Ontario, Autoroute 20 in Quebec, Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, Ontario.

  • Recommendation: These should be drawn as 2 separate lines, tagged as highway=motorway being drawn in the direction of the traffic flow. One line per direction, tagging each as oneway=yes. With the name=* and ref=* where appropriate on each way.

Why?: A highway=motorway is defined as restricted access by OSM. So that's what it's for.


A highway=trunk is a roadway that has limited access and is part of the national highway system, as defined by the Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental agency with representatives from each province and territory. Maintenance of these highways is under provincial jurisdiction.

The full inventory can be found here (PDFs).

The surface=* does not need to be paved, nor is it assumed to be paved. As in many regions of Canada (far north in the Yukon / Northwest Territories, there is no need for it to be paved, as there is not a high volume of traffic. But it still has that national level of importance. This is the core cross-Canada road network, and it should be viewable at low zoom levels.

  • Recommendation: Tag these as highway=trunk, and list the name=*, and ref=* if available, and tag the surface=paved/unpaved/gravel. (see below). If non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians are prohibited, also tag as motorroad=yes.

Primary and below

This is where it gets confusing, as the exact usage of highway=primary, highway=secondary and highway=tertiary varies from province to province.

Most provincial and regional highways have a reference numbering system. These would get a ref=* tag with their highway number.

Highways can also have a surface=* tag, with values surface=paved, surface=unpaved or surface=User debated.


A highway=primary is a major highway linking large towns, normally with 2 lanes. The traffic for both directions is usually not separated by a central barrier. In Ontario, these are usually provincial highways or former provincial highways. In most other provinces, these are almost always provincial highways. Primary highways often bypass smaller towns, and have traffic levels that are significantly higher than secondary highways.

Recommendation: Tags the ways as highway=primary, name=* & use the surface=* tag to indicate surface.

To link primary roads in an intersection, use highway=primary_link.

Per Manitoba#Quick guide, all Manitoba Provincial Trunk Highways are tagged as primary. This has received pushback from some editors due to perceived lack of importance of some of these roads. Discussion: note in Victoria Beach in 2022, Talk:Manitoba#Unimportant_provincial_trunk_highways in 2023.


A highway=secondary is highway which is not part of a major route, but nevertheless forming a link in the regional route network. It normally has 2 lanes. The traffic for both directions is usually separated by a central painted line on the road.

To link secondary roads in an intersection, use highway=secondary_link.


  • Secondary, tertiary: Major roads that are not part of the highway system

Provincial secondary highways, county/regional roads or suburban and urban arterial roads. Toronto survey grid roads (Steeles, Finch, Bayview...) are an example of secondary. Most county roads in rural areas are also secondary.

Previously in Ontario, all county/regional roads were mapped as secondary. This has received pushback from some editors due to perceived lack of importance of some of these roads, and some have been retagged as lower. Some of the discussions: note in Haldimand County in 2022, another note in Haldimand County in 2022.


A highway=tertiary is a class of road between secondary and unclassified/residential. There are a number of roads that are not secondary roads but are far to big/fast to be labeled as unclassified, most of which turn out to tertiary. In rural areas, these roads are usually not painted.

However, this varies province to province. In urban areas, tertiary roads are usually maintained by the local municipality; in rural areas, they are often maintained by the

  • Suggestion for urban areas: Tertiary roads are through roads, but of lesser importance than secondary roads. They usually have some of these characteristics:
    • Narrow: mostly no more than four lanes wide (and often two lanes).
    • Local: broken up by major barriers such as rivers, freeways, and railways.
    • Traffic calming: speed limit slightly lower than secondary roads, more traffic signals, physical measures like curves and distinctive pavement.
  • Suggestion for rural areas: Tertiary roads are either rarely-frequented through roads or branch off from secondary roads to a notable settlement. Pavement, if it exists, does not go beyond the travel lanes, and jogs are often unrectified.


Local roadways

To make it more confusing, local roadways also very from region to region.

Recommendation: Tag the roads as you like locally. YOU are the expert for your own area, the people who have actually been to the region, knows the area best, & can say what local people know the roads as best. Over time, as the map gets more developed, you will notice trends in the map, so you can adjust the road classification accordingly. Discuss on the talk-ca list if you are unsure.


The typical highway=unclassified road would be a rural road that is not part of a regional, provincial, or national highway network. Similar to a highway=residential, but for rural roads without significant residential development. Minor roads in industrial parks should also be mapped as a highway=unclassified., as should other minor roads that do not have residences on them. Unclassified roads are generally maintained by the local municipality; unmaintained roads should generally be labelled as highway=track, and privately maintained roads should be labeled as highway=service.

However, some map it as unclassified if they are unsure. This is not the purpose of the tag. The best practice would just be to ask around (on the talk-ca discussion list) as perhaps someone can help. Otherwise, use highway=road so then someone else can come along and tag it appropriately.

Recommendation: Unclassified roads in residential suburbs are usually physically distinguished from residential roads only by the presence of non-residential uses; if the road is built as a minor arterial, tag it as highway=tertiary.

Recommendation: Use this tag if it is outside of a residential area & none of the other (above) road classes would fit.


A highway=residential road which is used for accessing or moving between private residential properties (homes). This tag should be used for roads that have residential properties, but not if it is on a major highway.

This is a useful guideline if you are not sure whether to use "residential" or "tertiary" for streets in towns:

  • tertiary - a road used by through traffic
  • residential - a road generally used only by people that live on that road or roads that branch off it.

From the available data sources, this one is consistent. Residential roads should be marked as highway=residential

Most minor, non-residential roads in Canada have been incorrectly labeled as highway=residential (instead of highway=unclassified or highway=tertiary). This is because most roads were imported from CanVec, which does not consistently distinguish between residential and non-residential roads.

  • Service: Back lanes, alleys, driveways, drive-throughs

Used for access roads to a building / business which is on private property. An example would be the roads accessing a shopping mall, or a big box store complex with Wal-Mart or Best Buy, etc.

Lanes and other narrow, usually one lane and usually unnamed roads. For example, roads leading to a carpool lot.

The purpose of each lane should be tagged, e.g. service=parking_aisle, service=driveway, service=alley, service=drive-through.

If a private road has a name and buildings front onto and address it, consider tagging it as highway=unclassified or highway=residential and indicating that the road is private using access=*.


A highway=track is roads for agricultural use, gravel roads in the forest etc.; usually unpaved/unsealed but may occasionally apply to paved tracks as well. If a short track is used for recreational purposes, it should be tagged as leisure=track.

Example: Small roads in parks, dirt trails in fields, etc. Speed limits are probably 30 km/h or less; roads are usually maintained privately or not maintained at all. ATV and snowmobile trails are usually labeled as highway=track, as are forestry access roads, unopened concession roads, and

Recommendation: The easiest way to remember this one is for a tractor, as it would have 2 ruts, where a tractor would be able to use it, or an ATV/Horseback/mountain bike/hiking would be able to use these roads.

Bus-only roadways, bus transitways

Use access=private + bus=yes.

In the past psv=yes has been used, but this is less explicit (more people know what a "bus" is than know what "psv" is) and often incorrect in Canadian context. (PSV is "Public Service Vehicles" which includes taxis. This is a carry-over from OSM's UK tagging - in the UK licensed taxis can generally use bus lanes and bus roadways.)

Reference (ref tag)

On many major Canadian roadways, as the road passes through towns, the name of the road changes names along its length. Fortunately, these roadways are all numbered with a consistent highway reference number.

  • Recommendation: All of these highways should have the ref=* tag added indicating this highway/road number.

Different jurisdictions in Canada have their own numbering system for roadways. (e.g. ref=10 is used on certain roadways in each of the 10 provinces)

  • In some areas, two-letter abbreviations may be used as prefixes for Provincial/Territorial routes. (e.g. NS 104, NB 105)
  • Other prefixes or suffixes may also be used to supplant or complement.
    • Manitoba:
      • PTH = Provincial Trunk Highway
      • PR = Provincial Road
      • Route = Winnipeg City Route
    • Ontario:
      • RH = Regional Highway
      • RR = Regional Road
      • CH = County Highway
      • CR = County Road
      • TR = Township Road
      • DR = District Road
      • - ETR = Express Toll Route
      • - Toll = Provincial toll highway
    • Inter-provincial:
      • TCH = Trans-Canada Highway
      • YH = Yellowhead Highway
  • Some physical route markers also display an abbreviation for the type of road. (e.g. 407 ETR)
  • There are instances where same number is used on different routes in the same province/territory/region. (e.g. RR 2 and RH 2 in Durham Region)
  • Routes of one Province/Territory may cross into another. (e.g. BC 97 in the Yukon and YK 2 in British Columbia)
  • Different types of routes may run concurrent to each other. (e.g. PTH 110 and PR 457 in Manitoba)
  • This scheme helps to maintain consistency along a route amidst changes in highway classification.
  • Postal abbreviations are already in use for route relations in Canada, as well as numbered roadways in the United States and Mexico.
  • The use of prefixes and suffixes is meant to minimize confusion when routes with the same number intersect or join. (e.g. Highway 8 and Regional Road 8 in Kitchener)
  • In case of a concurrency, the higher-order route should be listed first, along with the continuous through route, and then others in numerical order. (e.g. ref=PTH 59;Route 20;Route 115 in Winnipeg)
  • Check for existing local tagging. If in an area where most roads are or are not tagged with a prefixed ref, do not change this scheme. For example, nearly all of Manitoba's Provincial Trunk Highways are tagged with ref prefixed with "PTH", but Quebec's Autoroutes are ref tagged with their number only.
  • Remember that prefixed ref is not the only way to disambiguate level of road, for example network=CA:ON:Niagara + ref=20 identifies Niagara Regional Road 20.


Highways should get a surface tag indicating paved or unpaved. If there is no surface tag, the assumption is paved.

  • Recommendation: Use the tag surface=unpaved, when you know that it is not paved, otherwise the default value (if not listed) is assumed to be surface=paved. The preference is to tag the surface=* when it has been physically verified. See verifiability.


Following precisely the tagging procedure described at Key:lanes, a roadway with one lane in each direction should be tagged as lanes=2, as this is the assumption, that all roadways are 2 ways. (Otherwise, it would be a 1-way road and would be marked with oneway=yes)

  • Recommendation: Roadways with two lanes in each direction should be tagged as lanes=4, etc. A divided highway with two lanes on each carriageway should have two separate ways, each tagged with lanes=2. If there is no lanes tag, the assumption is 2.

Ottawa Bus stops

Use the four digit number (GTFS stop_code) as the name, followed by the GTFS stop_name if available. The number is visible on the stop and allows the Route Planner to be used, the GTFS stop_name is displayed to the bus driver before the stop. Two stops may have the same stop_name but different stop_codes.

Pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure

Check for local guidance and tagging norms. For Ontario, is quite good.

Recreational Trail Tags

See Tagging Recreational Trails in Canada. However, because the methods vary from region to region, it's best to look around to other areas of Canada, ask around on the talk-ca list or meet-up with other trail mappers to learn the best methods.


Generally, if it is known as a 'bicycle path/trail/track' as its designated use, then tag it as highway=cycleway. Sometimes the actual name of the route gives it away.

For example, with the Trans Canada Trail the definition of what is meant when it says the trail/path/route/track is bicycle friendly, the type of bicycle that it is friendly to is not so clear, as there are different types of bicycles, each with its own need.

General tags

If a road has dedicated bicycle lanes, the road itself is tagged with cycleway=lane. If a lane permits cyclists to go in the opposite way on a one-way street, the tag is cycleway=opposite_lane.

For roads meant principally for bicycle use that are separate from general traffic, the tag is highway=cycleway, with optional specification using cycleway=*. If pedestrians and cyclists are given equal access, the road should be tagged highway=path foot=yes bicycle=yes.

Signed cycling routes are tagged using the Cycle routes#Relations scheme. network=lcn is used for routes within an urban agglomeration, network=rcn between agglomerations, and network=ncn for routes spanning an entire province or more.

Hybrid or Touring Bike

A bike with tires about 32mm wide (700 x 32c), it is designed primarily for use on paved surfaces, but can also handle some off-road dirt/gravel and cycle roads. This bike is not designed specifically for mountain biking.

Road Bike

A bike with tires about 23mm wide (700 x 23c) intended for use on paved surfaces, lightweight and fast, used in road racing.

Mountain Biking

A bike with tires about 2 inches wide (26" x 2", 29" x 2", etc). Various Mountain Bikes can handle a wide variety of off road road trails, from well packed soil to large rocks, and jumps.

highway=path sac_scale=mtb surface=* slope=*

There is a tendency to want to use the grade_level system of 1 being the easiest & 5 being the hardest.


If it is hiking on dirt highway=path sac_scale=hiking

If horses are allowed on it, it should be highway=track


highway=footway. When the pavement is adjacent to a street, tag it footway=sidewalk. When unpaved or recreational, highway=path is probably more appropriate.





Could be on water (winter frozen) so it would be like a ferry route.
Shops similar to shop=atv

Road signs

For information on how to map road signs and sign info, see Canada/Road signs.

Power lines and infrastructure

See Power networks/Canada and provincial/territorial pages for guidelines.


Tim Hortons

In Canada there are Wikipedia:Tim Hortons As of January 3, 2010, Tim Hortons has 3,578 systemwide restaurants, including 3,015 in Canada and 563 in the United States.

There are some variations of tagging.

amenity=cafe is often used for single locations, and almost always when there is no drive-thru.

amenity=fast_food is used for combined Tim Hortons-Wendy's locations. It is also often used where there is a drive-thru; such locations should also be tagged drive_through=yes.

  • Flammable suggestion: Tag according to surroundings: if there is a more café-like place in the immediate area around the Tim Hortons, then it's an amenity=fast_food. When combined with Wendy's, it's also an amenity=fast_food. In all other cases, use amenity=cafe. Victor Bielawski 17:30, 26 April 2010 (UTC)

The name should be tagged as name=Tim Hortons, with no apostrophe and no abbreviations in both English and French-speaking areas of Canada.

  • recommendation: use the tag operator=Tim Hortons TDL ?
    • But many Tim Hortons locations are franchises... Victor Bielawski 17:30, 26 April 2010 (UTC)
    • How about franchise=Tim Horton? --Gorm 13:45, 9 June 2010 (UTC)
  • If the building is a mixed use building, 'building=yes' should be used, with nodes representing the different uses, or area=yes and draw each use within the building outline area as they are separate businesses (each with it's own address label).

--acrosscanadatrails 12:16, 27 April 2010 (UTC)

Post offices

See WikiProject Canada Post.

Community mailboxes

Community Mail Box

Use the amenity=post_box tag to identify mailboxes. No type=* or post_box:type=* tag will assume that the mail box is a regular red mailbox for sending out letters.

Most new neighbourhoods have a central community mailbox and many individual roadside mailboxes in rural areas have been consolidated into these as well. To tag community mailboxes, two sub-tags have been used:

  • type=cmb for community mailboxes is an older, non-standard tag. Use post_box:type=community for any new or edited points.

Additionally, amenity=relay_box has been used by Ontario editors for the boxes where Canada Post pre-distributes mail for retrieval and delivery by pedestrian mail carriers. These are usually grey and not prominently branded with Canada Post logos. Where a regular red mailbox is also used as a relay box, only tag the mailbox.

In order to keep the operator tagging bilingual, use the tags operator:en=Canada Post, operator:fr=Postes Canada, and operator:wikidata=Q1032001. This avoids having to choose one or the other value (or having multiple values) in the operator=* tag[1].


Carpool Lot

Parking lots are tagged with amenity=parking, and can be named.

Carpool lots, at least in Ontario, are tagged with park_ride=yes - both for transit park&ride lots and for carpool lots with no transit stop nearby. carpool=designated has been used in France but not in Canada as of 2019. park_drive=* has been proposed but not accepted or used much so far.