Canadian tagging guidelines
This is a starting point for Canadian tagging guidelines and best practices. Specifics for each province can be found on the specific provincial page:
- 1 Naming
- 2 Railways
- 3 Highway/Road/Carriageway Tagging System
- 4 Named major highways
- 5 Divided highways / dual carriageways / motorways
- 6 Trunk
- 7 Reference (ref tag)
- 8 Surface
- 9 Lanes
- 10 Sub-national and below
- 11 Local roadways
- 12 Recreational Trail Tags
- 13 Amenity
- 14 Leisure
- 15 References
Municipality names are to be spelt according to how they are listed in NRCan (http://www4.rncan.gc.ca/search-place-names/search) 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.
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 Names#Abbreviation (don't do it) 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  .
Highway/Road/Carriageway Tagging System
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.
In Canada, before there were cars, roadways were called 'carriageways' with Wikipedia:Single carriageway and Wikipedia:Dual carriageway#Canada as this follows the British English standard. So from some data sources, you may see these terms used.
In Canada, both "divided highway" and "dual carriageway" may be used for this type of road, although "divided highway" is more common (as "dual carriageway" is an older term being used less than it used to be); however, the segment between the roadways is always a "median" rather than a "central reservation". More informally, a divided highway may be referred to as "twinned". This stems from the practice of "twinning" an existing two-lane highway (usually controlled-access) and converting it into a divided highway. On some portions of Ontario's 400-series highways network, the median may be either steel Wikipedia:guardrail or an Ontario tall-wall barrier rather than an unpaved strip.
Like the US, there are two types of divided highways, fully-controlled access divided routes known as Wikipedia:freeways, while Wikipedia:expressways includes both freeways and partial limited-access divided highways, and "expressway" is often used specifically to refer to the latter. Compared to the US, Canadians often use "highway" to refer to freeways, especially in the Greater Toronto Area. Partial limited-access divided highways such as the Wikipedia:Hanlon Parkway and Wikipedia:Black Creek Drive have at-grade intersections and private entrances but have sufficient right-of-way to convert them to full freeways if traffic warrants. There are also RIRO expressways, such as a portion of Highway 35, which are not full freeways since they allow access to existing properties, but traffic speeds are faster than regular roads due to a median barrier preventing left turns (motorists have to use a "turnabout" overpass to access exits on the opposing direction).
Junctions may be at-grade or grade-separated, and there may be gaps in the median strip to allow turning and crossing. Divided highways are seldom equipped with Wikipedia:traffic circles, roundabouts, or rotaries.
Named major highways
For those that are named (e.g. the Trans-Canada highway or Yellowhead) should also have name=* tag. When a highway has a street name, the name tag is used for it, and the highway name is tagged using nat_name=*.
Where all of the segments should be included in a relation ((please expand me))
Divided highways / dual carriageways / motorways
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.
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 / NorthWestTerritories, 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.
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.
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.
Sub-national and below
Most provincial and regional highways have a reference numbering system. These would get a ref=* tag with their highway number.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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, https://github.com/BikeOttawa/OSM-Bike-Ottawa-Tagging-Guide 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.
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.
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.
A bike with tires about 23mm wide (700 x 23c) intended for use on paved surfaces, lightweight and fast, used in road racing.
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.
There is a tendency to want to use the grade_level system of 1 being the easiest & 5 being the hardest.
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.
- 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)
- recommendation: use the tag operator=Tim Hortons TDL ?
- 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)
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
- post_box:type=community is an alternative tag - while it is more explicit, it has only about 10% of the usage as of late 2019:
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.
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.
- Splash pads: leisure=playground + playground=splash_pad + seasonal=summer
- Wading pools: leisure=swimming_pool + swimming_pool=wading + seasonal=summer
- Outdoor rinks: leisure=ice_rink + covered=no + seasonal=winter (if not suitable for hockey, sport=ice_skating)
- “RIRO”. Onthighways.com. Retrieved 2009-07-31.