This map is different. It is not a random collection of related ideas and actions for the Great Lakes. It doesn’t belong to any one group, but to anyone who wants to share their worry and wisdom for these lakes as part of a larger mission. This map is a collaborative tool supporting the Great Lakes Commons initiative. 

Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi First Nations call these waters "ChiGaming" which translated from Anishinaabe to English roughly means "the Great Sea".

The purpose of this participatory map is to give people a shared space to mark, explore, and dialogue about a Great Lakes Commons. This map is one of many tools being used for this larger mission and is indebted to the many individuals and groups in the Great Lakes Commons movement. The question of Why a Great Lakes Commons? is best articulated at the Great Lakes Commons site. 

The Great Lakes Commons Initiative emerged from a recognition that fundamental change is essential if we want to create a sustaining future for our Great Lakes. Decades of activism and effort—and even some remarkable victories—have not resulted in thriving and protected waters. It is clear that a transformation of our relationship to these waters and of the region’s governance is key for enabling us to care for this life-giving ecosystem.

When you think of the dire issues facing the Great Lakes, what do you think of? Water levels? Closed beaches? Fish health? Toxic hotspots where people work and live? Or maybe water quality in general or something completely different. This commons movement is powered by the mutualism we share with these lakes and a connected destiny we share with 40 million others in this watershed. 

It takes 350 years for the same water to flow through all 5 lakes and into the sea. During the past 350 years, the wisdom of First Nations peoples has been broken and largely replaced with laws and cultures that separate humans from nature, this generation from the next, and the individual from the communities they belong to.

The ultimate goal of this map is to use the energy of the crowd (crowdsourcing or collective intelligence) with the power of networked media to arouse our biosphere consciousness: a mind-shift that understands and defends our interdependence with all of the earth's elements.

Perspective is everything. Many think the birth of the environmental movement started with the iconic 1968 ‘space-view’ of earth to orient the global message of conservation, connectedness, reverence, and fragility. This map organizes ideas by place for a similar purpose. Care for the whole starts with a deeper connection to where you call home.

Ideas can be organized by various Categories. These are the filters that help organize the diversity of ideas, examples, stories, questions, and issues. From the main page, you can also turn on a Layer. These layers (First Nations in Ontario, oil pipelines, bottled water permits, and Commons Charter supporters) give more information on who and what exists in this bioregion. Zoom in and click around to discover something new.

This map is unique because it's yours. Use it to mark, share, and inspire change for a Great Lakes Commons. Rather than organizing information by time, source, or topic, these water stories are organized by place and by its collaborators - that's you. Collaborators can watch, read, and hear other people's perspectives or share their own with videos, text, photos, and comments.


The Great Lakes Commons Map connects people of common concern through place-based storytelling. With data, discussion, and story we activate people’s care for the Great Lakes as living commons. We awaken, witness, and celebrate our belonging to these waters and our mutual ties with each other. A commons vision transcends borders, cultures and issues and revitalizes lost and Indigenous traditions of guardianship. Our work animates this commons vision through unity and participation.


The Great Lakes Commons Map was launched in May of 2012 to coincide with a multi-city education tour organized by the Council of Canadians. During a 3-week bike tour around Lake Ontario in June, the Map was tested out for its unique ability to collect stories from the road by its founder Paul Baines. In late September, the Commons Map was presented to 70 others, during an historic Great Lakes Commons gathering at the University of Notre Dame. From then until now, the Map continues to receive wide support and is regularly updated with new Stories from across the watershed. We are now a registered Not-for-Profit and will start offering specific programming in place-based storytelling and water-commoning. We will continue to grow this community and seek stories and examples from those who want to explore this larger vision.

Thinking BIG

This Commons map has been initiated and produced by Paul Baines with gifted web design and development by Darren Puscas from reWORKit.net. Additional development contributions have also been made throughout the spring and summer of 2013 by Jamie Pistone, Anar Rahimli, and Kirien Chen from the HFOSS club at the University of Toronto.

This layout is the first step in many more to come. Later additions aim to have new and useful features such as:

•    recording/sharing video and audio directly from the site
•    refining the Category filters
•    leading workshops and trainings in community mapping
•    translating the site into multiple languages
•    making instructions and reporting tools easier to use for more people
•    inviting feedback from participants
•    adding layers of other map data

If you have any ideas or skills to help evolve this project, please Connect.