Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Wade Davis (anthropologist) Christopher Ondaatje Michael Palin
Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Arms of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Arms of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Motto"Making Canada better known to Canadians and the world."
Formation1929 (1929)
Headquarters50 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario
Gavin Fitch
Chief Executive Officer
John G. Geiger
Main organ
College of Fellows

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) (French: La Société géographique royale du Canada; SRGC) is a Canadian non-profit educational organization dedicated to imparting a broader knowledge and deeper appreciation of Canada—its people and places, its natural and cultural heritage and its environmental, social and economic challenges.


The Royal Canadian Geographical Society was founded in 1929 by Charles Camsell and a group of eminent Canadians, including Marius Barbeau, an ethnographer and folklorist who is today considered a founder of Canadian anthropology, Hon. A.E. Arsenault, Premier of Prince Edward Island and justice of the province's supreme court, Lawrence J. Burpee, Secretary for Canada, International Joint Commission, John Wesley Dafoe, managing editor, Winnipeg Free Press, Hon. Albert Hudson, a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Dr. O.D. Skelton, Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs.

The Rt. Hon. Viscount Willingdon, Governor-General of Canada, was founding patron. J. B. Joseph Tyrrell, a geologist and cartographer whose exploits include the discovery of Albertosaurus bones in Alberta's Badlands, and making first contact with the Ihalmiut ("People from Beyond") of the Keewatin district of Canada's Northwest Territories, served as founding Honorary President. Arthur Philemon Coleman, a geologist and explorer who between 1884 and 1908 made eight trips of discovery to the Canadian Rockies, was named Honorary Vice-President. At its first meeting, Dr. Camsell said the society was formed "purely for patriotic purposes", and hoped it would "be a unifying influence upon the life of Canada."[1] A report by the acting secretary, E.S. Martindale, stated the intention of the founders: "The work of making the resources and other geographic factors of each part of the Dominion more widely known and more clearly understood is one of the best educational services that can be undertaken—and one that cannot be rendered except through a geographic organization animated by a broad national purpose."[2]

Among those who have addressed meetings of the RCGS over the years are Sir Francis Younghusband, Sir Hubert Wilkins, Maj. L. T. Burwash, Dr. Isaiah Bowman, Dr. Wade Davis, Michael Palin, Dr. Phil Currie, and Sir Christopher Ondaatje.

The RCGS publishes the award-winning English-language magazine, Canadian Geographic, which has been published continuously since 1930 (when it was called the Canadian Geographical Journal). The society also publishes Canadian Geographic Travel quarterly. The society's French-language magazine, Géographica, which is published in collaboration with La Presse, was introduced in 1997.

Alan Beddoe designed the arms for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and his fonds includes a black and white photograph of the letters patent.[3]

In October 2016, it was announced that the society's new home would be an iconic building at 50 Sussex Drive, Ottawa.[4] The society moved into their new headquarters in Spring 2018, and debuted two exhibitions: Explore by Chris Cran and Lessons From the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen Won the Race to the South Pole.

In May 2019, the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, attended the official opening ceremony of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's headquarters at 50 Sussex Drive.[5]


The Royal Canadian Geographical Society helps fund education, expeditions, research and lectures programs. Notably, it was a partner in the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition that located HMS Erebus, one of two exploration vessels lost on the British Arctic Expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin.

Each fall, the society hosts the annual College of Fellows Annual Dinner, with notable past speakers include Sir Francis Younghusband, Major General Sir James Howden MacBrien, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, artist Robert Bateman, actor Dan Aykroyd, ethnobotanist Wade Davis, Climate Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips, storm chaser George Kourounis, and award-winning author Margaret Atwood. In addition, the dinner has been attended by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston in the past.

In June 2017, it was granted $2,084,000 in funding from the Government of Canada to develop the educational resource, a portion of which was drawn from the Canada 150 fund.[6] This resulted in the creation of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, developed with input from a number of groups and organizations representing indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Assembly of First Nations, Indspire, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.[7] An issue of each of Canadian Geographic and Géographica were dedicated to the project.[6]

College of Fellows

The society's board of governors and its program committees are made up entirely of volunteers, who are members of the College of Fellows. Traditionally, Fellows were elected "in recognition of outstanding service to Canada."[8]

Past Fellows of the society include such eminent names as the painter A.Y. Jackson, explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, mariner and explorer Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, journalist Agnes C. Laut, American businessman and explorer Fenley Hunter, Nobel Prize recipient Prof. F.G. Banting, Edward Shackleton, Baron Shackleton, geographer and son of Sir Ernest Shackleton, composer Sir Ernest MacMillan, broadcaster and traveller Lowell Thomas, businessman James Armstrong Richardson Sr., Saskatchewan Premier T.C. Tommy Douglas, explorer Henry Larsen, historian L'abbé Arthur Maheux, anthropologist Diamond Jenness, businessman E.P. Taylor, Canadian Prime Ministers R.B. Bennett, Louis St. Laurent, and Lester B. Pearson, hotelier Conrad Hilton, former Conservative leader and Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield, and geographer and GIS originator Roger Tomlinson. Current Fellows include Gilbert M. Grosvenor, of the National Geographic Society, ethnobotanist Wade Davis, astronauts Steve MacLean, Jeremy Hansen and Jerry M. Linenger, and businessman and author Sir Christopher Ondaatje. Besides regular Fellows, the society elects Honorary Fellows, people recognized for special or outstanding achievements. The president, and other members of the executive, are elected by the College of Fellows at the society's annual general meeting.

Fellows are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FRCGS (Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society).[9]


The Governor General of Canada serves as the patron of the society.[10] The society has honorary officers, including honorary presidents and honorary vice-presidents. A volunteer Board of governors, chaired by the president of the board, and an executive committee, provide general oversight.

Day-to-day operations of the society, its programs and business, are provided by its chief executive officer, currently John G. Geiger. The CEO is also responsible for strategic leadership, in consultation with the board of governors.


Notable Vice-Presidents


The society awards the following awards:

Gold Medal

Recognizing a particular achievement by one or more individuals in the general field of geography or a significant national or international event. It was first awarded in 1972.


Source: RCGS

Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration

The Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, named after Gold Medal and Camsell Medal recipient Sir Christopher Ondaatje, was established in 2013.


Source: RCGS

3M Environmental Innovation Award

The 3M Environmental Innovation Award was established in 2009 by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) and 3M Canada to recognize outstanding individuals in business, government, academia or community organizations whose innovative contributions to environmental change are benefiting Canada and Canadians.


Source: RCGS

Camsell Medal

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society awards the Camsell Medal to bestow recognition upon, and to express the society's appreciation to, individuals who have given outstanding service to the society. The award was established by the society's board of governors in 1992.


Source: RCGS

The Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership and Science

Established by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2012, the medal recognizes achievement for "excellence in Arctic leadership and science." It is named in honour of Martin "Marty" Bergmann, a public servant.


Source: RCGS

Lawrence J. Burpee Medal

Established by the society in 2013, this medal is awarded to recognize outstanding contribution to the general advancement of geography, or to other achievement that greatly enhances the ability of the society to fulfill its mission.


Source: RCGS

Massey Medal

The Massey Medal recognizes outstanding personal achievement in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada. The award was established in 1959 by the Massey Foundation, named for industrialist Hart Massey.

Recent recipients

Source: RCGS

Innovation in Geography Teaching Award

Established in 2013, the Innovation in Geography Teaching Award is presented to K-12 teachers who have "gone above and beyond their job description to further geographic literacy".

Recent recipients

Source: RCGS

Louie Kamookak Medal

Established in 2018, the medal is named for Louie Kamookak, an Inuit historian involved in the search for Franklin's lost expedition, and is awarded for those who have "been brought to the attention of the Executive Committee, Awards Committee, or to the CEO, as having made Canada’s geography better known to Canadians and to the world".

Recent recipients

Source: RCGS

Canadian Geographic Education

Canadian Geographic Education—formerly the Canadian Council for Geographic Education (CCGE)—is a joint initiative of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society of Washington, D.C., established in 1993. The programs of the Can Geo Education aim to strengthen geographic education in the classroom. In addition to increasing the emphasis on geography within the school system, the Can Geo Education endeavours to increase the public awareness of the importance of geographical literacy.

See also


  1. ^ Canadian Geographical Journal, Vol. I, No. I, May 1930
  2. ^ Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 23, p.376
  3. ^ "Alan B. Beddoe fonds". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  4. ^ Gillis, Megan (24 October 2016). "Storied Sussex address to become 2017 pavilion, home of Royal Canadian Geographical Society". Ottawa Citizen. Postmedia. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  5. ^ pope (2019-05-14). "Six awesome things that happened at the official opening of Canada's Centre for Geography and Exploration". Canadian Geographic. Retrieved 2019-05-23.
  6. ^ a b "Canada 150 Project to develop an indigenous-led educational tool" (Press release). Department of Canadian Heritage. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  7. ^ Scott, Katie (29 August 2018). "The launch of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada". Global News. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Society Elects 27 Fellows", Globe and Mail, Jan. 20, 1956
  9. ^ "The 2015 Fellows Book" (PDF). Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  10. ^ Johnston, David (5 October 2010), "Reception for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy", in Office of the Governor General of Canada (ed.), Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, retrieved 6 October 2010 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Welcome to the 3M Environmental Innovation Award". Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Retrieved 21 November 2015.