Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Abbreviation  RCGS
President  Gavin Fitch
Formation  1929 (1929)
Chief Executive Officer  John G. Geiger
Motto  "Making Canada better known to Canadians and the world."
Headquarters  1155 Lola Street, Ottawa, Ontario

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) (in 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 Bandlands, 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." 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."

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.

In October 2016, it was announced that the Society's new home would be an iconic building at 50 Sussex Drive, Ottawa.


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.

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."

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, 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).


The Governor General of Canada serves as the patron of the Society. 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.


  • 1930 — 1941: Dr. Charles Camsell, Geologist in Charge of Explorations for the Geological Survey of Canada, and Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. Oversaw the exploration of the uncharted parts of Canada's North — a vast area covering 1.4 million square kilometres or about 25 percent of the country.
  • 1941 — 1944: Dr. George J. Desbarats, Deputy Minister of Marine and Fisheries and of National Defence. He was the Canadian official who first learned that explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson was separated from his ship, and that the Karluk was missing in the Arctic ice.
  • 1944 — 1950: Mr. Charles C. Cowan
  • 1950 — 1955: Air Marshal Robert Leckie, an aviation pioneer and Chief of the Air Staff for the Royal Canadian Air Force. An outstanding fighter pilot during the First World War, he flew attacks on German Zeppelins, and downed two.
  • 1955 — 1963: Maj.-Gen. Hugh A. Young, commanded the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade at Normandy, and served as Deputy Minister of Public Works. Commissioner of the Northwest Territories from 1950-53. As head of the Advisory Committee on Northern Development, in 1953 he studied threats to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
  • 1963 — 1967: Dr. Omond Solandt, scientist and first Chairman of both Canada’s Defence Research Board and the Science Council of Canada. He was a scientific advisor to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, and later a member of the joint military mission sent to Japan to evaluate the effects of the atomic bomb.
  • 1967 — 1977: Dr. Pierre Camu, geographer and civil servant. Served as President of the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority, and later as Chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). He is co-founder of the Trans Canada Trail.
  • 1977 — 1986: Mr. Denis Coolican, served as president of the Canadian Bank Note Company.
  • 1986 — 1992: Dr. Alexander T. Davidson, geographer and civil servant. Served as chief of resources for the federal Department of Northern Affairs, and assistant deputy minister of rural development; water; policy, planning and research for Environment Canada; and Parks Canada. He also was Chairman of the federal Panel Concerning Low Level Military Flights in Labrador-Goose Bay.
  • 1992 — 1998: Dr. Denis A. St-Onge, geoscientist with the Geological Survey of Canada. Conducted pioneering research into the evolution of landscape under extreme cold climate on Ellef Ringnes Island in the High Arctic. He is credited with developing a unique method of mapping geomorphology.
  • 1998 — 2004: Dr. Arthur E. Collin, served as Scientific Advisor for the Maritime Forces (1965) and as the Dominion Hydrographer (1968). From 1971 to 1980 he served as Assistant Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Environment.
  • 2004 — 2010: Ms Gisèle Jacob, Director General with Environment Canada and Deputy Secretary General for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. She also served as chair of the Geographical Names Board of Canada.
  • 2010 — 2013: Mr. John G. Geiger, author of Frozen In Time: The Fate of The Franklin Expedition and other books, former head of the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, current Chief Executive Officer of the RCGS.
  • 2013 — 2016: Dr. Paul Ruest
  • 2016 — present: Mr. Gavin Fitch, QC, lawyer.
  • Notable Vice-Presidents

  • 1930 - 1934: J. Mackintosh Bell, geologist, explorer and writer. His field work included pioneer exploration in Arctic Canada for the Geological Survey of Canada. He later became director of the Geological Survey of New Zealand.
  • 1939 - 1941: Senator W. A. Buchanan, former Member of Parliament and publisher of the Lethbridge Herald.
  • 1939 - 1954: Gen. A.G.L. Andrew McNaughton, Chief of the General Staff for Canada, Commanding officer of the First Canadian Infantry Division, and Ambassador to the United Nations.
  • 1968 - Dr. John Tuzo Wilson, geophysicist and geologist who achieved worldwide acclaim for his contributions to the theory of plate tectonics.
  • Awards

    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

  • 2016: Marc R. St-Onge, Paul F. HoffmanĤ, Denis St-Onge and the Geological Survey of Canada
  • 2015: Jacob Verhoef, Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood
  • 2014: Canada's Astronauts and the Canadian Space Agency
  • 2013: Michael Palin, Robert Bateman, and Yvan Desy and Sylvain Lemay of Natural Resources Canada
  • 2012: Dr. Philip Currie
  • 2011: Sir Christopher Ondaatje and Dr. Jerry Linenger
  • 2010: Alex Trebek and Canadian International Polar Year National Committee
  • 2009: Dr. Wade Davis
  • 2007: The Nature of Québec/Le Québec au naturel
  • 2006: The Atlas of Canada
  • 2004: Jean Lemire and Edryd Shaw
  • 2003: Roger F. Tomlinson
  • 2002: Gordon Slade
  • 2001: Norman Hallendy
  • 2000: Bernard Voyer
  • 1998: Mary May Simon
  • 1997: Peter Gzowski
  • 1996: Gilbert M. Grosvenor
  • 1995: Harold K. Eidsvik, Dr. Lawrence W. Morley and Dr. Victor K. Prest
  • 1994: The Historical Atlas of Canada, volumes II and III
  • 1988: The Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume I, William G. Dean, Richard Colebrook Harris, and Geoffrey J. Matthews
  • 1986: Dr. Derek C. Ford
  • 1980: Selma Barkham
  • 1978: Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson
  • 1976: National Atlas of Canada
  • 1973: Maj. Gen. William J. Megill
  • 1972: Dr. Stanislaw Lesczychki
  • 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

  • 2016: Richard Weber
  • 2015: Jean Lemire
  • 2014: George Hobson
  • 2013: Jill Heinerth
  • 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

  • 2015: GreenBug Energy Inc.
  • 2014: Ross Thurston
  • 2013: Jeff Golfman
  • 2012: Dr. Fraser Taylor
  • 2011: Michel Séguin
  • 2010: Frank van Biesen
  • 2009: Sidney Ribaux
  • 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

  • 2016: Mark Graham, Peter Harrison and Christine Duverger-Harrison
  • 2015: Bruce Amos and Louise Maffett
  • 2014: Christopher Burn and Iain Wallace
  • 2013: Sir Christopher Ondaatje
  • 2012: Jean Fournier
  • 2011: Gisèle Jacob and Arthur E. Collin
  • 2010: Pierre Bergeron and Helen Kerfoot
  • 2009: James Raffan and Ted Johnson
  • 2008: Kenneth Boland and Carman Joynt
  • 2007: Stuart Semple and Brian Osborne
  • 2006: Karen Lochhead and Michael Schmidt
  • 2005: James Maxwell and Denis St-Onge
  • 2004: Samuel P. Arsenault and Alexander T. Davidson
  • 2003: Blair Seaborn and David Kirkwood
  • 2002: Alan O. Gibbons
  • 2001: Dickson Mansfield
  • 2000: Winifred Wadasinghe-Wijay
  • 1999: Pierre Camu and Grete Hale
  • 1998: Pierre Des Marais II and Dr. George Hobson
  • 1997: Enid Byford and Robert Goddard
  • 1996: David Bartlett
  • 1995: William M. Gilchrist and Col. Louis M. Sebert
  • 1994: Wendy Simpson-Lewis
  • 1993: David W. Phillips and Dr. Ernest P. Weeks
  • 1992: Dr. J. Keith Fraser and Samuel F. Hughes
  • 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

  • 2016: Warwick Vincent
  • 2015: John Smol
  • 2014: Donald Forbes
  • 2013: David Hik
  • 2012: Martin Bergmann
  • 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

  • 2016: Simon Winchester
  • 2015: Louie Kamookak, Wendy Cecil and Alex Trebek
  • 2014: Marc-André Bernier, Ryan Harris, Jonathan Moore and Andrew Campbell (Parks Canada)
  • Massey Medal

    Recognizing 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

  • 2016: Steve Blasco
  • 2015: Brian Osborne
  • 2014: Derald Smith
  • 2013: David Ley
  • 2012: Graeme Wynn
  • 2011: David Livingstone
  • 2010: Raymond Price
  • 2009: Michael Church
  • 2008: Bruce Mitchell
  • 2007: Eddy Carmack
  • 2006: Serge Courville
  • 2005: Tim Oke
  • 2004: Larry Stuart Bourne
  • 2003: Richard Colebrook Harris
  • 2002: John Oliver Wheeler
  • 2001: Lawrence McCann
  • 1999: Alexander T. Davidson
  • 1998: William C. Wonders
  • 1997: James A. Houston
  • 1996: James P. Bruce
  • 1995: Pierre Camu
  • 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.


    Royal Canadian Geographical Society Wikipedia