The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
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Celebrated Canadians helped launch the RCGS’s magazine, Canadian Geographic.

This portrait by renowned photographer Richard Harrington graced the cover of the Canadian Geographical Journal in December 1950.
IT WAS NOT AN AUSPICIOUS BEGINNING for the fledgling Canadian Geographical Society. Founded in the year of the Great Crash, the Society launched its magazine, then known as the Canadian Geographical Journal, just as the Great Depression set in. Yet despite its early struggles, Canadian Geographic has evolved into a popular, award-winning periodical. Early contributors to the magazine, some of whom were among the most illustrious characters in Canada’s arts, science and political circles, helped pave the way to that success.

The first issue of the Journal, published in May 1930, included contributions from a number of high-profile Canadians. There was a congratulatory message from then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and a feature story by Dr. Frederick G. Banting, co-discoverer of insulin and Nobel Prize winner. Banting wrote about and sketched his travels on an arctic supply ship with friend and Group of Seven painter, A. Y. Jackson.

By the end of 1930, Canada had a new prime minister, R. B. Bennett, who penned this message in the magazine. ‘I have watched … the growth of The Canadian Geographical Society, of which I am very glad to count myself a member,’ he wrote. ‘Its purposes are altogether admirable.…’

‘I understand that the Islands of the Aegean Sea have been regarded for centuries as a scene of great beauty; I know, from having seen them, that the Mediterranean coast of France and the valleys of the Pyrenees are a charm to the enchanted eye; and I believe that for those who like that kind of thing, there is wild grandeur in the Highlands of Scotland, and a majestic solitude where the midnight sun flashes upon the ice-peaks of Alaska. But to my thinking none of those will stand comparison with the smiling beauty of the waters, shores and bays of Lake Simcoe and its sister lake, Couchiching.’

—From ‘The Lake Simcoe Country’ by Stephen Leacock, Canadian Geographical Journal, September 1935
Admirable they were, but the Society was barely making ends meet in its early years, through the height of the depression. Popular humorist Stephen Leacock graced the pages of the magazine with two articles during that era: one in 1932 on the forgotten explorations of the French Baron de Lahontan, and another in 1935 on Leacock's old stomping grounds around Ontario's Lake Simcoe.

The magazine has always attracted talented photographers, willing to go to the extremes of the country for the perfect shot. Richard Harrington was one such photographer who travelled the globe and sold his works to the likes of the Smithsonian Institution and New York City's Museum of Modern Art. He was renowned for his portraits of Inuit, many of which were published in the Journal through the 1950s.

Canadian Geographic has evolved into a venue for more journalistic and popular writing, but the Journal was for many years a vehicle for scientists. John Tuzo Wilson, the Canadian geophysicist best known for his explanation of plate tectonics — the constant readjusting of the Earth's shell — wrote for the Journal in 1946 and in 1958. Joseph Dewey Soper, an explorer and naturalist for whom Soper's ringed seal and the Dewey Soper Bird Sanctuary on Baffin Island were named, also wrote frequently about his adventurous travels in the 1930s and early 1940s.

These famous Canadians influenced the origins of Canadian Geographic and, like them, those who now contribute to the magazine continue to follow the Society’s mandate of making the country better known to Canada and to the world.

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