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Turning Points over the Past 70 years

First Lecture

To inaugurate The Canadian Geographical Society with fanfare its founders invited Englishman Sir Francis Younghusband, then known as ‘one of the greatest living explorers,’ to deliver the Society's first lecture in January 1930. Younghusband recounted his 1904 journey across the Himalayas to Tibet, where he concluded a British-Tibetan sword to the Canadian Geographical Society which still remains in its care.


With the Society’s help, Canadians have studied every imaginable nook and cranny in the country: tracking polar bears on the tundra and the homeless in Toronto, squeezing into underwater caves and, as in the case of Dale Sanders, photographing marine life off the west Coast. Sponsoring geographical research has been part of the Society's activities since the late 1930s. In 1952, it granted only six $250 scholarships to university students in geography; today the Society allocates up to $50,000 a year in research grants to students and individuals.


What do humorist Stephen Leacock, former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin, have in common? All wrote in early issues of the Canadian Geographical Journal (predecessor of Canadian Geographic), the flagship publication of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.

Royal Society

In 1953, royal fever gripped much of the nation as Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom. The Canadian Geographical Journal reflected the mood in its coverage of all things royal, from a story on swans, the royal bird, to entire issues devoted to the Queen’s coronation (August 1953) and to the royal tour of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway (September 1959). In 1957, the Canadian Geographical Society was granted the right to add royal to its title, through the efforts of Governor General Vincent Massey, then patron of the Society.


Governor General Vincent Massey had a keen interest in geography and was one of the most active patrons of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. In 1959, he established a fund for a medal to recognize ‘outstanding personal achievement in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada.’ The first Massey Medal was awarded that year to Henry Larsen of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Between 1940 and 1942, Larsen made the first west-to-east voyage through the Northwest Passage. The Massey Foundation continues to sponsor the annual award, Canada's highest honour in geography, which has been presented to 41 recipients since its inception.


In 1992, a team of mountaineers and scientists reached the summit of Mount Logan in the Yukon — Canada's highest peal — and obtained the first accurate measurement of its height (5,959 metres) using GPS satellite technology. This marked the first time the RCGS coordinated a major expedition. Following its success, the Society began to support the ventures of other Canadian explorers. Notable expeditions include the recreation of voyageur travels by birchbark canoe from Thunder Bay, Ont., to Cumberland House, Sask., and a trek to King William Island, Nunavut, to seek records from Sir John Franklin’s last voyage.


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