After going almost 3½ decades without naming an Honorary President, you might say The Royal Canadian Geographical Society was waiting for “the right one” to come along.
Yet today, as the RCGS announces that Alex Trebek has been appointed to its top honorary position (joining the likes of explorer and geologist Joseph Tyrrell and former Governor General Vincent Massey), it’s hardly the first time the Sudbury-born Jeopardy! host, philanthropist and human rights spokesperson has been tied to the Society.
Trebek is a lifelong champion of geographical education, having hosted numerous student geography competitions in the last few decades, including the Canadian Geographic Challenge and the National Geographic World Championships. He’s received the RCGS’s Gold Medal (in 2010) and its Lawrence J. Burpee Medal (in 2015) for his contributions to the advancement of geography. As a critical supporter of the annual Canadian Geographic Challenge in particular, he has helped revitalize the student competition, which in the last two years has returned to a live and in-person Ottawa final for the top 20 Canadian regional finalists.
“There have only been six Honorary Presidents in the history of the Society,” explains RCGS CEO John Geiger. “It is an honour reserved for eminent individuals who have rendered outstanding service to their country and to the Society. Alex Trebek has done so much to promote geography and education in Canada and around the world, and we are very proud that he has accepted this new role.”
It was only fitting that RCGS President Paul Ruest announced Trebek’s new role as Honorary President at Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar Public School. Trebek spent the morning with 250 grade 7 and 8 students, exploring Can Geo Education’s Giant Floor Map Parks Canada: Places and Spaces for Everyone, and, as you would expect, running a mini quiz competition for the kids.
“Alex’s appointment is more than a recognition of the unprecedented impact of his contribution to geographic education in Canada,” says Ruest. “It is a symbol and statement of the importance of geography in all facets of our lives.”
Trebek has quizzed not only thousands of contestants but also tens of millions of viewers on geography, science, history, current events and more since first hosting CBC’s teen academic competition Reach for the Top in 1966 and stepping onto the Jeopardy! stage in 1984. During his first few years on Jeopardy!, he developed new tournament levels for teens, college and university students and celebrities.
And he’s always held that the geography categories are his favourite — and not just because the topic is a personal interest. Trebek has more than once told the finalists in the Canadian Geographic Challenge that to understand and react to current events — from elections to environmental disasters to war — we must have a strong grasp of the geography of our country, our continent, our planet: “All events are geographic,” he says. “They affect us directly.”
For more about the RCGS and the Honorary Presidency, click here.