People & Culture

10 highlights from the 2022 RCGS Fellows Dinner — plus photos!

Celebrating iconic collaborations, exciting partnerships, a new RCGS president and many more memorable moments from the 93rd College of Fellows Annual Dinner

This year, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner was held at the Canadian War Museum in the LeBreton Gallery.
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The atmosphere was decidedly festive as hundreds of people gathered at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on November 16 to celebrate geography’s biggest night! 

It was the first time in two years that the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner has been held in person. Hosted by RCGS Fellow and award-winning television host, producer and environmental journalist Aliya Jasmine, it was a night to remember.

Notable guests included the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, former Prime Minister of Canada; representatives to Canada of foreign governments, including Alfredo Martinez Serrano of Spain, Hanne Fugl Eskjaer of Denmark, Jon Elvedal Fredriksen of Norway, Kerim Uras of Turkey, and Noureddine Bardad-Daidj of Algeria; the Honourable Pamela Gross, Deputy Premier and Minister of Education of Nunavut; the Honourable Lois Mitchell, former Lieutenant Governor of Alberta and newly-elected President of the Society; and Nellie Kusugak, former Commissioner of Nunavut and Society Governor. 

Here are some of the highlights from an incredible night of music, laughter, food and fellowship in celebration of Canada’s geography.

New RCGS President Lois Mitchell offers welcoming remarks on behalf of the society.
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We welcomed a new RCGS President

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is pleased to announce that the Honourable Lois Mitchell is our new President. Mitchell served as the 18th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta from 2015 to 2020 and is a longstanding member of Canada’s dedicated corps of community volunteers. In 2018, she received the Society’s Louie Kamookak medal. Throughout her time in office, Mitchell chose to make history education a priority and became the founding patron of the History and Heroes Foundation, of which she is now the chair. 

“It’s an honour to become the President of the Board of Governors of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, especially at such an exciting time in the Society’s history,” said Mitchell in opening remarks at the dinner. “As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to contend with the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, the Society remains more committed than ever. We are helping Canadians foster a greater understanding of our geography, and the changes affecting its people and the environment.”

We thanked a departing governor and president 

After reflecting on another successful year for the RCGS, CEO John Geiger acknowledged departing Governor Wendy Cecil and Past President Gavin Fitch. As an indispensable member of the board for several years, Captain Dr. Wendy Cecil served as both a Governor and Vice-President. Geiger also recognized Fitch with the Society’s Executive Standard. Fitch served on the board for 12 years, including two terms as President, and has been part of many significant moments in the Society’s recent history. 

David Kajganich (centre) stands with actor Jared Harris (left) and RCGS CEO John Geiger after accepting the Society’s Louie Kamookak Medal.
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We paid tribute to a Hollywood talent

One of the most exciting talents in Hollywood today, American screenwriter David Kajganich was recognized for his outstanding achievements as a writer and storyteller. Kajganich is best known for creating the binge-worthy TV series The Terror. The series is a fictionalized but accurately-presented account of the 1845 British Arctic Expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin — with a supernatural twist. Actor Jared Harris, who portrayed Captain Francis Crozier in the series, travelled to Ottawa from the U.K. to pay tribute to Kajganich.

“The experience of working with David on The Terror has basically become the bar by which I judge all other opportunities,” said Harris, who is also known for his standout roles in The Crown, Mad Men, and Chernobyl

Following Harris’ tribute, Kajganich was awarded the Society’s Louie Kamookak medal.

“Thank you all for being so generous, welcoming me and Jared and our project and I thank you on behalf of all of our collaborators. Thank you so much,” said Kajganich.

RCGS Westaway Explorer-in-Residence Adam Shoalts accepts the Society’s Louie Kamookak Medal from RCGS Honorary President Chief Perry Bellegarde.
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Adam Shoalts returned his expedition flag

Explorer Adam Shoalts embodies the Society’s mandate to make Canada better known to Canadians and the world. Shoalts is the author of four bestselling books on Canadian history and his own expeditions into the wilderness. This past summer, he embarked on yet another expedition, tracing bird migration routes by canoe from Long Point on Lake Erie to Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik. Shoalts shared some insights into his route — including his portage around “a rather large waterfall” between lakes Erie and Ontario — and returned the RCGS flag he has carried with him on every expedition since 2011. In recognition of his many contributions to the Society as a writer, speaker and Westaway Explorer-in-Residence, Shoalts was also presented with the Society’s Louie Kamookak medal.

We announced a new collaboration

During the main course, emcee Aliya Jasmine took the stage sporting a cozy-looking new jacket emblazoned with the RCGS and Canadian Geographic logos — and no, the Ottawa-born journalist joked, it wasn’t because Los Angeles’ weather has made her soft. In fact, the jacket is part of a new collaboration between the RCGS and Canadiana, a clothing brand whose items can be found in Walmart stores across the country. The collab allows individuals to show off their RCGS pride in style, with the fall 2022 line including puffer jackets and limited-edition sherpa fleeces. A portion of every purchase goes directly to the Society to support our programming.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien reminisces about his career with veteran political journalist and RCGS Fellow Evan Solomon onstage at the dinner.
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We honoured a former prime minister

From 1993 to 2003, Jean Chrétien served as Canada’s 20th prime minister after serving in numerous portfolios including the Justice Department, what was then called Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Treasury Board and Finance. Throughout his long career in public service, he was committed to strengthening Canadian democracy, as exemplified by his roles in the patriation of the Canadian Constitution and in the adoption of the Clarity Act. He also loves the North. In recognition of his distinguished career, Chrétien was awarded the Gold Medal — one of the highest honours the Society can bestow.

Another former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, recorded a tribute to Chrétien, saying, “This Gold Medal from the RCGS rightly pays tribute to the unshakable belief in Canada that has defined your life.”

Following the presentation of the award, Chrétien sat down for a fireside chat with veteran political correspondent and RCGS Fellow Evan Solomon. The discussion focused on Chrétien’s passion for preserving Canada’s northern wilderness, and how Canadians can help to make the world a better place. 

“Canada is the best. Vive le Canada,” said Chrétien.

We welcomed 76 new Fellows

This year, the Society was proud to welcome 76 distinguished individuals into the College of Fellows. Fellows are individuals who have demonstrated an interest in being engaged in activities related to the mandate and the programs of the Society, as well as expressed a willingness to be involved in efforts to sustain and expand the capacity of the Society to achieve its objective of making Canada better known to Canadians and the world. Among the new Fellows this year are Nicolas Roulx and Guillame Moreau, co-leaders of the 2021 RCGS Expedition of the Year, and RCMP Cpl. Anthony Cameron, who is from Waywayseecappo First Nation in Treaty 4 territory and was honoured by his Nation with a star blanket ceremony conducted by RCGS Honorary President Chief Perry Bellegarde and Cameron’s mother and sister during the Fellows’ induction earlier in the day. 

Inuk and Mohawk singer Beatrice Deer performs on stage.
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We witnessed an amazing performance

The evening featured a riveting performance by award-winning songwriter Beatrice Deer. An Inuk and Mohawk singer-songwriter from Nunavik, Deer sings in Inuktitut, English and French, often infusing traditional Inuit throat singing into her songs. In addition to performing two songs, Deer schooled guests in the proper pronunciation of Kangiqsualujjuaq.

We announced a new travel partnership

For over 182 years, Cunard has been synonymous with legendary ocean voyages, especially transatlantic crossings, and they are now the official luxury cruise line of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Experts from the RCGS will be on every Cunard voyage in the 2023 Alaska season and on the Canada/New England voyage, which sails from New York to Quebec next fall on Cunard’s flagship ocean liner Queen Mary 2. Speakers will include explorers, naturalists, geographical experts, and Indigenous advocates.

“Our organizations are both dedicated to education and connecting patrons with the land and cultures that surround us,” said Matthew Gleaves, Vice President Commercial Development for North America at Cunard. “With that in mind, we intend to make this a long-lasting partnership; 2023 is just the beginning.”

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Colonel Joshua Kutryk delivered an inspiring presentation about his career as an astronaut, the Artemis Program, Canada’s contributions to space exploration and more.
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We got a glimpse at the future of human spaceflight

The first human who will walk on the surface of Mars is probably alive right now. That was just one of many inspiring ideas shared by Colonel Joshua Kutryk, Canadian Space Agency astronaut, engineer and test pilot in a keynote address that also touched on the astronaut selection process, the Artemis missions and lunar geology training with Western University’s Dr. Gordon Osinski in Labrador. The second phase of the Artemis Program, slated to take place in 2024, will see a human crew fly to the moon and back again for the first time since 1972, and a Canadian astronaut — yet to be chosen — will be among them. Canada is also contributing to the construction of the Lunar Gateway, a space station that will serve as a base for future lunar exploration.

“Space has opened my eyes to what we can do when we work together,” said Kutryk. “It’s opened my eyes to an optimistic future.” 

Photographs from the night

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