Announcing the winners of the 2023 Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year competition

Canadian Geographic is pleased to honour 15 photographers for their outstanding images of Canadian wildlife

A juvenile red-throated loon shakes off water in dreamy evening light in the St. Lawrence Estuary at Le Bic, Que. The birds often stop on the south shore of the St. Lawrence on their way to nesting grounds on the Côte-Nord. Rimouski, Que.-based photographer Jean-Christophe Lemay is Canadian Geographic’s Canadian Wildlife Photographer of the Year. (Photo: Jean-Christophe Lemay)
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An Arctic fox in its summer coat trots nimbly across the tundra under the midnight sun. A northern gannet returns to its crowded colony with nesting material. A raft of curious sea otters bobs in the Pacific waters off western Vancouver Island, their attention caught by a group of sea kayakers. The winning images of Canadian Geographic’s 2023 Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year competition showcase both the awe-inspiring biodiversity of this country and the talent of our photography community. For this edition of our most popular photography competition, we are pleased to recognize one photographer whose work stood out among the more than 14,000 entries: Jean-Christophe Lemay is our Canadian Wildlife Photographer of the Year and wins the grand prize of $5,000.

Read on to learn more about Lemay and see the photos that most impressed our judges: wildlife photographers Michelle Valberg and Ryan Tidman, Canadian Geographic director of brand and creative Javier Frutos, and the editorial staff of Canadian Geographic.

Canadian Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jean-Christophe Lemay

A woodland caribou (mountain ecotype) traverses a frosty landscape high in the Chic-Choc mountains of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. The Gaspé caribou herd is isolated and extremely precarious, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining. (Photo: Jean-Christophe Lemay)
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As dawn broke on September 30, 2019, Jean-Christophe Lemay was high in the Chic-Choc mountains on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. It was his last chance to see the Gaspé caribou herd before the area closed for mating season. As the sun rose, Lemay realized something astonishing: he was surrounded by 14 caribou — nearly half the Gaspé population at the time. “I spent six or seven hours shooting videos, photos and just enjoying the moment,” says Lemay. “I couldn’t leave, it was so surreal. I think, to this day, it was my favourite day in nature.”

The memory remains a high point for the 32-year-old wildlife photographer, who was born in Ottawa and raised in L’Orignal, Ont. Lemay has long been inspired by the stunning nature that surrounds Rimouski, Que., where he moved in 2010 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology and has remained ever since. But his first photographic love wasn’t wildlife; it was the ocean. Summer surfing trips to the east coast of the U.S. in his youth allowed Lemay to hone his craft, shooting photos of waves and surfers with his first camera, a small waterproof Pentax W80.

While at university, his appreciation of wildlife grew. Icy Rimouski winters froze any chance of shooting the waves of the St. Lawrence River, but his studies provided no shortage of animal subjects. “I think foxes have to be the animal I’ve photographed the most,” says Lemay. “They’re everywhere, they’re photogenic and people love them. But my favorite is the Canada lynx. They’re just so mysterious and captivating, such beautiful animals. At the same time, they’re very elusive, so it’s kind of a challenge.”

Lemay’s ethereal wildlife portraits have since appeared in magazines such as Nature Sauvage, Canadian Geographic, and Beside, and have earned him a huge following on social media. In June, Lemay opened his first boutique and gallery, JC Lemay Photo, in Rimouski. As for the future, Lemay has a simple goal: “It’s a huge privilege to be doing this as a full-time career. I just want to keep doing this forever.”

A female Canada lynx and her kit peer over the snow in Quebec’s La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve. (Photo: Jean-Christophe Lemay)
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A sea star just below the surface of the St. Lawrence Estuary at sunset in Rimouski, Que. The estuary is where the fresh water of the St. Lawrence River meets the salt water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is one of the deepest and largest estuaries in the world. (Photo: Jean-Christophe Lemay)
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Terrestrial Life

Winner: Louis-Pierre Ouellet

An Arctic fox trots across the tundra on Bylot Island, Nunavut. The photographer spent three months camped out in Sirmilik National Park studying the behaviours and habitat preferences of the foxes, and said this individual was particularly curious and daring. 

Photo: Louis-Pierre Ouellet
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Runner-up: Jean-Simon Bégin

The photographer was following lynx tracks in a forest in northern Ontario when he spotted a hare being chased by a pine marten and snapped this image of the marten in hot pursuit of its prey. 

Photo: Jean-Simon Bégin
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Things With Wings

Winner: Brittany Crossman

A northern gannet returns to its colony on Quebec’s Île Bonaventure with nesting material. The small island off the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula plays host to more than 200,000 breeding birds each summer, including a boisterous colony of gannets. 

Photo: Brittany Crossman
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Runner-up: Mary Madden

Three great grey owl fledglings perch on a mossy branch near Kamloops, B.C. When food is abundant, great grey owls can lay as many as five eggs; the chicks start to climb out of the nest after about a month and fly one to two weeks after that. 

Photo: Mary Madden
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Aquatic Life

Winner: Chase Teron

A raft of curious sea otters checks out a group of sea kayakers, including the photographer, near Spring Island off the western coast of Vancouver Island, B.C. Nearly wiped out in the 19th century by fur traders, sea otter populations in B.C. have rebounded as a result of a reintroduction program. 

Photo: Chase Teron
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Runner-up: Eli Wolpin

An anemone blooms in a shallow kelp forest in God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, B.C. Browning Passage, where this photo was taken, was rated by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. 

Photo: Eli Wolpin
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Honourable mentions

Liz Towers

A rough-skinned newt crawls over a mushroom in Delta, B.C. Rough-skinned newts are common throughout coastal B.C. and are incredibly toxic when ingested — except by garter snakes, which have developed a resistance to the toxin in what scientists have called an “evolutionary arms race.”

Photo: Liz Towers
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Brandon Broderick

Gulls squabble over oolichan on B.C.’s Skeena River. Oolichan are small smelt-like fish that spawn each spring in the rivers of the Pacific northwest — a welcome feast for animals and people after the long winter. 

Photo: Brandon Broderick
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Alex McKerracher

A bronze jumping spider peeks over the edge of an autumn maple leaf at Robert Edmondson Conservation Area in Moffat, Ont. Bronze jumpers, like other spiders, play an important role in pest management wherever they’re found, dining on just about anything they can fit into their mouthparts.

Photo: Alex McKerracher
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Eric R. Smith

A white-tailed jackrabbit shelters in a snow burrow but can’t escape the hoar frost that clings to its whiskers as temperatures hover around -20C on a winter day near Penhold, Alta. 

Photo: Eric R. Smith
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Audrey Carpentier

A raccoon dips its paws in the waters of the St. Lawrence in Parc national du Bic, Que. The photographer waited patiently at the water’s edge to capture this portrait. 

Photo: Audrey Carpentier
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Shane Gross

Juvenile plainfin midshipman fish are still attached to their yolk sacs in the intertidal zone on eastern Vancouver Island, B.C. When they get a bit bigger, the juveniles will detach and swim off on their own to the deep sea. 

Photo: Shane Gross
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Simon d’Entremont

A snowy owl perches on a washed-up lobster trap in Hartlen Point, N.S. Snowy owls rarely visit the Maritime provinces but when they do, they tend to stick to beaches and coastal areas, likely due to the availability of food. 

Photo: Simon d’Entremont
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Dave Sandford

An Arctic fox gives a huge yawn before curling up to keep warm from a strong northerly wind in Churchill, Man. About the size of small house cats, Arctic foxes remain active all through the long northern winter, often following polar bears to the sea ice to scavenge their leavings. 

Photo: Dave Sandford
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