Canada’s 90 Greatest Explorers: Charting the unknown

Part of our roundup of 90 of Canada’s greatest explorers, these 16 explorers significantly advanced our knowledge of Canada’s geography through mapping
  • Jan 22, 2020
  • 1,057 words
  • 5 minutes
Samuel de Champlain Expand Image

1645-1700 | Quebec City
Considered the first significant Canadian-born explorer (of European descent). As the king’s hydrographer, he mapped the Mississippi River and much of Lake Superior, the area from Saguenay to Hudson Bay, and the Labrador coast. 

1770-1857 | Longueuil, Que.

David Thompson postage stamp Expand Image

Called “the greatest land geographer who ever lived,” this fur trader, explorer and cartographer mapped more than 4.9 million sq. km of North America, including most of Western Canada. He depended on First Nations for guidance and learned several Indigenous languages. 

1788-1863 | Quebec
Fur trader and explorer in the Athabasca and Mackenzie districts. Later, on three expeditions along the Arctic coast, he surveyed all but a small part of the Northwest Passage. 

1799-1877 | Halifax
Halifax-born naval surveyor and explorer who mapped the Pacific and Bering coasts and more distant regions. Led the largest British Admiralty expedition to find John Franklin and rescued Robert McClure in the process. 

Unknown-ca.1900 | Kitikmeot, Nunavut
A widely travelled member of the Netsilingmiut and the most important source of data on the lost Franklin expedition in the 1850s and ’60s. Provided extensive knowledge of the expedition’s fate to John Rae and later Charles Francis Hall, and drafted a key map of the sites of evidence. 

1852-1934 | Lévis, Que. 

Joseph-Elzéar Bernier Expand Image

One of Canada’s greatest mariners, leading numerous government expeditions into the Arctic Archipelago and asserting Canada’s claim to all islands between the mainland and North Pole. 

1858-1957 | Weston, Ont.
A geologist, explorer, cartographer and historian who trekked across and mapped vast regions of the North for the Geological Survey of Canada, discovered rich fossil beds in Alberta and extensive coal deposits in Canada’s West.

1870-1956 | Bewdley, Ont.

Mina Benson Hubbard Expand Image

After her husband’s loss and death in Labrador’s wilderness, she returned and travelled across the wild region, becoming the first Euro-Canadian woman to do so and creating the first maps of the Nascaupee and George River system. 

1876-1958 | Fort Liard, N.W.T. 
One of Canada’s foremost geologists and surveyors, founding president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He led the exploration of the unmapped North in the 1910s and was commissioner of the Northwest Territories. 

1887-1975 | Toronto

C.S. Wright Expand Image

A physicist, glaciologist and Antarctic explorer who was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1910-13 (and discovered Scott’s body after he failed to return from the pole). He investigated ice formations and ground radiation, and mapped Victoria Land’s mountains. 

1927- | Ottawa 
Through pioneering archival and archeological searches, she discovered the existence of a 16th-century Basque whaling industry in Labrador and Quebec. Her research brought worldwide attention and UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the region. 

1935- | Orillia, Ont.
Leading academic cave explorer responsible for pioneering studies of caves as records of climate and geomorphic evolution. Developed a comprehensive and in influential theory for the origin of cave systems. 

1949- | Bonnington, B.C. 

John Pollack Expand Image

A GPS surveyor and researcher with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, specializing in difficult conditions around the globe. Led a multi-year mission to find, study and map abandoned Klondike-era sternwheelers in the Yukon River. 

1955- | Ottawa 
Has led geological mapping and research projects from the Coppermine River, N.W.T., and Baffin Island, Nunavut, to Tibet and Nepal. Lead author on more than 120 geological maps, including the Geological Survey of Canada’s first-ever maps in Inuktut. Discovered the world’s oldest rocks in the N.W.T. in the 1980s. 

1980- | Banff, Alta.

Nicholaus Vieira Expand Image

World cave explorer and guide who spends 200-plus days underground each year. Leader of the multi-year expedition to map Raspberry Rising, a cave in Glacier National Park, B.C., confirmed as the country’s longest marble cave.

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