People & Culture

Inside the RCGS’ star-studded 90th anniversary celebration

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s 2019 College of Fellows Annual Dinner was also a celebration of the organization’s achievements over the past nine decades — and of the best in geography and exploration

  • Nov 22, 2019
  • 1,362 words
  • 6 minutes
Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellows 2019 Expand Image

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner is the standout event of the year for hundreds of people who share the Society’s passion for making Canada better known to Canadians and the world. But 2019’s event, held Nov. 21 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., was even more special, as the Society celebrated 90 years of exploration, curiosity and storytelling. Read on for some of the highlights of the evening, as captured by those who attended.

Honouring exceptional achievements in exploration, science, and nation-building 

Each year, through its awards program, the RCGS recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Canada, the Society or the field of geography. In 2019, the Society awarded medals to 36 exceptional honourees, among them astronauts, educators, artists, former heads of state, explorers and scientists. 

Most of the medals were presented at a special ceremony in the Alex Trebek Theatre at 50 Sussex, headquarters of the RCGS, on the morning of Nov. 21, while others were given at Society events throughout the year. A few honourees were recognized during the Dinner itself, including the Right Hon. Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada; the Right Hon. David Johnston, former Governor General of Canada; astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the most recent person still living to have walked on the moon; astronaut Andrew Feustel, who commanded a recent mission on the International Space Station, and Michael Ulica, president and chief operating officer of the National Geographic Society.

The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, provided remarks of welcome and congratulations, saluting the honourees and the RCGS for their ongoing efforts to better our country and world. 

See the full list of 2019 honourees

Welcoming new Fellows

The Society proudly welcomed 133 new Fellows to its ranks, bringing the total number of active Fellows to 1,176. Fellows inducted this year hail from four countries, seven provinces and one territory. Among this year’s diverse Fellows class are country singer Paul Brandt, journalist and Canadian Geographic contributing editor Julian Brave NoiseCat, giraffologist Anne Innis Dagg, nature advocate Simon Jackson, historian Margaret MacMillan, mountaineering duo Lonnie Dupre and Pascale Marceau, TVO anchor Steve Paikin, artist and author Leanne Shapton, and Tlingit artist and carver Keith Wolfe Smarch. 


MADE // I’m now officially a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society! The new Fellows were elected in yesterday and it’s basically like being ‘Made’ like in the movie Goodfellas, but for explorers. The “Goodfellows!” Out of Canada’s estimated population of 37.59 MILLION, there are just 1,176 RCGS Fellows! Proud to be one of them The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s compass rose doesn’t simply guide us into cardinal directions, it directs us to explore the values we all share. We are celebrating this nation’s natural and cultural heritage, and exploring it’s farthest reaches. MADE. Now the real work starts! #RCGS90 #RCGS #explorer #sharecangeo #cangeotravel #discoveron #roam #roam247 #insidenatgeo #natgeo #quebec #feelsalive #feelalive @hellyhansen #hellyhansen @keencanada #bettertakesaction @revo #getoutside #ottawa #myottawa #explorecanada #canada

A post shared by Dax Justin | Canadian Explorer (@daxjustin) on


Celebrating legends and milestones in space exploration 

Space exploration was an overarching theme of the evening, with 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission as well as the 90th anniversary of the RCGS. Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and an Honourary Vice-President of the Society, introduced fellow astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Andrew Feustel as they accepted their Gold Medals, as well as Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who returned the RCGS expedition flag he had taken with him to the International Space Station on Expedition 58/59. 

Schmitt delighted the crowd by tossing out foam “moon balls,” while Saint-Jacques amazed with a presentation about his mission and the new perspective it has given him on our planet. “This is our home in the vacuum of space,” he said, “and we have to take care of it.” 

Finally, Marie Lemay, Master of the Royal Canadian Mint, took the stage to present all the astronauts and Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency, with a special coin honouring Marc Garneau, the first Canadian to go to space.

Watch: Celebrating 90 years of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society 


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

People & Culture

Geography’s new groove: Celebrating 90 years of the RCGS

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has teamed up with Roots Canada to produce limited edition jackets featuring the expedition patches of notable explorers.

  • 703 words
  • 3 minutes
Gilles Gagnier, publisher of Canadian Geographic, at the RCGS Fellows Dinner

People & Culture

10 awesome things that happened at the 2016 RCGS Fellows Dinner

Celebrating new partnerships, milestone anniversaries and a bird for Canadians on geography's biggest night

  • 1194 words
  • 5 minutes
rcgs awards ceremony

People & Culture

Presenting the 2019 RCGS award winners

In celebration of its 90th year, the RCGS handed out awards to a diverse and star-studded roster of honourees

  • 2464 words
  • 10 minutes

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

  • 1828 words
  • 8 minutes