Exploration

RCGS summer exhibit PRESSURE: James Cameron Into the Abyss opens at 50 Sussex

Canadian-born filmmaker and explorer James Cameron’s submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER is the focal point of an exhibition aimed at inspiring the exploration and conservation of the ocean

  • Jun 06, 2023
  • 607 words
  • 3 minutes
Dr. Joe MacInnis, James Cameron‘s friend and mentor, speaks in front of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, the submersible that Cameron piloted to the deepest known point in the global ocean. The submersible is the focal point of PRESSURE: James Cameron Into the Abyss, a summer-long exhibition aimed at inspiring the exploration and conservation of the ocean. (Photo: Melody Maloney/Can Geo)
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On March 26, 2012, Canadian-born explorer and filmmaker James Cameron landed on the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the global ocean, making history as the first person to complete a solo dive to the Challenger Deep. Now, the cutting-edge submersible that took Cameron into the deep has arrived in Ottawa to inspire a new generation of explorers and changemakers. 

On Monday, June 5, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society officially opened its summer exhibition PRESSURE: James Cameron Into the Abyss, which features the neon-green DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible and the steel diving sphere that protected Cameron from the crushing pressure nearly 11 kilometres below the ocean’s surface. 

At a launch event inside the Alex Trebek Theatre at 50 Sussex, John Geiger, CEO of the RCGS, said he hopes the exhibit inspires people to think about the ocean in a different way — as a still-unknown frontier, only five per cent of which has been explored, observed and mapped, and as a critical ecosystem in need of protection from the pressures of pollution, overfishing and climate heating. 

In a video greeting recorded from his home in New Zealand, Cameron said he is proud to bring the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to his native Canada, where he was inspired as a teenager by another ocean explorer, Joe MacInnis. In 1969, 14-year-old Cameron saw MacInnis’ undersea research station, Sublimnos, displayed outside the Royal Ontario Museum. He made a detailed sketch of Sublimnos and sent it to MacInnis, along with a letter asking for blueprints. Moved by the passion in Cameron’s words, MacInnis wrote back and encouraged the young Cameron to move forward with his ambition to become an explorer. Forty-three years later, MacInnis was in the control room at the surface as Cameron made his pioneering descent into the Mariana Trench. 

“I was holding my breath,” MacInnis recalled. At 10,908 metres, the pressure bearing down on DEEPSEA CHALLENGER was equivalent to the weight of 26 space shuttles. If anything happened to the submersible, the team would be powerless to help. “On the outer edge of the known world, [Cameron] was the loneliest person on the planet.”

Concluding his remarks, MacInnis made a bold prediction: “A 14-year-old girl will stand in this room, look at DEEPSEA CHALLENGER and be inspired. She will commit herself to a life of science, engineering, art and discovery. She will shift the shoreline between the known and the unknown. She will fly to Mars. She will carry the fire.” 

Ocean, Freshwater, and Us

The PRESSURE experience also includes a display in the main floor gallery at 50 Sussex focused on ocean and freshwater conservation. The windows of the gallery look out on the Ottawa River, a vital and historic waterway that flows to the St. Lawrence River and, eventually, the ocean. It’s a powerful visual reminder that even Canadians living far inland have a connection and responsibility to the ocean via our country’s vast freshwater networks. 

Visitors can explore Canadian Geographic Education’s Ocean, Freshwater, and Us giant floor map, developed in partnership with the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition, to learn what Canada is doing to protect its oceans and coastlines, and discover the Gervais/Three River Cave system, a healthy “hope spot” underneath the Ottawa River that is the focus of an ongoing research project into freshwater mussels. 

PRESSURE is on display at 50 Sussex Drive in Ottawa until Sept. 1, 2023 and open Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted to support the educational public programming of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. 

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