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The Royal Canadian Geographical Society: Canada's Centre for Exploration

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has been making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world since 1929.

  • Jun 10, 2014
  • 379 words
  • 2 minutes
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Every year the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s coveted compass rose flag is carried on expeditions across Canada and around the world. The Society’s compass rose represents a tradition of courage and adventure. It has been carried to the highest peak in every province and territory in Canada, on grueling solo expeditions to the most remote corners of the country, around the globe, and even into space.

Each RCGS flag is numbered, and its history is documented and preserved in the Society archives. The flag, represented by an eight point compass rose charged by a red maple leaf, is derived from the Society’s coat of arms designed by Lieutenant-Commander Alan Brookman Beddoe.

The achievement of a designation as an RCGS flag expedition is a singular honour, one that places an expedition in a tradition of scores of others that have helped to celebrate the spirit of exploration in Canada and to expand geographical awareness and knowledge.

The RCGS has always served as Canada’s Centre for Exploration. Its founding meeting in 1929 featured the presentation by Sir Francis Younghusband, the British explorer and past-president of the Royal Geographical Society, of a sword from the king of Bhutan, to RCGS founding president Dr. Charles Camsell. This act symbolized the inheritance by the RCGS of a grand tradition of supporting and celebrating exploration, and that sword still holds a place of honour at the Society’s offices. The tradition is perpetuated through the Society’s Expeditions Program, which serves to encourage a deeper appreciation of our rich geographic inheritance, to advance geographic knowledge and to foster a sense of national pride.

Many great explorers have been Fellows, among them Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Henry Larson, Lord Shackleton, Rosita Forbes and Diamond Jenness. Today’s Fellows include astronauts Steve Maclean, Robert Thirsk and Julie Payette, and explorers Wade Davis and Bernard Voyer (the current chair of the Society’s Expeditions Program).

In 2013, the Society continued this tradition with the establishment of the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration to celebrate outstanding exploratory feats by Canadians in Canada or anywhere in the world, or by non-nationals for exploratory achievements within Canada.

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