• Four people pose in front of a blue background saying "Royal Canadian geographical Society." They are Dr. Joe MacInnis, Gavin Fitch, Catherine McKenna, and John Geiger

    Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society on August 19. With McKenna, from left to right, are Society Honorary Vice-President Joe MacInnis, Society President Gavin Fitch and Society CEO John Geiger. (Photo: Ben Powless/Can Geo)

Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and former Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna has been made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in recognition of her public service and commitment to environmental conservation. McKenna was welcomed into the ranks of the Fellowship with a special event at Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration in Ottawa on August 19. 

John Geiger, CEO of the Society, said throughout her career, McKenna has earned a deserved reputation as a skilled negotiator, a tenacious community builder, and a champion for her riding of Ottawa Centre, which she served as Member of Parliament for six years. 

“As an organization that calls the nation’s capital home, we are impressed and appreciative of your efforts to secure federal funds for cleaner city transit and the new central library; to make local buildings more energy efficient; to create new green jobs for youth; and to protect the Ottawa River,” said Geiger. 

McKenna originally hails from Hamilton, Ont. Prior to her entry into politics, she trained as a lawyer and co-founded and served as executive director of Level, a charity that helps Canadian law students and firms do pro bono work in developing countries. She also served as a senior negotiator with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor. 

In 2015, McKenna ran for the Liberals in Ottawa Centre and unseated longtime NDP MP Paul Dewar, becoming the first woman to represent the riding. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister Responsible for Parks Canada, McKenna oversaw the phasing out of coal-fired electricity, Canada’s commitment to ban common single-use plastic items by the end of 2021 and the expansion of the country’s network of national parks and marine protected areas — “important contributions that will result in an enduring environmental legacy,” said Geiger.

McKenna has also been a strong supporter of the Society, appearing at numerous events and serving as guest editor of the November/December 2018 issue of its Canadian Geographic magazine. In her spare time, she enjoys open water swimming and tries to take a dip wherever her travels take her, including the Canadian Arctic. “We’re virtually certain that no Fellow in the Society’s history has swum in as many lakes, rivers and oceans — no matter the time of year or weather — as you,” said Geiger. “That achievement alone makes you worthy of this honour.” 

The August 19 event honouring McKenna was one of the first in-person events to be held by the Society since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in the spring of 2020. Notable guests included the Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Eamonn McKee, Deputy Head of Mission for the British High Commission in Ottawa David Reed, and former Deputy Prime Ministers Sheila Copps and John Manley, as well as Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Ron Hallman, CEO of Parks Canada; Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the National Capital Commission; Gavin Fitch, President of the Society; and Dr. Joe MacInnis, Honorary Vice-President of the Society.