• The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent approaches the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean on Sept. 5, 2009. The two ships were helping to define the North American continental shelf — something that Jacob Verhoef was working on for many years, and for which he was recently awarded a Gold medal from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. (Photo: Patrick Kelley/Wikimedia Commons)

The dust had barely settled on Jacob Verhoef’s retirement when he and a friend hopped in a car in Halifax and drove across the country before returning to the east coast, where, years before, he’d mapped the continental shelf. It was that work, along with his mapping of the Arctic Ocean, which helped Canada win its claim to the waters that stretch from the southern part of Nova Scotia to the northern tip of Labrador.

It also won Verhoef this year’s Gold Medal from The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Verhoef was born in Holland and came to Canada in 1986 to work for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, the precursor to Natural Resources Canada. His work mapping the seafloor on Canada’s East Coast took a turn northward in 2003, when Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and suddenly had 10 years to submit the required data to support extending its claim on the continental shelf beyond “200 nautical miles” (about 370 kilometres). While they successfully secured the Atlantic claim, Canada is still working to define its Arctic boundaries.

“Because we were dealing with Canada’s claim to the Arctic, there was a link between the scientific and political; it was challenging and high profile,” Verhoef says.

Verhoef directed the project, and said the best part was working with Canada’s competitors, such as the United States, Denmark and Russia.

“We had lots of joint surveys with the Americans where we used a Canadian icebreaker and U.S. ice breaker in a joint program,” he says. “You know, to be able to put that kind of a program together and to work together with other countries, including Denmark and to a certain extent Russia, while at the same time realizing that we were looking, at some extent, to claim the same region, well that was quite exciting.”

As for winning of the Society’s Gold Medal, Verhoef said he was surprised and honoured to receive the medal, which is awarded to recognize a particular achievement by one or more individuals in the general field of geography, or a significant national or international event.