||July/August 2006 issue||
Serge Courville likens much of his academic work to solving a puzzle.
The professor emeritus of geography at Université Laval spent
years charting the development of the 19th-century rural landscape
in his native Quebec to understand how its society evolved. He mapped
census divisions and subdivisions, retracing the boundaries of seigneuries,
parishes and municipalities. In the end, his sleuthing shook up
long-held assumptions about historical rural Quebec.
|PHOTO: MARTIN BEAULIEU|
For instance, Courville’s findings suggest that it was not an isolated,
non-entrepreneurial backwater. Historians had long attributed an "agricultural
crisis" in the St. Lawrence Lowland in the early 1800s — a
decline in wheat production and exports — to outdated farming
practices. By mapping reams of data, Courville discovered that farmers
in Lower Canada (now Quebec) diversified their crops and began supplying
local markets because towns and rural industries were rapidly growing
and because the farmers could no longer compete with cheaper wheat
in Upper Canada. Far from facing a crisis, farmers were adapting
to socio-economic changes also affecting North America and Europe.
Through such meticulous empirical research and sharp analysis,
Courville has made his mark as one of Canada’s leading historical
geographers. He is being honoured with the 2006 Massey Medal for
outstanding achievement in Canadian geography. Established by Governor
General Vincent Massey in 1959, the award is administered by The
Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
During his 22 years at Laval, Courville authored or co-authored
some 17 books, including an ambitious comparative study of colonization
and immigration in Canada. He also oversaw the publication of several
collections, such as the seven-volume Atlas historique du Québec. "A
geographer always dreams of producing a map or atlas," says
Courville. "It’s a trademark!"
An advocate of hands-on teaching, Courville invited his graduate
students to contribute to the historical atlases. He is a "strong
pedagogue," says Brian Osborne, professor emeritus of geography
at Queen’s University who has known Courville for 30 years. "He’s
been a leading figure as a professor, and he produced quite a group
of welltrained historical geographers."
Courville is not yet done with the puzzle of changing boundaries.
He is currently serving on the Commission de la représentation électorale,
which is redrawing the electoral map of Quebec.
— Monique Roy-Sole
Sarah Bogart foresees a day when simply planting cotton grass on contaminated mine sites could
replace the messy work of moving masses of soil for remediation.
Bogart, a graduate of Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont., spent last summer investigating
how cotton grass, a type of sedge common to wetland areas, traps metals, including nickel,
copper and iron in its cells and prevents them from being released into the environment.
"This species will, over time, be able to clean up any site that humans have polluted
with metals," says Bogart. "That’s just amazing."
Her research, partly funded by The Royal
Canadian Geographical Society, involved collecting plants from a bog near Inco Limited’s
former Coniston Smelter in Sudbury. For more than 60 years, ore was piled waist-high in
the area and burned over coal and logs in preparation for smelting.
Researchers have previously observed the bioremediation potential of cotton grass, but
Bogart’s study concentrated on the plant’s metal-storing cells, called sclereids.
The findings, she says, could eventually be used by gold or nickel mines across Canada
and will be especially beneficial in difficult environments such as bogs and permafrost.
Bogart says she has been interested in biology since she was a child growing up in the
Northern Ontario town of Coleman. "It would be wise," she says, "to learn
how to clean up my backyard."
— Angela Johnston
The book of answers
Canadian kids are curious about their country, so when Canadian Geographic Online asked what
they wondered about most, they replied with a flood of questions. In response, CG and
Maple Tree Press have launched a quirky quest for answers with Crazy
Cleverly written by Nelson, B.C.-based author Vivien Bowers, the book answers real questions
in easily digestible chunks. "Often geography is taught as a list of countries and capital
cities," says Bowers.
"When it can be done in a relevant, engaging way, it sticks."
Accompanied by her fictional companion Morton, Bowers’ character sets out to answer
questions such as, "Do polar bears freeze?" and "Why are beaver teeth orange?"
About Canada! marks the start of a series of CG
Kids books. The next instalment, due in July, is Small Wonders, about baby
— Melanie Bidiuk
U.K. students see stars
What do Monty Python star Michael Palin and United Kingdom Schools Minister Andrew Adonis
have in common? Both worry that geography is losing ground in the classroom. The U.K. faces
a predicament much like Canada’s, with dwindling geography enrolment in high schools,
where it is an elective subject. But educators and celebrities have teamed up in a £2
million ($4 million) campaign to help schools put the subject back on the map.
The U.K. Department for Education and Skills has worked with the Royal
Geographical Society, the British equivalent to The
Royal Canadian Geographical Society, to develop an action plan, which includes creating
an online bank of teaching materials. "Geography ambassadors" such as Palin,
who has produced a series of travel documentaries, will visit schools and shed some insight
on the practical uses of geography.
For the third year in a row, John Yao, 14, of Toronto has won the Great
Canadian Geography Challenge. In 2004, he became the Challenge’s youngest winner.
This year’s national final, held in May, was the last round for Yao, who will be ineligible
for next year’s event.
Jonathan Whyte of Toronto placed second and will join next year’s top two students
to compete against teams from about 20 countries at the World Championship in July 2007.
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