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July/August 2008 issue


One may wonder why Bruce Mitchell developed an interest in water management, given that he was born and raised in Prince Rupert, on British Columbia’s northwest coast, where water shortages are seldom a concern. But perhaps it’s not such a stretch. As a high school and then university student, Mitchell worked in fish plants and as a deckhand on a troller. This first-hand experience in a resourcebased industry stuck with him. He became a geography professor at southwestern Ontario’s University of Waterloo and has spent four decades tackling the complexities of wisely governing this precious natural resource.

Mitchell’s principal contribution has been to “integrated water-resource management,” which focuses on selected variables affecting water and surrounding ecosystems, rather than the conventional approach, popular in the 1960s and 1970s, of developing catch-all policies for a river basin’s entire watershed. Collecting a broad range of scientific data for a comprehensive approach took too long to be practical, says Mitchell. In the early 1980s, he began to zero in on factors that have a significant influence on water systems.

For his critical thinking and pragmatic approach to water-management issues, Mitchell has been awarded the 2008 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.

Mitchell’s integrated approach has been applied to the Great Lakes. Instead of developing policies for the entire Great Lakes watershed system — a daunting task given the huge population and multiple national, state, provincial and municipal governments involved — the International Joint Commission, which deals with waterresource issues along the Canada-U.S. boundary, has concentrated on 42 subecosystems, such as harbours, bays and estuaries.

Internationally, Mitchell’s expertise has been sought by governments and universities in Australia, Indonesia, China, Nigeria and India.

“Bruce is one of the people who first realized that it’s not, in fact, the resources that need managing — it’s us,” says Philip Dearden, a geography professor at the University of Victoria who co-authored, with Mitchell, a book on environmental science and management.

Indeed, when asked what is the most pressing watermanagement issue in Canada today, Mitchell is quick to answer that too many Canadians still believe we have an abundance of water and therefore waste it. “It’s way too easy for us as individuals to criticize the governments or industry,” he says, “but at the end of the day, we each are water managers.”

— Monique Roy-Sole




Sailing into the planet’s barometer
For two weeks in September, high school students representing every province and territory in Canada will join students from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and India and become climate-change ambassadors as part of the sixth annual Cape Farewell expedition. The students will travel southwest from Iceland, past Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland, to Baffin Island, Nunavut, to focus attention on the dramatic changes occurring in the North.

The expedition is funded by the British Council, the United Kingdom’s international organization dedicated to promoting education and cultural relations, and supported by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Created by British artist David Buckland in 2001, the expedition is based on the notion that artists and scientists must collaborate to help the public better understand climate-change issues.

Working on science and art projects with the experts on board, the students will send video and text blogs home to their schools and will continue their participation once they return. Artists and scientists on previous excursions have contributed to the evocative “Cape Farewell: Art and Climate Change” international exhibit, featuring moving images projected onto glacial ice.

“We are hugely excited about this expedition,” says Martin Rose, director of the British Council in Ottawa. “The Canadian Arctic is clearly one of the most important regions when it comes to climate change.” Quoting Nobel Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Rose adds, “It’s the health barometer for the planet.”

For expedition updates, visit

— Christie Elizabeth


Twice a champion
For the second year in a row, Maxim Ralchenko of Ottawa has won the Geography Challenge national final. The 14-year old high school student beat out 41 other finalists from every Canadian province and territory in the online competition held in May by the Canadian Council for Geographic Education.

Ralchenko, who lists geography among his favourite subjects, was a member of the Canadian team that placed third last year at the National Geographic World Championship in San Diego, California (“The inside story,” CG Nov/Dec 2007).

Graham Tompkins, 15, of Dartmouth, N.S., took second place after a gruelling three rounds of questions to break a four-way tie. Daniel Austin-Boyd, 14, of Toronto placed third.

National finalists from the 2008 and 2009 Challenges will be eligible to compete for a spot on Team Canada for the 2009 World Championship, at a location yet to be determined.


And the nominees are …
Photographer and frequent Canadian Geographic contributor Patrice Halley has been nominated for a National Magazine Award in photojournalism for his portraits of the people and communities of the Mackenzie Delta, N.W.T. (“People of the delta,” CG Sept/Oct 2007). Photographer Benoit Aquin also received a nomination for photojournalism for his images of a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker on its course through the Northwest Passage (“Policing the passage,” CG Jan/Feb 2007). “Stages of sprawl” (CG May/June 2007), featuring photographer Peter Sibbald’s photos of encroaching urban development, was nominated in the Words and Pictures category. And writer Siobhan Roberts received a nomination in the category of Science, Technology and the Environment for her story on a Canadian scientist’s plan to create a database of every species on Earth (“Barcoding life,” CG March/April 2007).


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