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January/February 2009 issue

In Eastern Greenland, students on the Cape Farewell expedition imitate the movement of a glacier by passing rocks and depositing them at the end of the line to create a moraine.
(Photo: Robert Vanwaarden)

Show and tell

Nicole Sanscartier of Rothesay, N.B., measures temperature and conductivity at different ocean depths in the waters of Denmark Strait, between Greenland and Iceland.
(Photo: Robert Vanwaarden)
Listen up, class. Today’s lesson is on retreating glaciers. Your assignment: motor away from a Russian research vessel in a Zodiac, land on the coast of Greenland, toss a few leaves into a stream of glacial runoff, measure their speed and the water depth, perform some calculations, and tell the world how quickly the ice is melting.

Just a typical day for 28 high school students aboard the sixth annual Cape Farewell expedition, a two-week voyage from Iceland to Iqaluit that took place last September. The trip, which was funded by the British Council and supported by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), brought together students from every Canadian province and territory and from six other countries, plus a team of scientists and artists. In addition to fieldwork and art projects (and fighting two-metre swells), the students were encouraged to think creatively and collaboratively about the spectre of climate change.

“It’s as if I was walking in one of my textbooks,” says 17-year-old Lily Jackson, a grade 12 student at Belmont Secondary School in Victoria, who has been sharing videos, photos and stories from the trip with her classmates since returning home. “I wasn’t just reading or looking at pictures — I was there. And I saw how what we do in the South is affecting people in the North. It’s not about the future. It’s about now.”

Luisa Lizoain of Toronto (at left) and Victor Curi of Brazil make music out of rusted refuse at the site of an abandoned weather station on Padloping Island, Nunavut.
(Photo: Robert Vanwaarden)
Jackson, who is planning an exhibit of images and music inspired by the Arctic landscape, wasn’t convinced before setting sail that science and art could coexist. But at Padloping Island, off the coast of Baffin Island, amid the detritus of an abandoned Cold War-era weather station, Carleton University geography professor Chris Burn gave an impromptu lecture about the elements that come together on that island: people and wilderness, land and water, ice and bare ground. Then students lined up discarded oil drums, pieces of pipe and rusting tractor parts and banged out a song as a junk orchestra. “A beautiful sound,” says Jackson, “out of something so ugly.”

Burn, a permafrost researcher and a vice-president of the RCGS, had never worked alongside collaborators such as Colette Laliberté, an Ontario visual artist and professor. But their left-brain counsel — asking students, for instance, to study the texture of rocks — added richness to the scientific observations. “In the beginning,” says Burn, “the students were gobsmacked by an environment unlike anything they had seen before. But as the voyage went on, they were able to pick up threads that connected one place to another. If you see things in a different way, your mind looks for new interpretations.”

— Dan Rubinstein



The missing links

Photo courtesy of Linda Gollick
Drawing together disciplines as diverse as economics and ecology, geography is an extraordinarily broad subject. So broad, in fact, that some students find it overwhelming. But not on Linda Gollick’s watch.

An Ontario high school teacher and the winner of the Canadian Council for Geographic Education’s 2008 Geographic Literacy Award, Gollick (right) believes in stressing the interconnectedness of physical, economic and social systems, both in the classroom and when developing new materials for the Ontario curriculum. When students see the relationship between, say, the clothing they’re wearing and the manufacturing process used to make it, their critical thinking skills sharpen.

“It’s important to identify global issues,” says Gollick, head of the Canadian and world studies department at Toronto’s Loretto College School and Ontario coordinator for The Great Canadian Geography Challenge for the past 15 years. “But we also need to relate these issues to a local level.” This helps students understand geography and perhaps find a place within it.

— Dan Rubinstein

Winners’ circle

Camsell Medal recipients Carman Joynt (at left) and Kenneth Boland with RCGS President Gisèle Jacob. The medal is named after Society founder Charles Camsell.
(Photo: David Barbour)
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s long-time lawyer and auditor both received the Camsell Medal in November for outstanding service. Kenneth Boland and Carman Joynt have served the RCGS for decades, professionally and as volunteers. Boland, an expert in non-profit corporations, was its legal counsel from 1990 until his retirement last summer. Joynt started auditing the Society as a newly minted chartered accountant in 1974 and did so for 31 years.

Boland served on the Board of Governors and now sits on the Finance and Audit committees, while Joynt is a member of the Canadian Geographic Enterprises Management Board and the Board of Trustees of the RCGS Endowment Fund.

Virtual make-over
Want to know what daring expeditions The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is funding, how to apply for a research grant or what guest speaker might be coming to a city near you? Look no further than the Society’s newly spiffed-up website. “It’s the best reference centre for everything the Society does,” says Executive Director Louise Maffett of the site, which includes an archive of Canadian Geographic articles on Society activities.

In Royal company

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were among the 7,500 visitors who attended an exhibit of photographs published in Canadian Geographic’s special issue on climate change (October 2008). Launched at Canada House (RIGHT) in London, England, in September, the exhibit will travel to Edinburgh, Paris and The Hague, among other European cities, and end its tour at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Weather mania

Newly elected Fellows include (from left): Paul Taillon, Maurice Richard, André Préfontaine, Bruce Mitchell, Helaine Oleski, Anne Smith- Mansfield, Daniel MacKay, Carman Joynt, Dale Gregory, Al Friesen, Michèle Fréchet, Brad Faught, Paul Cosulich and Wayne Andrew.
(Photo: David Barbour)

Nearly 80 years after The Royal Canadian Geographical Society hosted its first Annual General Meeting at Ottawa’s Château Laurier, the RCGS returned to the historic hotel for its College of Fellows dinner in November. Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips entertained more than 200 guests with stories about our national obsession with weather, concluding wryly that “the Brits have the Royals, the Americans have Hollywood, and we have the weather.”

Massey and Camsell medallists were honoured at the event.

See more photo at The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s website.


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