||November/December 2004 issue||
In tune with the times
From its humble origins, Canadian Geographic has evolved
with the country and the world
By Monique Roy-Sole with research by Wendy Simpson-Lewis
|Best of times
1929 Charles Camsell and 27 others form The Canadian Geographical
Society in February
issue of Canadian Geographical Journal published
in May, includes story on Tibetan travels of Sir Francis Younghusband
Medal inaugurated to honour personal achievement in
exploring and describing Canada’s geography
1972 Gold Medal established to recognize achievement in field of
1973 Research-grants program starts with goal of stimulating students’ interest
1985 Launch of first annual
photo contest, which drew 3,000 entries
from the outset
1992 To celebrate Canada’s 125th birthday, the RCGS sponsors
expedition to measure Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak (5,959 m)
1993 Canadian Council for Geographic
Education founded to serve
as resource for geography teachers across the country
1994 The Great Canadian Geography
Challenge, a nationwide student
1995 First poster map, "Canada: A Land of Superlatives," released;
CG website launched
1996 Expeditions committee established; first annual environment
issue published in May/June
1997 géographica, the Society’s French-language
Geographic Presents" documentary series
hits the airwaves on the Discovery Channel
2001 CG named Magazine of the Year by the National Magazine Awards
Foundation; "CG Kids" weekly television
series and website debut
2004 CG releases The Canadian Atlas: Our Nation, Environment
and People as part of 75th-anniversary celebration
"This country is rapidly becoming one of the outstanding nations of the world,
and it is important that her people should be familiar not only with their own land but
also with the geographical and other characteristics of different parts of the Empire and
of the countries with which she may have political or trade relations. That will help her
to take her proper place, and that is one of increasing significance, in the affairs of
the Empire and the world."
When Viscount Freeman Willingdon, the Governor General of Canada, delivered these words at
the inaugural meeting of The Canadian Geographical Society on January 17, 1930, he saw the
need for the organization in a country defined by its vast geography, much of it still unknown.
But the honorary patron of the fledgling Society also impressed upon the distinguished assembly
that it could help inform Canadians about their country’s budding role as a citizen of
Seventy-five years later, with globalization fostering an increasingly borderless world, Canadian
Geographic is celebrating its diamond anniversary by devoting this issue to our international
ties. It may seem a bit of a departure, given the magazine’s almost exclusive coverage
of all things Canadian over the past two decades, but in many ways, it marks a return to
It was a globe on the cover of the initial issues of the Canadian
Geographical Journal, as it was then known, that signalled the magazine’s international
scope. Roughly half the articles were of foreign content in the early years, though not
quite the informed and critical coverage today’s readers have come to expect. The
lead story in the first edition was an account of Viscount and Lady Willingdon’s
Christmas vacation in the West Indies.
Travelogues were common and the destinations usually exotic. The narratives were largely
descriptive, and the observations were, well, in keeping with the general attitudes of the
time. In "Zanzibar and Zanzibarbarians," published in August 1934, J. Langley Levy
wrote of the residents on the African island: "The Arab types on Zanzibar Island look
as if they had dropped out of the pages of The Thousand and One Nights or as if
they had been contemporary with Omar Khayyám. They are turbaned, or fezzed, and bearded,
and these beards are fearful and wonderful things."
Canada was in the clutches of the Depression and the magazine struggled to survive, there
was curiously no ink spilled on the great economic and social crisis. Instead, readers were
introduced to places like Canberra, dubbed "the Ottawa of Australia," Java, Formosa,
Bali and Siam. Book reviews mainly featured titles on international travel, and a regular
column called "Geography of world events" was launched in October 1935. In the
April 1939 issue, devoted to agriculture, there was even a colourful map of the world entitled "The
sun never sets on Massey-Harris," which highlighted the 52 countries in which the farm-equipment
manufacturer conducted business, complete with national flags and coins .
war was declared on Germany in 1939, the Journal shifted from travel and exploration to the
activities of the Canadian Army overseas. Some articles adopted a more didactic approach,
such as "Poland’s fight for freedom," penned in 1939 by Lawrence J. Burpee,
the magazine’s founding editor. He offered historical and geographical context for
Poland’s wartime plight but didn’t mask his feelings on the nation’s treatment
by Germany and Russia. "Someone said to me, ‘Why should I fight for Poland?’ Well,
there are a number of reasons, including the not necessarily remote one of self-preservation
in a mad world. But, after all, is not this a homely illustration of the situation facing
us today: You go for a walk and come upon a big bully choking the life out of a small boy.
Will you take a hand in the fight — or will you pass by on the other side? Remember, you
can still help the small boy. He is not dead, only desperately hurt."
Post-war prosperity turned the focus of international coverage to Canada’s trade
relations with other countries. In 1945, the Journal ran four features on our trading
partners around the world. It continued to publish stories on international travel throughout
the 1950s, but more and more they reflected the culture, economy and geography of distant
lands, due in part to the frequent contributions of anthropologist Diamond Jenness and the
photographer/writer team of Richard and Lyn Harrington, who reported from such far-flung
places as Liberia and Swaziland.
fever gripped the nation in the 1950s when Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom.
The Canadian Geographical Journal reflected the joyous mood in its coverage of royal
events and even devoted entire issues to the Queen’s coronation (August 1953) and to
the royal tour of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway (September 1959).
The 1960s and 1970s marked a decline in reporting from around the globe,
but those stories which did make it in looked more at Canada’s international development
role. With the appointment in 1973 of David Maclellan, a passionate nationalist who was the
first professional journalist to serve as editor, the magazine began to feature more topics
of national priority and interest. Stories with a global angle were few and generally serious
and thought-provoking, such as a five-part series on American ownership of our resources
and land. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, only the odd article, such as a 1992 report on
Canadian peacekeepers, specifically highlighted our role abroad.
With this anniversary issue, Canadian Geographic is reintroducing international
coverage, without, however, renouncing its principal focus: reporting in words, photos and
maps on how we inhabit this country. Once again, the magazine is evolving to reflect the
times — and tipping its hat to its humble origins.
For more history of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic,
see our Special Feature: History of a Society, and the website of The
Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Travails of the True North
Glaciers are melting, pollutants are drifting far from their source, sea ice is dwindling,
wildlife is suffering — all while new territorial governments are trying to come to terms with
major mining and pipeline projects. These are but a few of the social and environmental changes
facing the Canadian North. And in early November, a team of researchers studying everything
from the Arctic’s aquatic resources to permafrost will head to the Yukon to illuminate
the science behind these changes.
Five of the six scientists who occupy the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
of Canada Northern Research Chairs will travel to communities across the Yukon as part of
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Fraser Lectureship, which aims to facilitate
the exchange of information between northern and southern Canadians. Yukoners will hear about
the cutting-edge research being done in their own backyards that will explain some of the
unprecedented ecological transformations they are witnessing.
For more information on lecture dates and locations, visit The
Royal Canadian Geographical Society: Speaker Series.
Challenging Mr. Geography
Team Canadian Geographic took on Mohammad Collins (right, centre), a.k.a. Mr. Geography, during
the season premiere of CBC Radio’s variety program "Go" on Sept. 11. Host Brent
Bambury (left) tested Collins’ claim of knowing everything there is to know about geography
by pitting him against CG’s photo editor Margaret Williamson, researcher Jodi Di Menna
and managing editor Eric Harris (right). Collins, a Toronto taxi driver who regularly challenges
his passengers to stump him, was neck and neck with Team CG until the final question, when
he won on a technicality and defended his title.
|Photo: Robyn Harris
Sealed with a compass
Canada Post is joining in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of The Royal Canadian Geographical
Society and its magazine, Canadian Geographic, by issuing a commemorative envelope slated to
be released November 4. About 12,000 will be produced and sold, mainly to collectors, across
the country at Canada Post outlets with philatelic counters.
To the ends of the earth
Rachell Ellerbeck began her first year at St. John’s Memorial University in September
with a host of other 18-year-olds. But while most of her classmates spent the summer preparing
for their big life change, Ellerbeck was just returning from a life-altering adventure. The
Hartington, Ont., native spent 10 days in June exploring the Arctic with students and scientists,
giving her the rare distinction of having visited both the Arctic and Antarctic as a teenager.
Ellerbeck travelled to both poles as a member of the Students on Ice program. She went
to the Antarctic last December, and her Arctic tour was sponsored by The
Royal Canadian Geographical Society as part of its 75th anniversary.
Ellerbeck, whose polar experiences have reinforced her decision to pursue environmental
studies, was struck by the majestic landscapes. But it was the residents she met in places
like Pond Inlet, Nunavut, that really made a lasting mark.
"People would offer you the shirt off their back if you needed it," she says. "It
was this genuine care and unity that amazed me."