• Man on cliff with mountain view.

    Photo: Baffin Paddle & Climb 2019

For the 90th anniversary of Canadian Geographic, we asked a panel of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Explorers-in-Residence and Honorary Vice-Presidents to give us Canada’s greatest explorers, dead or alive, mariner, mountain climber, polar trekker, anthropologist or astronaut. The only condition? Their picks must have been born in Canada or lived here long enough to qualify for citizenship by today’s standards. 

So here are those greats, anchors in a list of 90 men and women stretching from the 16th century to today. All have performed great feats and forged new relationships with the natural world. All have taken bold steps, whether in the service of pure discovery, science and education, the environment, king and country or personal glory. All are human, and to at least some extent products of their time, their cultures and the various technology available to them. As deep-sea explorer Joe MacInnis says, “There are as many versions of ‘explorer’ as there are explorers.” 

As for the essential questions “What is an explorer?” and “Who is the best at it?” there are no real answers. “But it is worthy of the chase,” says MacInnis. “That very act alerts us to the importance of exploration as a means of expressing personal curiosity, asking questions and building answers to those questions.” 

For the sake of the chase, then, and to embark on the discussion, here are our choices. And look for our pick for the single “Greatest Canadian Explorer” after a live debate on the topic with RCGS Explorers-in-Residence (on Feb. 4, 2020, at 50 Sussex Drive, in Ottawa). This will be an individual who exemplifies so many of the qualities vaunted in the following collection of stories, it’s almost impossible to categorize them. 

The panelists 

Wade Davis, Honorary Vice-President
Johnny Issaluk, Explorer-in-Residence
Joe MacInnis, Honorary Vice-President
Adam Shoalts, Explorer-in-Residence
Jill Heinerth, Explorer-in-Residence
George Kourounis, Explorer-in-Residence
Alanna Mitchell, Can Geo contributing editor
Ray Zahab, Explorer-in-Residence 

Click on a section to explore the list:

Vital insights 

Charting the unknown 

Geographic feats 

Human limits 

Going beyond

Crucial communication