• Erin Weir, Member of Parliament for Regina-Lewvan, poses on The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Parks Canada giant floor map at an event on Parliament Hill on January 26, 2016. (Photo: Martine Ménard/Canadian Museums Association)

Nearly two decades ago, Erin Weir became the first high school student from Saskatchewan to make it to the finals of the Canadian Geographic Challenge (formerly the Great Canadian Geography Challenge).

Now he’s the Canadian Member of Parliament for the riding of Regina-Lewvan.

Since it started in 1995, the Challenge has grown from 20 participating schools to more than 500, and has reached more than two million students across Canada. Here, Weir reflects on his experience in the Challenge and the importance of teaching geography to young students.

What was it like to take part in the Challenge?
I had always been very interested in maps and atlases as a child, so when the opportunity came up to participate in a geography competition I was keen to try it out. Alex Trebek moderated the national finals, and it was my first trip to Ottawa.

What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that many achievements are possible if you set yourself to them. I learned that an interest in geography could bring people together from all across the country. I remember meeting other young people who were also interested in atlases. I learned a lot of geographic trivia, and although I won’t pretend to remember it all, I’ve maintained an interest in geography and maps.

How much does geography factor into your current career?
The riding boundaries were recently redistributed in Saskatchewan, and my riding is now completely urban. But sitting in parliament you gain an appreciation for what a vast country Canada is. It reminds you what a big, impressive nation we live in.

Why do you think learning about geography is important?
It is tremendously important for citizens and young people to have an understanding of the country they live in and have an appreciation for the wider world. It’s good to have a competition recognizing and encouraging those interests.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.