Quick — which of these is the only river that flows east from the Rocky Mountains: Columbia, Fraser, Skeena or Peace? Now imagine that the clock is running, and you have to answer another 49 similarly tough questions about the geography of Canada and the rest of the world. How would you do?
It’s a safe assumption that most of us would score poorly (the correct answer, by the way, is the Peace River). Right now, however, 50 young Canadian geography whizzes are hitting the flash cards and study guides and poring over maps in rigorous preparation for the annual live-online Great Canadian Geography Challenge. They’re all that remain of nearly 300 grades 7 to 10 competitors from Canada’s 13 provinces and territories.
Of these 50 national-level contenders, only the top three from this year and last year combined will move on to the biennial National Geographic World Championship, to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer. Team Canada has placed in the top three every year save one since its first international geography bee in 1995.
So it appears that our national champions are equipped to take on the rest of the world — good to hear at a time when news reports remind us that many Canadians know precious little about their own country and far less about the world beyond its borders. “If the kids are learning these things in their curriculum, they get it right away,” says Beth Dye, chair of the national coordinating committee for the Challenge and a high school teacher in Kamloops, B.C., who has been involved with the Canadian competition since its inception. “If they have a family that travels and focuses on current events — that reads Canadian Geographic and Maclean’s and National Geographic at home — they get it. But without that support, they might not get it.”