An award honouring leadership in geographic education has been renamed in memory of one of its biggest champions.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Innovation in Geography Teaching Award will now be called the Gilles Gagnier Medal for Innovation in Geographic Education to honour the former chief operating officer of the Society and publisher of Canadian Geographic, who passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 10 at the age of 51.
Gagnier served the Society in numerous capacities over the course of 21 years, but had a particular passion for geographic education. He was a driving force behind the landmark Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada and Can Geo Education’s incredibly popular giant floor map program, and played a leading role in fostering a recent collaboration between Canadian Geographic and the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan to support Michif language education.
The new medal was unveiled at an intimate gathering of Gagnier’s family, friends and colleagues at Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration in Ottawa on Sept. 23. In a tribute read aloud by Society governor Janis Peleshok at the gathering, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper recalled Gagnier’s professional energy, passion for adventure and love of Canada.
“His work introduced the magic of the Canadian wilderness to thousands of students from coast to coast through groundbreaking educational resources,” Harper wrote. Furthermore, in an age when skepticism of the media is at an all-time high, Canadian Geographic has continued to engage and grow its audience through thoughtful, fact-based storytelling in print and online.
“[Gagnier’s] efforts contributed greatly to the culture of Canada,” wrote Harper. “Gilles made our national identity relevant for millions of people.”
John Geiger, CEO of the Society, said no matter how ambitious the idea or project, Gagnier’s mantra was “let’s get it done,” whether it was collaborating with a vast array of partners and contributors from across Canada to produce the Indigenous atlas or securing the building at 50 Sussex Drive in Ottawa to serve as the Society’s headquarters.
“Gilles was such an important part of who we are,” said Geiger. “This [medal] is just one way we as a Society will continue to remember his incredible contributions.”
Notable guests who attended the memorial gathering for Gagnier included former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, who performed a blessing and smudged a ceremonial blanket that was presented to Gagnier’s family.
The Gilles Gagnier Medal for Innovation in Geography Education recognizes an inspirational educator who is committed to advancing geographic literacy through innovative teaching and learning strategies. The inaugural award will be presented this November at the Society’s virtual College of Fellows Annual Dinner.