• The Rt. Hon. John Turner receives a medal from Premier Kathleen Wynne and John Geiger, CEO of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. (Photo: Jenna Muirhead-Gould)

The Rt. Hon. John Turner has become the first Canadian politician to be awarded The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal. The honour was presented to recognize Turner’s distinguished parliamentary career and public service, and for his contribution to the advancement of Canadian geography through his extensive Arctic travels.

Turner, who served as Canada’s 17th prime minister, was presented with the medal by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at a luncheon held at Massey College on June 26.

Premier Wynne applauded Turner for his continued efforts to better the lives of Canadians through positive politics and lobbying for change. “There are politicians who disappear, but you have continued to be a force and have continued to help those of us who have come behind you, to show what being a decent and compassionate person in politics really means,” said Wynne.

Mr. Turner held several leading cabinet posts, including Minister of Finance, and Minister of Justice. In the latter portfolio he introduced and won parliamentary approval for important reforms to the Criminal Code. He began his rise as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources.

During his time in northern Canada, Mr. Turner cultivated a friendship with Robert Engle, owner of Northwest Territories Airlines—also an avid canoeist —and Engle would fly the Prime Minister and his wife out on paddling trips in the Arctic.

“Our favourite river was the Burnside River. The second trip down the Burnside, we were held up for a day and a half as 150,000 caribou crossed the river. Nellie Cournoyea was the premier of Northwest Territories and I did a lot of legal work in Yellowknife, appeared before the legislature, with a bill I wanted to get through, and that is when she said, I want you—ladies and gentleman of the legislature—to know this fellow, John Turner, who has walked more of our tundra, and paddled more of our water than anyone sitting in this legislature,” Turner recounted.

RCGS CEO John Geiger paid tribute to Turner’s decades of public service noting he had been “elected MP in three difference ridings in three different provinces, itself a geographic feat of sorts.”

Turner has also paddled some of the most remote rivers in the country—and is regularly touted as one of Canada’s most travelled politicians to ever sit on the Hill. “His commitment to exploring some of Canada’s most rugged terrain illustrated a passion for Canadian geography that should inspire all political leaders of this country,” said Geiger.  

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal was established in 1972 to recognize outstanding achievement in the field of geography.

Past recipients include Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson for his contribution to the theory of plate tectonics, Margaret Atwood for her insights into the role of geography in Canadian literature, Sir David Attenborough for bringing the importance of geography and the environment into the public consciousness, and members of the Canadian Astronaut Corps for their contribution to exploration and science.

More information about the Society’s Gold Medal can be found here.