Gilles Gagnier was a force. He was ultra-competitive and a voracious consumer of information, diving deeply into any topic that grabbed his interest — from business management to the circle economy to poker and so many things in between. Gilles was also incredibly passionate about the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, where he was chief operating officer, and Canadian Geographic, where he was publisher. His untimely death from a heart attack on Sept. 10, 2021, at the age of 51 leaves a gaping hole at the very core of both organizations.
“He has been more than just a colleague and organizational leader; he was a dear friend and an incredible mentor,” said Society CEO John Geiger, following Gilles’ passing. “He has been a crucial part of the success the RCGS has enjoyed over recent years and he devoted his working life to the Society and Canadian Geographic.”
Gilles began his career with the organizations in 2000, hired to oversee Can Geo and the Society’s emerging websites. Over the next 21 years, he held a variety of increasingly senior roles — including director of new media, vice-president of content creation and vice-president of strategic partnerships and custom content — before ascending to the role of publisher of Canadian Geographic in 2014 and COO of the Society a year later. He held a deep knowledge of all aspects of the organizations, working seamlessly with the print, education and business teams. That knowledge was rooted in a deep understanding of both organizations’ institutional history.
Under his leadership, the custom publishing arm of Canadian Geographic Enterprises posted record revenue year-over-year, and the philanthropic performance of the Society hit a new high in its latest fiscal year. Beyond these outstanding business achievements in a challenging publishing realm, Gilles will be remembered for his focus on the shared mission of the Society and Canadian Geographic to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world. The enduring success of this mission will be his legacy.
Gilles was instrumental in the Society’s move to its prestigious home at 50 Sussex Drive, Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration, in Ottawa. He was a driving force behind so many of the organization's initiatives, from the landmark publication Canadian Geographic’s Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada to Canadian Geographic's recent forays into film, culminating with his credit as a producer of the acclaimed new documentary Returning Home. He helped oversee the dramatic growth of Canadian Geographic Education, the Society’s educational arm. He guided the success of Can Geo Education’s popular Giant Floor Map initiative. And he delighted in the excitement and animated discussion generated by Canadian Geographic’s recommendation for a national bird in 2016, following an influential campaign for which he planted the seeds. These are just a very few of Gilles Gagnier’s lasting achievements.
He leaves behind his beloved wife Nancy, parents, siblings, his loyal friend Blix and a broad community of friends.
He will be greatly missed by all.