• Illustration: Robert Carter/Canadian Geographic

For the first time in its history, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has appointed an Explorer-in-Residence. Cave diver Jill Heinerth is one of Canada’s greatest explorers and a world-leading technical diver.

“For me this fulfills a life dream — one of a woman who chose the road less travelled,” says Heinerth, who for her first act as Explorer-in-Residence spoke at the World Oceans Day event at the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto. “I travel the world for much of my work, but I am a proud Canadian who recognizes that our fate and fortune of geography offers us a unique place in this world.”

Heinerth — who was awarded the inaugural Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration by the RCGS in 2013 — has discovered and mapped aquifer caves, was the first to dive the water-filled tunnels that snake through the world’s largest Antarctic iceberg and has explored historic shipwrecks. She has travelled farther into deep underwater caves (more than 3,000 metres in one dive) than any other woman and is renowned for her photography, documentary videography and speaking skills. Through her We Are Water Project, she strives to increase the public’s water literacy. Water, she explains, is the defining issue of her generation and those to come.

“Much of my work takes place in the hidden geography of the planet,” she says. “And through these adventures, I hope to connect people to their water resources and make this hidden geography a little less abstract.”

The new Explorer-in-Residence program aims to provide Canadians with visible modern-day role models for exploration, scientific discoveries and adventure travel in Canada, and Heinerth will continue to develop programs and carry out fieldwork supported by the Society. Her ongoing expedition to explore Newfoundland’s flooded Bell Island iron mines, to take biological samples and prepare the shafts for future divers, was already named RCGS Expedition of the Year for 2016.

“Jill was an easy choice to be our first explorer,” says Michael Schmidt, co-chair of the RCGS Expeditions Committee. “She has had a unique and extensive career as an explorer, and has a real ability to engage with her audience.”

“Exploration is in the DNA of the RCGS,” says John Geiger, the Society’s CEO. “We are so delighted to have Jill in this new role. It is hard to imagine anyone who better embodies the courage and commitment of exploration.”

For a feature profile of Jill Heinerth and photos from her past expeditions, look for the July/August 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic, on newsstands across Canada on July 4.