Our future looks bright,” says Paul Ruest (above), new president of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He took over May 23, following the resignation of John Geiger (see below).
Ruest has acted in a number of roles during his dozen years with the Society, including vice-president and treasurer, and he’s pleased to work with it in a new and crucial way. “This is an absolutely important organization which must survive and flourish,” he says. “We’re moving in new directions, and we’ve broadened our reach by establishing exciting new partnerships.” Ruest will be president until the Society’s annual general meeting in November, when he is eligible to throw his hat back into the ring or bow out.
An educator and education administrator for more than 30 years, Ruest holds a PhD in the field and is the former president of the Université de Saint-Boniface, in Winnipeg.
It’s no stretch to believe, then, that he will continue to champion the Society’s mandate — to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world. “Whether we do that through our publishing, lesson plans in the classroom, research or expeditions, all of these encourage learning,” he says. “Anyone who picks up Canadian Geographic learns an awful lot about their country and themselves. To me, education is much broader than the classroom, and it never stops.”
He spent two-and-a-half years as president of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, but when John Geiger (above) announced his resignation from that role in May, it wasn’t with thoughts of getting away from it all. In fact, the veteran journalist, editor and international bestselling author is set to become the Society’s new chief executive officer. He begins his new, Ottawa-based role on July 2.
Geiger will be tasked with raising the national profile of the RCGS through its publishing and education arms and growing the Society’s prestigious College of Fellows. He will also focus on continuing to integrate the Society’s programs.
The University of Alberta graduate is no stranger to the turbulent world of modern publishing. He’s written five books, including Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, which also makes him an expert on one of the pinnacles of Canadian exploration. For the past seven years he worked as editorial board editor at the Globe and Mail and contributed to the national newspaper’s shift toward more digital and social media-based platforms.
“Canadian Geographic is a nationally celebrated magazine with high editorial standards, stunning photography, superb cartography and numerous other strong attributes,” he says. “We have to defend that, and the best way is to continue to respond to this changing industry. We can’t be complacent.”
Geiger is keenly aware of the power that social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and digital editorial content have for reaching out to a wider audience. “We have to engage our community and affiliate ourselves with people of all ages who identify with Canadian Geographic,” he says.
“We know it’s not enough to simply put information out. There’s an expectation of a conversation — our community wants to share ideas with us.”
This notion of broader engagement applies to the RCGS’s educational work, too. Geiger points out that CG Education, one of the Society’s other key programs, continues to grow in leaps and bounds — as has teachers’ and students’ enthusiasm for CG Education’s geography-themed lesson plans, giant floor maps and Canada-wide classroom competitions such as the Classroom Energy Diet Challenge, the Canada’s Coolest School Trip contest and the Great Canadian Geography Challenge.
Geiger is confident that the Society can create a similar level of national interest by speaking more actively to Canadians across the country. “I’d like to see RCGS and Canadian Geographic lecture series events in cities like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax,” he explains. “For example, we could do a whole series related to our excellent expeditions program. And these explorers can feed even more exciting content into every other platform.” Indeed, Geiger’s vision is of stronger integration all around: “The Society and its programs, whether education or the magazine, are intertwined, and they can always work in tandem to foster geo-literacy and celebrate our country.”