The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner is the standout event of the year for hundreds of people who share the Society’s passion for making Canada better known to Canadians and the world. But 2019’s event, held Nov. 21 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., was even more special, as the Society celebrated 90 years of exploration, curiosity and storytelling.

Honouring exceptional achievements in exploration, science, and nation-building

Each year, through its awards program, the RCGS recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Canada, the Society or the field of geography. In 2019, the Society awarded medals to 36 exceptional honourees, among them astronauts, educators, artists, former heads of state, explorers and scientists.

Most of the medals were presented at a special ceremony in the Alex Trebek Theatre at 50 Sussex, headquarters of the RCGS, on the morning of Nov. 21, while others were given at Society events throughout the year. A few honourees were recognized during the Dinner itself, including the Right Hon. Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada; the Right Hon. David Johnston, former Governor General of Canada; astronaut Harrison Schmitt, the most recent person still living to have walked on the moon; astronaut Andrew Feustel, who commanded a recent mission on the International Space Station, and Michael Ulica, president and chief operating officer of the National Geographic Society.

The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, provided remarks of welcome and congratulations, saluting the honourees and the RCGS for their ongoing efforts to better our country and world.

See the full list of 2019 honourees

Welcoming new Fellows

The Society proudly welcomed 133 new Fellows to its ranks, bringing the total number of active Fellows to 1,176. Fellows inducted this year hail from four countries, seven provinces and one territory. Among this year’s diverse Fellows class are country singer Paul Brandt, journalist and Canadian Geographic contributing editor Julian Brave NoiseCat, giraffologist Anne Innis Dagg, nature advocate Simon Jackson, historian Margaret MacMillan, mountaineering duo Lonnie Dupre and Pascale Marceau, TVO anchor Steve Paikin, artist and author Leanne Shapton, and Tlingit artist and carver Keith Wolfe Smarch.

Celebrating legends and milestones in space exploration

Space exploration was an overarching theme of the evening, with 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission as well as the 90th anniversary of the RCGS. Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and an Honourary Vice-President of the Society, introduced fellow astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Andrew Feustel as they accepted their Gold Medals, as well as Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who returned the RCGS expedition flag he had taken with him to the International Space Station on Expedition 58/59.

Schmitt delighted the crowd by tossing out foam “moon balls,” while Saint-Jacques amazed with a presentation about his mission and the new perspective it has given him on our planet. “This is our home in the vacuum of space,” he said, “and we have to take care of it.”

Finally, Marie Lemay, Master of the Royal Canadian Mint, took the stage to present all the astronauts and Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency, with a special coin honouring Marc Garneau, the first Canadian to go to space.