The Society’s magazine
Celebrated Canadians helped launch the RCGS’s magazine, Canadian Geographic.
IT WAS NOT AN AUSPICIOUS BEGINNING for the fledgling Canadian Geographical Society. Founded
in the year of the Great Crash, the Society launched its magazine, then known as the Canadian
Geographical Journal, just as the Great Depression set in. Yet despite its early struggles,
Canadian Geographic has evolved into a popular, award-winning periodical. Early contributors
to the magazine, some of whom were among the most illustrious characters in Canada’s
arts, science and political circles, helped pave the way to that success.
|This portrait by renowned photographer Richard Harrington graced the cover of the Canadian Geographical Journal in December 1950. |
The first issue of the Journal, published in May 1930, included
contributions from a number of high-profile Canadians. There was a congratulatory message
from then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and a feature story by Dr. Frederick
G. Banting, co-discoverer of insulin and Nobel Prize winner. Banting wrote about and sketched
his travels on an arctic supply ship with friend and Group of Seven painter, A. Y. Jackson.
By the end of 1930, Canada had a new prime minister, R. B. Bennett, who penned this message
in the magazine. ‘I have watched … the growth of The Canadian Geographical Society, of
which I am very glad to count myself a member,’ he wrote. ‘Its purposes are altogether admirable.…’
Admirable they were, but the Society was barely making ends meet in its early years, through
the height of the depression. Popular humorist Stephen Leacock graced the pages of the magazine
with two articles during that era: one in 1932 on the forgotten explorations of the French
Baron de Lahontan, and another in 1935 on Leacock's old stomping grounds around Ontario's
‘I understand that the Islands of the Aegean Sea have been regarded for centuries as a scene
of great beauty; I know, from having seen them, that the Mediterranean coast of France and
the valleys of the Pyrenees are a charm to the enchanted eye; and I believe that for those
who like that kind of thing, there is wild grandeur in the Highlands of Scotland, and a majestic
solitude where the midnight sun flashes upon the ice-peaks of Alaska. But to my thinking
none of those will stand comparison with the smiling beauty of the waters, shores and bays
of Lake Simcoe and its sister lake, Couchiching.’
|—From ‘The Lake Simcoe Country’ by Stephen Leacock, Canadian Geographical Journal, September 1935
The magazine has always attracted talented photographers, willing to go to the extremes
of the country for the perfect shot. Richard Harrington was one such photographer who travelled
the globe and sold his works to the likes of the Smithsonian Institution and New York City's
Museum of Modern Art. He was renowned for his portraits of Inuit, many of which were published
in the Journal through the 1950s.
Canadian Geographic has evolved into a venue for more journalistic and popular writing,
but the Journal was for many years a vehicle for scientists. John Tuzo Wilson, the Canadian
geophysicist best known for his explanation of plate tectonics — the constant readjusting
of the Earth's shell — wrote for the Journal in 1946 and in 1958. Joseph Dewey Soper, an
explorer and naturalist for whom Soper's ringed seal and the Dewey Soper Bird Sanctuary on
Baffin Island were named, also wrote frequently about his adventurous travels in the 1930s
and early 1940s.
These famous Canadians influenced the origins of Canadian Geographic and, like them, those
who now contribute to the magazine continue to follow the Society’s mandate of making the
country better known to Canada and to the world.
“I grew up hearing all about the Sydney steel mill, the tar ponds and the controversy over the cleanup. The more I read and learned, the more my curiosity was piqued. It seemed a natural area for me to take my studies.”
— Hannah MacDonald,
Mount Allison University