About The Royal Canadian Geographical Society
John Geiger, CEO of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (left) and Alex Trebek
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society inherited the practice of appointing an Honorary President from Britain’s Royal Geographical Society, where the office is held by a member of the Royal Family.
For the RCGS, the position of Honorary President serves a different purpose — the personification of the Society’s core values: an exploratory spirit, a sense of patriotism, a dedication to advancing and imparting geographical knowledge and a commitment to making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world.
The Society’s first Honorary President, named in 1929, was Joseph B. Tyrrell, the explorer, geologist and fossil discoverer whose name still stands on a peak in Alberta’s Banff National Park and on the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Later Honorary Presidents include Vincent Massey, who took the office after his term as Governor General, and Maj. Gen. Hugh A. Young, who commanded the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade at Normandy and later served as Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
The office of Honorary President was vacant between 1982 and 2016, when the Society appointed Jeopardy! host and philanthropist Alex Trebek to the position. Trebek has been a champion of the Society’s Canadian Geographic Education programs for decades — particularly the Canadian Geographic Challenge quiz competition.
Most of us know Alex Trebek, Honorary President of the RCGS, from the game show Jeopardy!, which he has hosted since 1984. But the Sudbury, Ont., native has been engaged in efforts to educate young people on geography, politics and other issues since first hosting CBC’s teen quiz show Reach for the Top in 1966.
That was just a few years after he graduated with a BA in philosophy from the University of Ottawa, after which he took a job as a staff announcer for the local CBC. By the 1970s he was hosting U.S. game shows on NBC and CBS, rising to pop-culture icon status on Jeopardy!, which was watched by millions every night across North America. It was early on that he developed special tournaments for teens, college students, celebrities and other age and skill categories.
Besides acting as international spokesperson for World Vision and supporting other world charities, Trebek has regularly travelled to host student geography competitions (the Canadian Geographic Challenge finals and National Geographic Bee) over the last three decades.
“I love working with young people,” he says, “and seeing how bright these young geographers are.” More than once he has told the finalists in the Canadian Geographic Challenge that to understand and react to current events — from elections to environmental disasters to war — we must have a strong grasp of the geography of our country, our continent, our planet: “All events are geographic,” he says. “They affect us directly.”
Trebek was awarded the RCGS’s Gold Medal in 2010 and its Lawrence J. Burpee Medal in 2015 for his dedication to raising geographic literacy and for supporting the Society in its mission to do the same.