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Gold Medal

2013 Recipient - Michael Palin

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Travel writer Michael Palin stands with RCGS CEO John Geiger after accepting the Gold Medal award at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Veteran comedian and adventurer Michael Palin proudly accepts RCGS Gold Medal
Toronto, June 26, 2013 — “It’s with great pride that I am accepting The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s (RCGS) Gold Medal, but my life is not over yet,” laughs Palin. “It’s wonderful to be honoured for something I love to do.”

Over the last 25 years Michael Palin has produced eight internationally acclaimed television series on travel, and as many accompanying books. With Palin as the tour guide, viewers have been introduced to over eighty countries across seven continents, and given access to a staggering range of cultures and environments. He is also the former President of Great Britain’s Royal Geographical Society. During his term he placed geographic education and awareness as his top priority. Palin came to Canada to receive the RCGS Gold Medal, Canada’s highest honour in geography, for his contribution to geographical literacy. He received the medal today at a ceremony with several hundred well-wishers in Toronto’s Royal Conservatory theatre.

“The RCGS was created to recognize considerable achievement in the field of geography. Michael Palin’s work to teach us about our world and what we share is deserving of our Gold Medal,” says John Geiger, incoming CEO of the RCGS. “Palin has become a world leader in his advocacy to raise the profile of geoliteracy and how awareness is helpful for the world to live peacefully together.”

For Palin, travel requires more than just visiting places on a map. It takes understanding. “As I embarked on my travels, I realized that the only useful approach was to combine my natural curiosity and abundant sense of wonder with real geographical knowledge. In this way you can better understand the basic questions of where we live, why we live where we live and how we live where we live. Geography, in other words.”

The RCGS is dedicated to imparting a broader knowledge and deeper appreciation of Canada — its people and places, its natural and cultural heritage and its environmental, social and economic challenges. The Society is one of Canada’s largest non-profit educational organizations and is funded primarily by membership fees and generous donations. The Society’s Board of Governors and its program committees are comprised entirely of volunteers.


Michael Palin (Photo: Bonnie Findley)

One moment you’re in England performing the most famous song ever written about lumberjacks, backed by a chorus of Monty Python’s faux Mounties. The next you’re really in Canada, receiving the highest honour awarded by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

OK, so a lot transpired between that first filming of the “Lumberjack Song” skit in 1969 and Michael Palin’s summer 2013 visit to Toronto, where he accepted the Society’s prestigious Gold Medal, which is awarded for achievements in geography. Palin (pictured above, at the event) held several hundred fans rapt with a speech at the Royal Conservatory theatre, saying he was “proud and privileged to have won the Gold Medal, and to tread in the footsteps of many great geographers.” Yet it’s hard to think of someone who’s had a greater impact on geographic literacy the world over, or with a more genuine, contagious enthusiasm for sharing and showcasing the globe’s people, cultures and environments.

With his BBC crew by his side, the former Python member turned intrepid travel- documentarian has produced nine acclaimed adventure series, spanning more than 80 countries in seven continents. In the first, Around the World in 80 Days (1989), he plays a modern-day version of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. In the most recent series, Brazil (2012), he flaunts both familiar and unfamiliar sides of the world’s fifth-largest nation and growing economic powerhouse.

With accompanying books, audiobooks and photo collections, the series have been responsible for what travel agencies have called the “Palin effect” for many years. That is, when he visits a new location — even the most obscure of places — it is soon after besieged by inspired and aspiring adventurers.

“As I embarked on my travels,” said Palin in Toronto, “I realized that the only useful approach was to combine my natural curiosity and an abundant sense of wonder with real geographical knowledge. In this way you can better understand the basic questions of where we live, why we live where we live, and how we live where we live. Geography, in other words.”

— Nick Walker




« 2012 Gold Medal Recipient: Philip Currie 2013 Gold Medal Recipient: Robert Bateman »
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