2024 RCGS expedition grantees

Each year, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society awards grants to teams or individuals embarking on expeditions to enhance the appreciation, understanding and knowledge of the physical, environmental and cultural geography of Canada. In 2024, the Society is pleased to award nine expedition grants to projects both major and modest. This year, RCGS-funded expeditions will see teams climb Rocky Mountain peaks, descend into the unknown depths of caves, and travel thousands of kilometres by canoe, kayak, snowshoe and bicycle. Read on to learn more about the grantees, their projects and objectives.

Expedition of the Year

AKOR 2024 Expedition
Grantee: Catherine Chagnon

The AKOR 2024 Expedition will cover more than 5,000 kilometres north of the 60th parallel in a single, unprecedented, six-month push. The AKOR team will first cycle across the entire Yukon (1,000 kilometres) before transitioning to canoe during the ice breakup. A series of rivers and lakes will allow the paddlers to cross the Northwest Territories and continental Nunavut, to ultimately reach the community of Baker Lake after 2,500 kilometres. Meanwhile, a second team will leave Quebec City aboard the sailboat Anorak to undertake a 4,500-kilometre journey to meet the canoeists in Baker Lake. Together, they will cross the Hudson Strait to reach the community of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island. The AKOR crew will conclude the crossing of the territories by hiking the Akshayuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park and reach the east coast of Baffin Island. The expedition will also be involved in research projects in forest ecology and human health.

Flag Expedition

Finding “David”
Grantee: Zac Robinson

The team plans to climb and photograph routes up several prominent Banff-area spires, as well as peaks climbed by poet Earle Birney in the 1920s, in order to identify the scene of Canada’s most well-known mountaineering tale: a story about a climber who fell to a ledge, was severely injured, and was then pushed off by his friend in an act of mercy. Combining mountaineering, archival research, and literary critique, we seek to explore a lingering mystery within Canadian literary articles, and what for Birney became a major irritant: was David a real person? Did a tragedy occur? “David” can be found, but not in those tangible ways; rather, the poem can be located across Banff’s many famous spires, and in the geography of Birney’s youth. We seek to share, through writing and imagery, what we learn about these landscapes: the first, a physical geography in Canada’s first national park; the other, an imaginary landscape that in its capacity to excite and unsettle, continues to assume an existence of its own.

Women’s Grant

All Around the Circle: Paddling a Folk Song
Grantee: TA Loeffler

The main objective of the expedition is to sea kayak “All Around the Circle” from Fogo to Twillingate and Moreton’s Harbour while at the same time exploring the cultural significance of this folk song to this region as well as the province. This expedition will fulfill a long-time goal of ours to complete a self-propelled paddling version of “All Around the Circle.” Our second objective is to use our well-developed social media platforms and presence to share the expedition as it is happening. We plan to share what we learn about the region’s vibrant geography, traditions, music, and people, both during and after the expedition – making both this region and this folk song better known to Canadians. The final objective is to show that women, and older women at that, can accomplish ambitious expedition goals as well as lead expeditions.

Major Grants

The White Rabbit Connection Project
Grantee: Kirk Safford

A narrow band of marble in the northern Monashee Mountains of British Columbia contains a series of unique caves that have the potential for a 1,000-metre-deep system in Canada and the U.S. White Rabbit is the largest cave in the system, currently surveyed to over 7,500 metres in length (eighth longest in Canada). Less than 300 metres away is Over the Hill cave, and connecting the two would make for a system in the order of 600 metres deep and 10,000 metres in length: a cave system of national significance. The primary objectives of this project are to connect these two caves and push a major lead that may extend below the current low point in White Rabbit. Discoveries made during 2022/23 expeditions (RCGS supported) have provided insight into the best approach to make a connection, and the possibility of extending beyond the low point of White Rabbit, thus extending the length and depth.

Expedition Northeast
Grantee: Justin Barbour

The journey will start at Kogaluc River on Quebec’s Ungava Peninsula tundra and end near Cape Pine on Newfoundland’s south coast. Justin will begin travelling southeast across the Ungava from the mouth of the Kogaluc River on Hudson Bay with a 16.5 foot folding canoe in the open tundra, then switch to snowshoe and 12-foot toboggan at freeze-up. Upon reaching Blanc Sablon on Quebec’s north shore in spring 2024, Justin will canoe 20 kilometres across the Strait of Belle Isle. He will then backpack down the Great Northern Peninsula and continue across Newfoundland’s interior to Francois. By canoe, he will average 20 kilometres a day, by snowshoeing, 10 kilometres a day, and by backpacking 15 kilometres a day. Justin anticipates 10-12 months to complete the expedition including a brief hiatus for freeze-up/thaw. The three key objectives of the expedition are:

• To complete the route by human power in roughly 12 months
• To live (and document) a full year travelling in the wilderness of northeastern Canada
• To inspire people young and old to embrace nature, adventure, and to follow their dreams

The Kangiqluk Expedition – The Great Fiord Traverse
Grantee: Dave Garrow

The main goal of the expedition is to explore, document and research some of the largest fiords in the Canadian Arctic and one of the planet’s most dramatic landscapes. The expedition will use touring skis and will be self-sufficient, pulling pulks to carry all necessary gear from Gibbs Fiord to Kanngiqtugaapik. As entry points for large volumes of freshwater, fiords provide unique hydrological and ecological processes critical for both wildlife populations and local Inuit. Changes in the overall extent and melting rates of glaciers and sea ice due to climate change are causing changes in the timing and amount of freshwater entering marine ecosystems. This expedition will achieve the objectives through adventure, science and storytelling.

Bisaro Anima 2024
Grantee: Kathleen Graham

Located on the Mount Bisaro plateau of the British Columbia Rocky Mountains, Bisaro Anima is Canada’s deepest cave. This team seeks to go back to push the cave deeper and further. Teams will dive the sump in the morning and continue a bolt climb in the afternoon for three days. They will haul gear out of the cave once objectives are complete. Teams will also be exploring multiple canyon passages, which extend vertically and horizontally, so will expect rope and bolts to be needed along the way. A team on the surface will continue to survey the Hood, a cave found in 2021 that should link into the Bisaro Anima system.

Yorkshire Pot 2024
Grantee: Brent Arnold

Yorkshire Pot is Canada’s second longest and fourth deepest cave. It currently has five separate entrances, a length of 13,812 metres and a recorded depth of 389 metres. This year, our expedition has a focus on mapping and better understanding the geology of the Yorkshire Pot System with a focus on the Chocolate Chamber and Muddy Gulch Series leads list. For this, we will be setting up an underground camp in the Chocolate Chamber over the summer so we may focus our efforts on surveying in the fall. From September 13-16, a team of six cavers will camp underground for three nights and four days to explore and survey the known boundaries of the cave.

Seed Grant

Circumnavigating Great Slave Lake
Grantee: Robert Stair

Travelling with hard shell touring kayaks, the team will follow the south shore into the East Arm of Great Slave Lake to the village of Lutsel K’e, east to the Pikes Portage/Fort Reliance area, around the end of the East Arm, northwest on the north shore to Plummer’s Lodge, to Yellowknife, northeast to Behchoko, west past the Mackenzie River to the south shore and finally return to Hay River. Key objectives include:
• To explore and record the landscape and ecology of Great Slave Lake through the eyes of watercolour artist Shelley Ross
• To celebrate and share the excitement of ‘getting out there’ as ‘seniors’ aged 73 and 68, demonstrating that age doesn’t necessarily preclude older Canadians from continuing to pursue and enjoy non-motorized remote and demanding wilderness activities
• To continue to embrace and celebrate Canada and to enjoy some of the most pristine wilderness in the world