Introducing the 2023 RCGS Research Grantees

For more than 50 years, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society has contributed to growing geographical understanding of Canada – its people, places, culture, environment and economic challenges – by funding research to broaden Canadians’ knowledge and appreciation of Canada.

As one of the oldest organizations in Canada funding geographical research, our research grants and scholarships have enabled students to pursue their passion for geography, sometimes leading to ground-breaking results. This much-needed support has also helped launch the careers of Canada’s brightest minds in geography.

This year, we’ve awarded six scholars reflecting a range of disciplines and geographical reach. Their work highlights the importance of applying geographical methods and technologies, to better understand our landscapes, environment, and sustainable human interaction.



Pursuing a MSc in Geography at Memorial University

“Reimagining a Northern Housing System: A Case Study of the Partnership between the K’asho Got’ine Housing Society and Housing Northwest Territories”

Housing need is a longstanding issue across northern Canada, and disproportionately impacts Indigenous peoples. In the Northwest Territories, approximately 50% of the population of self identify as Indigenous. However, in regional centres as well as small, settlement communities, the majority of people experiencing chronic housing need and homelessness are Indigenous (Christensen 2017; Statistics Canada, 2021). It is clear from the persistence of chronic housing need, and the implications for Indigenous northerners in particular, that a one- size-fits-all approach to northern housing is failing many. Indigenous communities have long advocated for community-led, self-governed approaches to housing delivery. However, structural and institutional barriers, and a housing system that continues to position housing as separate from other critical social determinants of Indigenous health, act as obstacles to Indigenous self-determination of housing. Abigale’s project seeks to take a more in-depth examination of the institutional barriers to self-determination of housing, and suggest policy change recommendations as a way to reimagine the northern housing system. A partnership between the K’asho Got’ine Housing Society and Housing NWT will form a case study of how a territorial government can improve their support for self-determining, culturally relevant, and safe Dene housing policies.


Pursuing a MSc in Geography at the University of Quebec (Rimouski)

“Coastal eco-geomorphological mapping in Nunavik: Towards better adapted environmental risk management plans”

The coastal zone plays a crucial role in traditional activities, food security and transportation in the Inuit communities of Nunavik. Despite recent research advances, community adaptation to coastal changes under a warming climate remains challenging. Our limited knowledge of Nunavik’s coastal dynamics makes it difficult to create targeted hazard management plans. Julie’s project aims to establish the first coastal eco-geomorphological map of the Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik-Umiujaq region to improve our understanding of sensitive eco-geomorphological systems and facilitate the development of a coastal environmental vulnerability index (CVI). Accordingly, a quantification of coastline evolution and a map of the coastal ecosystems are made by remote sensing. Geomorphological features and hydro-sedimentary dynamics are also described and mapped using photo-interpretation, in situ validation, and modeled offshore wave statistics. A better understanding of the interactions between these components is essential in identifying coastal hazard hotspots and sensitive ecosystems to prevent potential damages in the coastal zone.


Pursuing an interdisciplinary PhD at Dalhousie University

“Let’s clear the air: examining the prevalence of atmospheric plastics around Sable Island, Nova Scotia”

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues on the planet. While plastics have been found at the deepest depths of our oceans to the highest peaks on the planet, scientists have only recently discovered that microplastics, particles as small as 1 um, can move around the world through the air currents. Atmospheric microplastics can use air currents as highways to travel far distances and be deposited around the world. Despite the significance of this plastic pathway, research on the origins and movements of these small plastics is scarce particularly in North America. Justine’s project aims to produce one of the first studies in North America to measure and assess atmospheric plastics traveling from the continental United States and Canada to the North Atlantic. Through a unique partnership with the Sable Island Institute this project will gain rare access to the remote and uninhabited Sable Island. This project will aim to: (1) develop rigorous scientific methods to collect and measure atmospheric plastics over 30-consecutive days using two different collection methods, and (2) analyze microplastics down to the smallest size class to model and to better understand atmospheric microplastic movement in North America and across the world. While this National Park Reserve is home to the iconic Sable Island horses and important marine species, this Island has the potential to become ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for monitoring levels of atmospheric microplastics especially as the United Nations Global Plastic Treaty takes action to reduce plastic pollution.



Pursuing a PhD in Geography at Laval University

“Ice-wedge distribution, development, and influence on landscape evolution in the Barrens of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, northern Manitoba”

Ground-ice volume and distribution within permafrost greatly influences the geomorphic responses of northern landscapes to climate-induced thaw. However, because ground-ice content varies significantly across the North, ground-ice knowledge not easily transferable between landcover units. The Hudson Bay Lowlands (HBL) present a prime opportunity for ground-ice investigations in isostatically uplifted permafrost lowlands, which are under-represented in the literature. Satellite imagery of the “Barrens” of northern Manitoba, in northwestern HBL, indicate extensive ice wedges in this region. Ice wedges are a type of ground ice that develop via repeated thermal contraction cracking of the ground, and it is unusual to find them at such low latitudes. The objective’s of Tabatha’s research are to (1) characterize the volume and distribution of wedge ice, (2) improve understanding of Holocene ice-wedge polygon development, and (3) investigate the role of ground ice on evolution of an uplifted permafrost peatland under a warming climate. Permafrost cores will be extracted from ice-wedge troughs and analysed for cryostratigraphy, radiocarbon dating and stable water isotopes. Results will contribute to an improved assessment of terrain vulnerability to ground thaw near crucial infrastructure in the HBL, and will support proactive adaptation to risks associated with rapid, thaw-induced environmental change.



Pursuing a MSc in Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph

“Kitchen Table Methodologies: Exploring how infrastructure deficits shape community-based research activities in the Canadian Arctic”

Infrastructure capacity is an under-researched yet critical pillar of successful community-led research. This is pertinent in the case of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, where community researchers are establishing a place-based research program, Ikaarvik. While Ikaarvik’s work bolsters local research capacity, they operate without research infrastructure. As such, much of their daily work takes place in their homes. However, Nunavut holds the highest rate of inadequate housing in Canada, characterized by insufficient infrastructure, overcrowding, and unaffordability. Sarah-Anne’s research takes place in this overlap: Where does Arctic community-based research take place in the context of infrastructure deficits, and how do these places impact community researchers’ ability to meet objectives? This semi-exploratory case study will utilize a mixed-method approach (semi-structured key-informant interviews, photo-voice, and workshops) to (1) document workspace characteristics of community researchers in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, (2) evaluate the degree to which community research activities are impacted by infrastructure deficits in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and (3) synthesize infrastructure features that would benefit the work of local researchers in Arctic communities. At a timely, pivotal moment in Arctic research, this work will facilitate a much-needed understanding of the role local infrastructure plays in realizing the full potential of robust, impactful, and resilient community-led research.



Nature, science and documentary photographer/videographer

“Exploring the Geography of (Losing) Coastal Access in Nova Scotia”

Nicolas’ project seeks to explore the geography surrounding the limited and increasingly problematic issue of coastal access on Nova Scotia’s coast and its implication for the ability of citizens to explore and enjoy coastal spaces in Canada as a whole. Climate change drive sea level rise and erosion, population growth and increasing coastal development are only likely to exacerbate these concerns. The project will be conducted using research interviews and an evidence-based approach as it examines various themes from regulations, stake- and rights-holders perspectives, equity and potential solutions. Audio recordings and photography will support the core research which I will mobilize with three key outputs: a limited-series narrative podcast, a photo-essay and a website to showcase the project and outcomes.

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