History

Photo: Royal Canadian Geographical Society Archives

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society was founded in 1929 by geologist and explorer Charles Camsell, along with 27 others who shared his vision.

From its first formal meeting in January 1930, the Society captured the attention and imaginations of Canadians, even through dire economic times — a feat in itself, as it began without a guaranteed source of income. The Society was first open to all for a $3 annual membership fee. 

By May 1930, the Society had published the first issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal — the first time Camsell’s words and the now-familiar RCGS mandate, “to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world,” were recorded by founding editor Lawrence J. Burpee.

The first issues

The first issue of Canadian Geographic — then the Canadian Geographic Journal — had much of the same diverse content you’d find today.

The first issue supported Canada’s visual arts, as the magazine continues to do today. Dr. F. G. Banting accompanied Group of Seven painter A. Y. Jackson to the Canadian Arctic and brought back sketches and paintings that were published in the Journal.

That notion of broad accessibility belied the eminent nature of many of the Society’s first directors. Among them famed explorer, cartographer and geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell and ethnographer and folklorist Marius Barbeau, now considered a founder of Canadian anthropology. Camsell himself was Deputy Minister of Mines, having previously overseen the documentation of much of Canada’s North.

By May 1930, the Society had published the first issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal. It was then that Camsell’s words, now the familiar RCGS mandate “to make Canada better known to Canadians and to the world,” were recorded by Lawrence J. Burpee, founding editor. Burpee, a prolific author and the first Canadian Secretary of the Joint Commission, which settled boundary disputes between Canada and the United States, guided the publication through its first years.

The journal caught hold and flourished as a result of the same passion for scientific and geographical knowledge and the spirit of endurance that was embodied by the Society’s explorers.