People mingle around round tables in a ballroom

The Fellows Show

Photo: Ben Powless

Each year the Royal Canadian Geographical Society hosts the College of Fellows Annual Dinner, its largest fundraising event of the year, to raise critical support for its educational programming initiatives.

With COVID-19 limiting large group gatherings, the Society has taken the event virtual, producing a one-hour made-for-broadcast special, dubbed the Fellows Show, which is streamed live on YouTube and Facebook. 

Watch the 2021 Fellows Show!

A star-studded gathering of Royal Canadian Geographical Society luminaries convened for the second annual virtual variety show on Nov. 17, 2021. It was fitting that the celebration fell on GIS Day. “Happy Geography Awareness Week, everyone!” said host and Fellow Aliya Jasmine, a Canadian broadcast journalist now working as a host for NBC in Los Angeles.

“While it is unfortunate that we couldn’t see you all in person, we’re certain we’ll all be able to gather in Ottawa in November 2022 for the Society’s biggest gala yet. We have two years to make up for!” said RCGS CEO John Geiger, who joined the show from the headquarters at 50 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, to welcome 74 new members to the College of Fellows.

Louie Kamookak Medal winner Gurdeep Pandher, known as an educator and performer, got the proceedings off to a rousing start with a Bhangra performance from his home near Lake Laberge, Yukon.

One of the highlights of the evening was a discussion between actor and 2018 RCGS medalist Jared Harris and William Shatner, recipient of the Society’s 2021 Gold Medal. Shatner became the oldest person to travel to space when he blasted 100 kilometres into the air aboard the New Shepard space capsule this past October. Upon landing, he described the experience as “profound.”

The event provided the perfect opportunity to introduce Chief Perry Bellegarde, who was appointed Honorary President of the Society a few weeks before the Fellows Show.

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal recorded her well wishes to the Society, as did classical guitarist Liona Boyd. Guests also learned more about the important Trebek Initiative, which was introduced through a quirky video voiced by actor Stephen Fry. The grant program has already distributed more than $360,000 to emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, photographers, geographers and educators.

The evening also had its sombre moments. The gathering marked an opportunity to acknowledge the decision to rename an award honouring leadership in geographic education in memory of one of its biggest champions.

The Innovation in Geography Teaching Award is now known as the Gilles Gagnier Medal for Innovation in Geographic Education to honour the former chief operating officer of the Society and publisher of Canadian Geographic, who passed away unexpectedly in September.

About the show

In person, our College of Fellows Annual Dinner typically attracts about 600 guests. In 2020, our first virtual Fellows Show was made available for free to more than 200,000 social media followers across multiple Canadian Geographic platforms. 

The program featured a performance by Adrian Sutherland, presentations from literary legend Margaret Atwood and Survivorman Les Stroud, bestselling author and Monty Python star Michael Palin and the first Canadian woman in space, Dr. Roberta Bondar.

Watch the 2020 Fellows Show: