Launching the Trebek Initiative!

Photo: Geoff Coombs/Can Geo

Launching today in honour of the birthday of the late Alex Trebek, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society are proud to introduce The Trebek Initiative, a new grant making program to promote and help shape emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers into storytellers who will help ignite “a passion to preserve” in all Canadians. The new initiative will provide more than $400,000 annually to emerging explorers, igniting the “passion to preserve” in every Canadian.

The late, renowned host of Jeopardy! and philanthropist had a passion for geographic literacy and supported both the RCGS (where he served as Honorary President until his passing) and The National Geographic Society.

“Alex was incredibly passionate about geographic education and exploration, believing it to be critical to understanding our planet and the impact of a changing environment. As such, lending his name to this initiative to help support the work of emerging Canadian explorers was a natural extension of his belief in the power of lifelong learning,” says his wife Jean Trebek. “I am also personally heartened to see his memory and philanthropic legacy honoured in this way, particularly as a collaboration of these two geographical societies of which he was such an ardent supporter.”

Alex Trebek was a major advocate for geographic education and served as the Society’s Honorary President. (Photo: Colin Rowe/Can Geo)

The program will provide grants to scientists, photographers and all early-career explorers in between in support of expeditionary work across Canada, unveiling the unknown stories hidden from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Grantees will then partner with NGS and RCGS to tell their story and utilize the global storytelling reach available through each organization.

Alex Moen, Chief Explorer Engagement Officer for NGS says, “Great storytelling can change the world. Through The Trebek Initiative grants and the explorations to come, we want to ignite the passion to preserve our environment and the planet in every Canadian.” 

“Geographic knowledge has never been more important than it is today, because the better we know each other, the better we can understand and accept each other. My love of geography has allowed me to be associated with two organizations I deeply admire for more than 25 years, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and National Geographic Society. I am humbled that these two esteemed organizations will form The Trebek Initiative to help support efforts to increase understanding of Canada’s many geographic wonders.”

                                                                         Alex Trebek, RCGS Honourary President, May 2016 – 2020

“The future of Canadian natural wonders relies on the actions we take today,” says John Geiger, Chief Executive Officer of the RCGS. “Our mission with The Trebek Initiative is to inspire Canadians to make lasting, positive changes for the health of our planet.” 

The types of projects championed include: exploration of unique ecozones in Canada, scientific research on Canadian wildlife, wilderness or water, a photography exposition on unique Canadian geographies, or new tools to create a better understanding of our environment.

A number of passionate Canadian families from across the country donated to The Trebek Initiative. Two spoke to the RCGS about their commitment to its goals.

“To live in Canada is to be home to one of the greatest natural resources on the planet,” says photographer Edward Burtynsky. “It is our responsibility to understand this incredible piece of geography and what it means to steward it for the next generations. When I heard that we did not have a fund to support the greatest young minds to dig deep and understand what needs to be done and why, I immediately saw the importance of the fund. I also vividly remember the grants and support I received early in my career and the outsized benefits they brought to me.”

Jim Leech, the chancellor of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., also expressed deeply personal reasons for his support of the Initiative, speaking on behalf of himself and his wife, Deborah Barrett. “Based on our extensive world travels, Deb and I believe that there is no place on Earth with the majesty, variety and mystery of Canada. That is why we are so supportive of the Trebek Initiative, which will allow our ‘explorers’ the opportunity to push the limits of knowledge and discover more about our country’s heritage, our culture and what came before. Through these discoveries we will learn more about ourselves and our great country, Canada.”

Applications are constantly being reviewed and have already started rolling in. The first projects approved by The Trebek Initiative are in the final stages of selection. The finalists cover a range of topics including the ancient growth forests on Vancouver Island to exploring the influence of British Whalers on Baffin Island.

For additional information and grant application details, please visit