Canadian Explorers
Canadian Explorers

Canada's greatest explorers 2015

100 of the nation's top modern-day trailblazers

Featured Explorer
Fred Roots

Polar pioneer

Expertise: Geology, Environment, Trekking, Education

By Nick Walker

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The greatest explorers today are astronauts, deep-sea divers and polar adventurers. But then they’re also paleontologists, historians, conservationists and photographers. It’s hard to find one who fits the classic “new lands” definition (think Champlain, Mackenzie, Amundsen or Shackleton), but with every new expedition, adventure, field-research breakthrough, environmental effort and invention, this living generation is questing to better our geographic and scientific knowledge of Canada, Earth and everything beyond.

The beauty of the term “explorer” is that the people labelled as such are constantly helping to evolve its meaning. We can’t put many restrictions on a word that drives discovery, that constantly reframes the world, introduces us to new places, peoples and species or shows them again in ways not yet imagined.

What follows is Canadian Geographic’s collection of the nation’s best explorers, determined with the help of Fellows of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society — in particular renowned ocean explorer Joe MacInnis, who provided the definition of “exploration” that guided the whole project (see below). We also looked for world and national firsts, and individuals who have made significant and lasting impacts in their fields. Several of these trailblazers have been spotlighted, with the others described in brief. Save alphabetical order, there is no hierarchy here. All have performed great feats.

What is an explorer?

Exploration is an extremely hard word to unravel. (My first expedition, the American Man in Sea project supported by the U.S. Navy and National Geographic, took place in 1964. I’ve been struggling with a definition of exploration ever since.) Here’s a version that came from our team on the recent James Cameron-National Geographic Deepsea Challenge expedition:

“Exploration is about forging dramatic new relationships with the natural world and telling essential stories to accelerate our understanding of the critical importance of these relationships.”

In a story about American astronaut Dave Williams, I wrote: “Exploration is a way of thinking and acting, a way of living that fully engages you in the wonder and beauty of natural and human-made worlds. Exploration keeps you asking questions, accepting challenges, and developing the mental dexterity needed to solve 21st-century problems.

Exploration keeps you young. There are a lot of ways to define this essential human principle. There may be as many forms of exploration as there are explorers.”

Joe MacInnis



The Canadian Space Agency has fielded nearly 15,000 applications from would-be astronauts during its three recruitment campaigns since 1983. Including Roberta Bondar and Chris Hadfield, only 12 of those applicants have been successful, and have combined to build Canada’s space program and fly on 16 missions: Marc Garneau, Bjarni Tryggvason, Steve MacLean, Robert Thirsk, Ken Money, Julie Payette, Dave Williams, Michael McKay, Jeremy R. Hansen and David Saint-Jacques.


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