Royal Canadian Geographical Society Goes Public

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The building formerly known as Canada and the World Pavilion was created to showcase Canada’s role on the international stage. Now, after standing empty for almost 11 years, it will soon reopen to showcase Canada itself.

Owned by the National Capital Commission and managed by Inside Edge Properties for just over two years, it’s an absolute gem of a property. Located at 50 Sussex Drive along the highly visible Confederation Boulevard—the route that foreign dignitaries and the Royal Family use during processions and state visits—it will soon be renovated to house the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Central to the new tenant’s vision will be the Canadian Centre for Geography and Exploration, a brand new, feature-rich cultural centre that will host exhibitions, be home to a teachers’ institute and house the Society’s new headquarters as well as its flagship magazine, Canadian Geographic. The Society has never before had public spaces in which it could host events and exhibitions.

“This is the first time in the Society’s history it will have a permanent home in a prestigious location,” said Alex Trebek, the Society’s honourary president and host of the long-running television program Jeopardy!, in an interview with CBC Radio’s All in a Day.

“Here at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society headquarters, they’ll be able to stand here, enjoy the view, enjoy the sights, enjoy the history of geographic exploration in the country and just marvel at just how great this land of ours is,” Mr. Trebek said.

Located on a promontory—a point of high land that juts out into a body of water— and overlooking the historic Rideau Falls where the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers meet, the site offers spectacular scenery and is a perfect setting for the organization, according to John Geiger, the Society’s Chief Executive Officer.

“The place just screams ‘geography’. When I first saw this building and I saw that it was empty, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said to the CBC recently. “It’s such an iconic building, an incredible spot. Everywhere you look, there’s a million-dollar view.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to do what we’ve always done, which is communicate with Canadians, celebrate Canada, celebrate the physical and human geography of Canada, but do it in a way that’s very direct and in touch with people,” he said.

Phase one of the occupancy will take place in 2017 as Canadians celebrate the 150th anniversary of confederation. Renovations to the main-level exhibition spaces means the building will serve as one of the official Confederation Pavilions throughout Canada’s 2017 celebrations. It will feature geographical exhibits that will be open to the public next summer.

The renovation and move-in will be completed in 2018, just before the Society celebrates its own 90th birthday the following year.

Erected in 2000, the $5-million glass-and-stone structure was originally built to celebrate Canadian achievements in culture, sport, international co-operation and technical innovation. After crowds failed to materialize in sufficient numbers, the pavilion was closed just five years later.

It took some time to fill the space as the NCC was looking for a tenant that would support the “significance” of the site.

Was the Royal Canadian Geographic Society a good choice? Alex Trebek certainly thinks so.

Contestant: ​“I’ll take ‘Significant Additions to the Cultural Fabric of Canada’ for $400, Alex.”

Alex Trebek:​“Okay, here’s the clue. . . This is going to be a must-see, a must-visit location for tourists who come to Canada’s capital in the future.”

Contestant: ​“What is the new Canadian Centre for Geography and Exploration?”

Alex Trebek: ​“That’s correct! You now have control of the board.”

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