Royal Canadian Geographical Society School Visits in Central Canada

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Jill Heinerth was visiting Calgary to speak to school kids about exploration and geography. Students at Alice Jamieson Girls Academy, Stanley Jones School, Dr. Martha Cohen School and New Brighton School had a chance to meet Jill and hear her multimedia presentation about exploration and science. She met with small groups to coach interested kids in topics including journalism, photography, career planning, fear, failure and discovery learning.

Jill’s talks are made possible through support from the Weston Foundation.

Explorer in Residence

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In June 2016 I was named the first Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. One of the major goals of the program will be to find funding that will enable school visits and online outreach to kids across Canada. I’ll be sharing the journey of exploration and encouraging kids to dream and discover their world. I’ll also be offering critical lessons about water literacy along the way. I created this video to support fundraising efforts in progress.

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Canadian Geographic Covers Women Explorers

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RCGScoverJill Heinerth graces the cover of this month’s Canadian Geographic Magazine. The edition hits newsstands July 4, 2016 and covers Canada’s Greatest Women Explorers. Jill Heinerth is featured as the new Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

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Lord Strathcona

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The wreck of the Lord Strathcona leaves one speechless. It has become remarkable artificial reef. The anemones celebrate the fact that no men were lost on this ship. The crew was able to abandon ship and safely reach shore. Today the site has become incredible habitat and a colorful museum of war history. Wrecks in Newfoundland are well protected and today you can still see a radio on the upper deck, phonograph records and silverware inside the ship. Thanks to the conservation ethic, many more divers will be able to share in the beauty.

Sandra Clopp views the stern deck gun on the Lord Strathcona, adorned with life. The ship was sunk by U-513, under Kapitän-Leutnant Rolf Ruggeberg on September 5, 1942.

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Beating the Winds

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June 20, 2016

The solstice gives us the longest day of the year but we needed to start early to beat the howling winds that built through the day. Our first dive was on the Free French Vessel PLM27. It was sunk quickly and 12 crewmen were lost. The Uboat U-518 captained by K/L Friedrich Wissmann snuck away, escaping undetected beneath a corvette Drumheller and two Fairmile fast boats patrolling Conception Bay.

This was the second attack in Conception Bay and locals thought a spy had been involved. The captain of the PLM was not onboard the night his ship was sunk and had recently sold his piano to a Bell Island local. People wondered whether his loyalties were genuine since the Germans were occupying France. Perhaps the Nazis had turned the captain?

The second dive was on the Saganaga. This ship was sunk on September 4, 1942. U-513 captianed by Rolf Ruggerberg followed the Evelyn B into the Bell Island anchorage on the night of September 3 and waited quietly in 75 feet of water. In the morning it rose to periscope depth and sunk the Strathcona and the Saganaga. 29 crewmen, all form the Saganaga were killed while U-513 escaped on the surface.

My diving partner Sandra Clopp was using a Hollis PRISM2 rebreather. The rebreather recirculates our exhaled breath and removes carbon dioxide. We inject small bursts of oxygen to maintain a safe breathing gas. The device has an exothermic reaction that keeps us a little warmer that we would otherwise be in the near freezing water.

The anchor and the massive torpedo hole in the side of the PLM27.

A lumpfish guards his mate’s eggs.

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Back to Bell Island

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Thirty-five knot winds kept us off the boat today, but we took the opportunity to take new team members over to Bell Island to the mine. We met our dear friends Ed, Bernie and Bonnie and had some coffee and sandwiches before heading into the mine for a tour. We saw the plans for the new museum building which has just begun raising funds. They will need a lot of community support to reach their goal. They’re knitting hats, offering tours and working hard to find creative fundraising solutions.

It is hard to imagine the strength of the miners at Bell Island. They loaded 20 carts a day of 1.5 tons per cart before they were able to go home. On Fridays they tried to load 30 so they could go home early on Saturday and have one precious day at home before heading back to the mine Sunday night.

We had traditional fish and chips with dressing and gravy at Dick’s on the Wharf and then went off the road to the Grebe’s Nest to do some dry caving and exploring of the original mines that were cut at sea level. The rocks are a little treacherous and seeing tons of shale pancaked on top of ancient tram rails and machinery was a little sobering. In the distance we watched a grounded iceberg and hope we can dive it when the winds calm down.

It is good to be back here!

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Jill Heinerth Appears on The Social

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Why We Do It

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Carol daughter of Harold BickfordlPeople have often asked me why we explore places like the mine on Bell Island, Newfoundland. The project was named Expedition of the Year by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, but it is not honor and glory that compels us to explore. For me it was totally personal.

In 2013, my husband Robert McClellan and I bicycled across Canada sharing my film We Are Water in efforts to spread water literacy. When we neared the end of our ride, I phoned Rick Stanley who owned Ocean Quest Adventure Resort in Conception Bay South. Could we complete our ride at his business and home? Could he extend us the generosity of a warm bed at the end of a three month journey. Rick opened his arms wide, helped us arrange more outreach opportunities to tell our story of water conservation and introduced us to Newfoundland at the same time. It was the one corner of my country I knew very little about.

I did not know Rick Stanley, other than by reputation, prior to that phone call. But as with most Newfoundlanders, he practically gave us the shirt off his back and welcomed us in to a wonderful new family. Rick put us in his Zodiac boat and drove us to Bell Island. He showed us the war memorial and told the story of the shipwrecks sunk by Uboats in the nearby harbor. He took us to the mine and described the economic hardships that the islanders had faced. He was a proud, strong and affable character whose personal convictions could not help but sweep you off your feet.

StMichaelsSchoolGemma5643lI knew I needed to give back. The people of Newfoundland welcomed me into their homes and lives and now I want to share their story with others and give them more tools to develop their local economy. 15,000 people resided on Bell Island when the mine was fully operational. 3,000 strong souls remain today. Bell Islanders are a picture of what it means to be Canadian. When the mine closed, they struggled on. When the cod fishery collapsed, they helped each other prevail. Each time the economy fails this corner of our nation, they prove what being good neighbors is all about.

I was recently contacted by a man named Paul. He wanted to gift a photo to his Mother-in-Law Carol, daughter of Harold Bickford who toiled in the mine. Did I have a suitable photo I could share with them that could help her remember her Dad and connect with his sense of place? Carol shared her new picture that is now proudly hung on the wall of her home. It gave me goosebumps. If we can help connect more people with their sense of place and share this gem with more Canadians and the world, then our mission is accomplished.

Photos: Carol and her new wall art (top). Gemma Smith, team member, describes diving gear to kids in Bell Island during one of our school visits (bottom).

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Canadian Geographic Posts Explorer in Residence News

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It has been a whirlwind week of activity surrounding Jill Heinerth’s appointment as the first Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Canadian Geographic Magazine offered this update.

Jill appeared on the popular television program on CTV called The Social. Jill Heinerth at The SocialThe lengthy segment covered everything form Jill’s genesis in diving to plunging deep under Antarctic icebergs.

Heinerth was celebrated at a VIP luncheon at Massey College in Toronto, where she was officially installed in her new role.

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Acceptance Speech for Royal Canadian Geographical Society Explorer in Residence Appointment

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j_heinerth_newcardOn June 8, 2016 Jill Heinerth was appointed as the first Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Here is an audio link to her acceptance speech which is written below.

Acceptance of the RCGS Appointment as the Inaugural Explorer in Residence

June 8, 2016 on the occasion of World Oceans Day

Delivered at the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

by Jill Heinerth

I hit the geography jackpot. I was born in Cooksville, Ontario in 1965 when the world was opening and anything was possible. Generation X they called us, post-boomers, baby busters, latch-key kids. An independent generation that launched with common media experiences like watching man walk on the moon and expanded to ubiquitous media and access to information that was unprecedented.

My parents encouraged me to chase my dreams, and see the world as one global community. We owned a spinning globe, an illustrated atlas and my grandfather’s basement closet full of his lifetime subscription to National Geographic magazine. My Dad loved maps, treasuring his collection of topographics that he would use to plan our family canoe trips. We discussed different cultures and places around the family dinner table, and I grew up knowing that the world was open and our knowledge of it was expanding in every direction.

I was encouraged to participate in Girl Guides, loved weekend hiking on the Bruce Trail and treasured canoe camping experiences above all else. I’m sure my parents cringed when I came home bloodied or muddied. I know they were terrified when I struck out on my own to backpack around Europe. But nothing prepared them for the announcement when I declared that I was selling my advertising and graphics business to forge a creative career in the underwater world.

Today my business card title reads “Explorer.” It is the best descriptive “handle” I can find for my work.

Now you might wonder what place a cave diver has taking on this new role as Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society? I spend my time swimming through dark places that few people will ever see or comprehend. I  swim through the veins of Mother Earth, within the lifeblood of the planet. In the pulsing vitality of your drinking water, I explore corridors filled with the very source of life. Water is the nourishment for mankind, the animal kingdom and agriculture that feed us all. I swim in the beginning of the pipe, where water wells up from the ground to serve as the source for creeks and rivers that reach estuaries that act as nursery grounds for the inhabitants of our oceans… the oceans that fulfill their role as the oxygen generating lungs of our planet.

Much of my work takes place in this hidden geography of the planet… I swim through the world’s secret places inside aquifer caves, descending deep on ocean walls, exploring beneath Arctic ice and into historic shipwrecks. Through these adventures, I hope to connect people to their water resources and make this hidden geography a little less abstract.

There is no doubt that water is the defining issue of my generation. When oceans acidify, ecosystems collapse. When community water supplies dry up, unrest follows. When resources are despoiled by individuals or industry, we all lose. Water rich nations can thrive if they manage and protect their most precious asset.

Canada’s hidden geography includes over 200,000 kilometers of coastline, more than any other country in the world. 8 percent of our territory is covered by lakes – more lake area than any other country in the world. We possess 9 per cent of the world’s renewable fresh water, yet only half a percent of the global population. And according to a Nanos Policy Opinions Poll, 62 percent of Canadians regard fresh water as the country’s most important natural resource; even over oil, gas and forestry. A Circle of Blue commissioned global study found that for two-thirds of us, key issues include water pollution and the lack of safe drinking water.

The health of Canadians is significantly affected by accessibility to clean, safe water. Each year 90,000 Canadians fall ill from waterborne pathogens and 90 people die according to Environment Canada. As many as 75% of water systems on First Nations reserve communities have significant threats to the quality and quantity of drinking water. In the past several years, 25 per cent of Canadian municipalities have experienced periodic water shortages. People do not know where their water comes from or how they can better protect it. Many of us don’t realize how we are unintentionally over-using water in our daily activities and choices.

Our waterways offer commercial and recreational fishing, tourism and recreation. Our abundant reserves support the production of goods. Water irrigates our crops and bolsters the food and beverage industry. Flood control, drought mitigation, environmental purification and reserves for biodiversity; we ask a lot of our hidden geography.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society has never had an Explorer in Residence. In fact, we’re still trying to figure out what my role will entail and how we can fund some of these new initiatives. But I am a persistent dreamer who believes that once you set a plan in motion, anything is possible. My life is testament to that fact. And so I am aiming for two key goals.

First, I want to reach deep into the educational system to inspire young people to explore…. both in person and through modern online outreach opportunities. I want today’s youth to understand that the world is at their fingertips through a connected global community. I want young people to recognize that they can make bold moves creating new careers and initiatives to solve emerging problems that are important to them. I want them to know that anything is made possible through diligence and teamwork.

Secondly, I want to share my adventures to help nurture a better connection between Canadians and their water resources. I want us all to celebrate and protect the summer arrival of humpback whales feeding on swarms of capelin in Newfoundland. I want to inspire parents to take their kids to Lake Winnipeg to play, so they will want to keep safe the vast watershed it serves. I want our citizens to learn from our First Nations fore-bearers about how to live in better harmony with our natural resources. I want to help my fellow Canadians understand that everything we do to the surface of our land will be returned to us to drink. I want to us to fully embrace how water flows into and out of our lives.

For me this appointment fulfills a life dream. The dream of a little girl who was told that nothing was impossible. The dream of a young Girl Guide who was taught how to live in balance with her world. The dream of a woman who discovered that doing what you love nets far greater gains than can be measured by a paycheck.

I may travel the world for much of my work, but I am a proud Canadian who recognizes that our fate and fortune of geography offers us a unique place in this world. When the world finds itself in conflict, people often turn to Canada… a stable, fair, responsible player on the world stage. En tant que Canadiens, nous avons la possibilité de diriger le monde par notre exemple. Nous pouvons vivre en paix et en harmonie avec notre planète de l’eau. As Canadians we have an opportunity to lead the world by our example. That we can live in peace and harmony with our water planet. Thank you for entrusting me with this humbling and exciting new role for the years ahead.

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