Fellow aims to boost Oak Bay through national honour

By telling stories of Canada, biologist pushes nation to worldwide recognition

Oak Bay’s Jacques Sirois is among 115 new fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. He earned the honour for four decades of sharing tales of Canada with the world. The art on his wall

Jacques Sirois plans to leverage his new powers as a Fellow of the The Royal Canadian Geographical Society to boost his ongoing bid to promote Oak Bay.

The Oak Bay biologist was named during the 2016 RCGS Fellows Dinner at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa late last month, primarily for telling tales of the arctic.

“The organization is taking flight,” Sirois said, back home in Oak Bay. RCGS is getting to be a more serious thing, he said, growing, expanding and reinvigorating their fellowship program including induction of 115 people to the roster of more than 700 nationwide.

“Their main mission is making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world,” said Sirois, who was nominated by this colleagues at One Ocean for his 40 years “working on making Canada better known.”

He started as a teen on Bonaventure Island bird sanctuary and these says as a local resident on the Salish Sea alongside his career work with One Ocean Expeditions.

“In the last 20 years in part I have been working a lot on ships in the polar regions,” he said. That work entails taking world travellers on “polar tourism and storytelling” excursions in Canada’s north. Among his favourite stories is the 2014 finding of HMS Erebus.

In 1845, explorer Sir John Franklin set sail from England with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in search of a Northwest Passage across what is now Canada’s Arctic. The ships and crews vanished and dozens of search expeditions set sail to try to find them.

“I was on one of the ships that looked for the Erebus,” he said. “This story is bigger than most people are aware.”

He has a medal to show for his work in the private sector (on a Russian vessel) during that excursion.

To build on that excitement, the Terror was found earlier this year. Then this summer the largest commercial cruise ship sailed through the Northwest Passage, all building up to a big story for Sirois to weave for visitors to the region.

“The search for Franklin’s ships is what essentially put the Canadian Arctic on the global map,” Sirois said. “These are the kind of stories I talk about. The north is our biggest story in Canada. Our stories are big and under-told so (the fellowship) gives me renewed impetus to tell these stories.”

He also hopes to leverage his role sharing Oak Bay stories.

“We are a place rich with heritage. We have exceptional cultural and natural heritage,” he said, citing Trial Island Lighthouse and the Chinese Cemetery as areas recognized as such. There are also kelp forests, eelgrass meadows and the first bird sanctuary.

“We have a lot of heritage, somehow we’re not showcasing or highlighting it well,” he said. “It should be a priority.”

Joining Sirois in the Fellows Class of 2016 are singer-songwriters Susan Aglukark and Bruce Cockburn, science journalist Brian Banks, Trans-Canada Trail CEO Deborah Apps and chair Paul LaBarge, polar explorer Susan R. Eaton, former MP and federal cabinet minister Leona Aglukkak and Memorial University geography professor Trevor Bell.