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Alex Trebek honoured with Geographical Society grant program for emerging explorers

The late Alex Trebek, who began his career at the CBC and hosted the iconic game show Jeopardy for 37 years, is being honoured with a grant program that aims to award $400,000 annually to emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers.

Trebek Initiative 'a natural extension of his belief in the power of lifelong learning': wife of late TV icon

Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy who was born in Sudbury, Ont., and would have turned 81 this week, died in November 2020. A new grant program called The Trebek Initiative will help emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers. (Colin Rowe/Canadian Geographic)

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in Canada and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. are honouring the late Alex Trebek with a special grant program named after the longtime Jeopardy host.

Trebek, who grew up in Sudbury, Ont., began his TV career at the CBC in 1961 and hosted several game shows before joining Jeopardy nearly four decades before his November 2020 death. He would have turned 81 on Thursday.

During his lifetime, Trebek had been involved with both geographical societies, so in honour of his birthday, The Trebek Initiative was launched.

The grant program aims to promote emerging Canadian explorers, scientists, educators and photographers, said David Court, chair of The Trebek Initiative, "to help them to tell their story with a goal of igniting what we call a 'passion to preserve' in all Canadians."

Jean Trebek said she's heartened to see her husband's memory and philanthropic legacy honoured.

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.- Jean Trebek

"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," she said.

"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."

The program will provide $400,000 to $500,000 a year in grants to support expeditionary work. Between 10 and 12 grants will be handed out each year.

Court said there are similar grant programs in other parts of the world, including the U.S., "just not in Canada."

He said the funding — at least for the first three years of The Trebek Initiative — is from 18 families from across Canada.

Word of the grants spreading already   

Applications are coming in already.

"People have started putting in inquiries, making early applications, so they can work on them over time. And we are expecting that we will have some things up and going even this year," Court said.

He said some of the submissions they've already received are "all over the map" in terms of topics and categories.

"An example would be we've got one that's looking at exploring underwater caves in British Columbia; we've got scientific research on Canadian wildlife. There's some things on Canadian deer. There is wilderness and water. We've got one we've been talking to that is dealing with water scarcity in northern communities or we've got also photography."

Court said it's important to have such a program in Canada.

"I don't think Canadians know enough about their country and they have an incredible thirst to know more."

He said there are a number of young or emerging explorers doing fascinating work, but the details of those efforts aren't getting out to others.

"Between the funding we can provide — but maybe equally, or if not more importantly — is getting them connected to National Geographic, which is one of the great storytelling organizations there is, we can get these stories out to Canada," Court said.

Grants aim to 'ignite the passion'

"Great storytelling can change the world," said Alex Moen, chief explorer engagement officer for the National Geographical Society.

"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," said Moen.

"Our mission with The Trebek Initiative is to inspire Canadians to make lasting, positive changes for the health of our planet," said John Geiger, chief executive officer of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

A new fund in honour of the late Alex Trebek has been launched today, on what would have been his 81st birthday. We spoke with David Court about how the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society in the U.S. teamed up to create the Trebek Initiative. 8:05

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