Vancouver Island athlete, photographer and geoscientist Jacqueline Windh has won a national award for her exploration of Canada’s west coast.
Based in Port Alberni, Windh is a long-distance athlete with a deep love and curiosity for the coast. She has been named the 2021 recipient of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration.
In the summer of 2019, Windh and her partner Dave Gilbert undertook a one-month wilderness journey, travelling down the wild west coast of Vancouver Island on foot and by sea kayak. The goal of the expedition, undertaken under the RCGS flag, was not only adventure, it was also part of a continuing exploration of a little-known part of Canada’s history: the earliest contacts between foreign explorers and the Indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth People in the Pacific Northwest.
Windh interviewed people and took photos and video along their journey, sharing them in public presentations later that year. She is working on a book about her expedition.
The Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration recognizes outstanding Canadian explorers for extraordinary achievement through expeditions in Canada or abroad, or a citizen of another country for extraordinary exploratory achievement and expeditions within Canada. The award is named for Sir Christopher Ondaatje, a former member of the Canadian Olympic bobsleigh team in 1964, and successful publisher, writer and global adventurer.
Windh accepted the honour during a virtual award ceremony at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Fellows show on Nov. 17.
“This year’s awards have gone to an extraordinary group of people, from artists to educators to scientists,” said John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. “We are honoured to bestow recognition upon each of these individuals for their outstanding work in their fields and for their dedication to the society and the discipline of geography.”
Windh said she was overwhelmed to have received the medal. “I’m surprised and thrilled,” she said in her acceptance speech. “I’m also humbled; the list of previous recipients and their achievements is impressive. I’m a proud Fellow of the RCGS and a strong believer in the society’s mandate of making our magnificent country better known to Canadians and to the world.”
The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed Windh’s adventurous drive. Last spring she took the four-month Bridgewatch Enhanced program through the B.C. Institute of Technology in North Vancouver and qualified to become a deckhand on vessels. Her goal was to return to expedition cruise ships, using her new nautical certifications as well as her scientific and photographic background.
In September 2021 she completed a personal goal to run the 47-kilometre Juan de Fuca Trail in one day. The pandemic means she has not been able to sign up for any ultramarathons, so she created her own, she said.
In November she attended the Banff Adventure Filmmakers workshop. “It’s got me really inspired to get back into my photography and my video,” she said.
For December and January she joined Hurtigruten Expeditions, headquartered in Norway, and has been working as a lecturer and guide aboard the cruise ship Roald Amundsen in Antarctica.
Windh is currently writing The Food Garden book series aimed at aspiring gardeners who want to maximize their ability to produce their own food.