Meg Beckel at podium.
Museum President and CEO Meg Beckel at the Nature Inspiration Awards, held Nov. 5, 2014 at the museum. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

This month, I was proud to be part of an amazing celebration at our museum—a night to acknowledge, through the first Nature Inspiration Awards, some amazingly creative, innovative and forward-thinking people and organisations. All are making a difference in our understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Panorama showing guests seated at tables with Meg Beckel at podium.
The scene is set as Meg Beckel kicks off the Nature Inspiration Awards on November 5. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

That is something that we, as Canada’s national museum of natural history and natural sciences, have been doing for more than 150 years—whether it’s through developing galleries and exhibitions; working with partners to create programs that engage and inspire others, or contributing knowledge through our national collections and scientific research and expertise.

Museum scientist Dr. André Martel stands behind a table to show mussel to numerous visitors at a public Open House.
Dr. André Martel talks about his research on mussels, during the public Open House in 2013—one of the many ways the museum encourages appreciation of the natural world. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

It’s been a whirlwind year since the museum conceived and put into place these first annual awards. We were delighted to receive 34 nominations last spring and I know that our jury had a hard time winnowing down the list to the finalists and the winners. Our national media partners, The Walrus and the Globe and Mail, helped share the buzz to collect nominations and recognize the finalists. We look forward to building on this year’s success when our second call for nominations is launched early in 2015.

Jury member Shelley Ambrose standing by podium and holding sculpture.
Jury member Shelley Ambrose, Publisher of The Walrus, holds the Lishman iceberg sculpture, which is presented to the award winners. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

But before we get there, I want to reflect on some of this year’s finalists and recipients, as they set high standards for future nominations.

The 2014 awards went to Alana Krug-MacLeod, a Saskatoon teen who advocates for action against climate change; Mylène Paquette from Montreal, an ocean adventurer speaking up for marine conservation; Evergreen, a Toronto-based not-for profit that introduces inner-city kids to nature; Earth Rangers from Woodbridge, Ontario, a group that educates schoolchildren about wildlife conservation; and Cascades Inc, of Kingsey Falls in Quebec’s Eastern townships, a company that pioneered the recycling of paper products.

Winner Hugo d’Amours, with Cascades Inc., speaks at podium as Meg Beckel and presenter Ivan Semeniuk look on.
Hugo d’Amours, with Cascades Inc., accepts the Corporate category award as presenter Ivan Semeniuk with the Globe and Mail, and museum President Meg Beckel look on. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.
Individual category winner Mylène Paquette extends hand to jury member Geoff Green after being announced as winner of award.
Adventurer Mylène Paquette greets jury member Geoff Green after being announced as winner of the Individual category. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

We have produced videos highlighting their accomplishments. All are inspiring and worthy of the award, but they represent just the tip of the iceberg…

Consider that in the Youth category alone, the finalists, along with Alana Krug-Macleod, included Hannah Alper from Toronto, an eco-blogger and motivational speaker; Olivia Clement from Ottawa, a fundraiser and advocate for polar bear conservation; and Miranda Anderson from Belcarra, British Columbia, who makes environmental films. What’s remarkable is their age – two of them aged 11, one aged 15 and one aged 17.

Alana Krug-Macleod holds a camera while leaning on the side of a ship during a journey with Students on Ice.
Youth category winner Alana Krug-Macleod, shown during a journey with Students on Ice, was among a group of four amazing finalists. Lee Narraway © Lee Narraway.

And a glance at the adult finalists shows a surprising diversity of career paths and skills: biologist Christian Artuso with Bird Studies Canada was recognized for his efforts to create a bird atlas for Manitoba; entrepreneur David Katz, from Port Moody British Columbia, has created an innovative company, the Plastic Bank, that helps reduce pollution and at the same time provides income for people in developing countries; and artist Charmaine Lurch through her work with Inner City Angels in Toronto has found inspiration in the natural world with her most recent project focussing on the importance of bees in our ecosystems.

Group photo of the winners, jury members and finalists who attended the awards gala.
With the ceremony over, the winners, jury members and finalists who attended the awards gala share a moment together on the museum’s grand staircase. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

So many great stories, and I haven’t even touched on the not-for-profits! I encourage you to read more about them and all of the finalists for these inaugural awards

So, perhaps you know a corporation, individual, youth or not-for-profit that deserves a nomination for a future Nature Inspiration Award. Let us know about them—and keep an eye out in 2015 for the next round of applications.