The Governor General versus geography.

“So where is Vancouver?” Ms. Jean asked warmly, before children shouted out answers. “Of course, Canada.”

And so forth went her lesson. “From that city you can see some very, very tall mountains … and these mountains are called …” Ms. Jean asked, before proclaiming: “The Rockies.”

Cue freshman senator, B.C. resident and Olympic ski legend Nancy Greene, with a geography crash course. “No, it’s the Coast Mountains,” Ms. Greene said.

In an exchange captured by CTV, Ms. Jean laughs at her mistake, turning off-camera to an unseen woman said to be Ms. Greene. “We can also call them the Rockies, no?” she asked.

No, we can’t. There are seven different mountain ranges in mainland southern B.C., including the Coast Mountains, where the Games will be held, and the Rockies far to the east. Ms. Jean skipped the Purcell, Selkirk, Cariboo, Monashee and Cascade ranges.



  1. Sigh.

  2. Potato, potatoe.

  3. I doubt that is a distinction many people outside BC or geology circles will find interesting or important.

  4. I’ve got to say, I spent 7 years in university, all in Canada, and have two graduate degrees, and I DEFINITELY would have said the Rockies here.

    I mean, the “Coast Mountains”?!?!? WTF?!?!

    I think Senator Greene made that up.


    • In response, Lord KO

      It illustrates that most of us think we know stuff that we JUST DON’T KNOW.


      If we can understand that there are five great lakes and they have different names (because they are, in fact, distinct entities), surely we can respect that there are seven mountain ranges in BC that have different names and are, you know, distinct from each other. Yeah, we’re not geographers and maybe it’s something that only a BCer or geographer might be able to point out, but I’d prefer not to have the GG running around thinking she IS one and making up naming rules as she goes along. Kids (and adults, for that matter) get enough misinformation as it is.

      • Well, I don’t think the GG is running around making stuff up. She just got the name of the mountains wrong. It was just a mistake. Is it sad that 99% of Canadians from outside of B.C. would make the same mistake? Sure. Was it right of Greene to (it seems to me politely) correct the mistake? Absolutely.

        However, I see no evidence in this story that the GG is running around thinking she’s a geographer and “making up naming rules as she goes along”.

        • ”We can also call them the Rockies, no?”

          • Of course, the most important part of that quote is “no?

            You can pretend the GG was trying to rename the mountains, but only by turning her innocent question into a declarative statement.

            Jean wasn’t telling the poor helpless kids “We can also call the Coast Mountains the Rockie Mountains”, she was asking the Senator “Aren’t the Coastal Mountains also a part of the larger Rockie Mountains?”. Her question is merely an illustration of the nature of Jean’s misunderstanding, not some evidence that she’s trying to change reality to conform to her understanding.

          • It’s about choice of words, and I suppose about interpretation. To me, making an assertion and following it up with a question of doubt is distasteful. If, instead, she were to have perhaps thanked Greene for the correction and asked Greene to comment to the class as more of an authority than she is, I might not have found this to be so disappointing.

            Perhaps I’m reading into her statement too much. People say things offhand that they don’t fully think through.

      • In fairness to LKO, he also thought the Chicopee Ski Club was in the Rockies.

        • See, now how’s that even funny? Should this distinction between the ranges in B.C. really be considered that common a piece of knowledge for non-B.C. residents? (by which I mean both should we be remotely surprised, AND should we really CARE?).

          I freely admit that I (much like, I suspect, somewhere North of 90% of non-B.C. Canadians) thought the mountains we see in Vancouver are the Rockies. I admit that I also have to frequently remind myself that Upper Canada was the province BELOW Lower Canada on a map.

          Maybe it’s just the Ontarian in me, but I’d bet if the GG needed to be corrected in Port Colborne one day that the lake she was visiting was Lake Erie and not Lake Ontario, no one would even write a story about it.

          • LKO, when you become GG, and after a number of years flying around the country, I’ll hold you to a higher standard. Your ignorance is no excuse for hers. Mind you, I’ve cycled Vancouver to Calgary, so I perhaps have a more intimate knowledge of the differences…

          • You’ve done that?!? Man, passing those guys on the Trans-Canada I’m always like, “Dude, good for you, but that’s insane.”

            Hmm, whole new POV on Dot here.

          • More scary when cycling deep in the forest in Oregon or in Tennessee and some rednecks go by in pickup trucks either throwing garbage and/or swearing and shooting the finger…thoughts of the ending of Easy Rider or middle of Deliverance. Final road kill count possums vs armadillos: can’t remember, but it was close.

            In the grand scheme of things, not really risky if you are aware of your environment and know when to hit the ditch when a loaded log truck comes barrelling around a tight corner on a two lane secondary road…

          • Ah, interesting about the nightmare people . . . that’s pretty scary. Also the logging trucks — hitting the ditch, eh? Man. Not quite the same thing, but the scariest experience of my life was coming down into Golden (going west) in the middle of a serious hailstorm on my motorcycle with an 18-wheeler ahead of me and another behind me . . . was sure I was going to die. That highway is crazy enough with an engine, can’t imagine being passed on it while cycling.

            But, no, I was thinking scary just in terms of lactic acid.

  5. Watch our for native BC’ers and their nitpicking when it comes to the mountains. I lived out there for a couple of years and was corrected regularly on the names of mountain ranges.

    • I’m in some distress that the Rockies I fell in love with 40 years ago – from a train observation car – were really another woman.

  6. I liked this: “The Governor General versus geography”. I don’t know why I found that clever, but I did.

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same central Canadians who can’t distinguish the Rockies (strictly speaking, the Canadian Rockies, geologically distinct from the Rockies in the USA) from the Coast Ranges also don’t distinguish between the Atlantic Provinces and the Maritimes, and then wonder why non-central Canadians feel left out and ignored by dwellers in the centre.

    • Hear, hear!

    • Well, are Atlantic Canadians and Westerners all experts on central Canadian geography? As if!

      • Probably not, but I bet they can tell you which province on a map is Ontario and which is Québec. Which is a lot more than a lot of Central Canadians can do when it comes to the Maritime provinces.

        • Well, that’s setting the bar pretty low. At that point we’re into “35% of Americans can’t find the USA on the map” levels of undereducation. I’d guess that 90% of Ontario high school graduates could tell you which province was NS and which was NB. Your example of Atlantic Canada vs. the Maritimes is different than finding things on a map, because in the end it’s just nomenclature — IIRC the term “Atlantic Canada” was invented so that we’d have a handy way to talk about the Maritimes + NL.

          • Uh , I know where the Cobequid Rockies are. But only because I have to pay a toll to use the TransCanada Highway there. And I think we have some Rockies in Cape Breton too. But Cape Bretoners (sigh), they have to call them Smokey or Ben Eoin.

          • 22.2% of Ontarians 15+ haven’t finished high school.

            Sad, no?

          • “22.2% of Ontarians 15+ haven’t finished high school”

            Where’s that stat from? It’s an exceedingly strange way to track high school graduation rates, imho, given that it includes basically every kid in Ontario who’s in grades 10, 11 or 12 as having “not completed high school” yet. By my reckoning, this means that this calculation includes somewhere over 500,000 people in it’s calculation who haven’t finished high school yet because they’re STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL.

            Isn’t it kinda like presenting a stat on the number of drivers over the age of 13 with a drivers license?

          • It’s from Statistics Canada, the 2006 Census.

            “Isn’t it kinda like presenting a stat on the number of drivers over the age of 13 with a drivers license?”

            Whatever, dude. I don’t decide how Statscan releases their figures. I just says what they tells me.

          • Ok, because I’m a loser like I am, I retrieved the stats for Ontarians 25-64. It’s 13.6% of Canadians 25-64 who don’t have a high school certificate or diploma (2006 Census Stats). That cuts out the older folks and younger folks who would negatively affect the mean.

            I still think the graduation rate (according to the Census) is sad.

  8. “Ms. Jean skipped the Purcell, Selkirk, Cariboo, Monashee and Cascade ranges.”

    Okay, now, confusing the Rockies and the Coastal Mountains is one thing, but failing to distinguish between the Coastal Mountains and the Cascade range, and between the Rockies and the Purcells, Selkirks, Cariboo, and Monashees, is frankly nitpicking. Every BC schoolchild may know the difference but you’d have to be hiking from Kelowna to Calgary to really grasp the difference. When people say they’re going “hiking in the Rockies,” I think it’s OK if they end up in Glacier park, i.e. in the Selkirks.

    • Nitpicking is my (and apparently many blog posters’) favourite sport. So let me point out that Glacier National Park (Montana) is geologically part of the Canadian Rockies. Of course, as you say, Glacier National Park (British Columbia) is in the Selkirks (which are part of the Columbia Mountains.

      So if someone says they’re going hiking in the Rockies in Glacier National Park, and they mean they’re heading up to the Illecillewaet River, the conversation will get a little muddled when I say I’ve always wanted to visit Trout Lake.

      • You’re right, the confusion is lamentable. We should insist on the Americans changing the name of their Glacier park — maybe they could spell it “Glaceir.”

        • At the rate the glaciers are melting there, the Americans may well need to change the park’s name. May I suggest “The National Park Formerly Known As Glacier”?

          • LOL. Or “Bleak Moraine Park.”

        • I’ve been to Yahk and back

  9. Is this better or worse than Stock Day’s misstep in saying the Niagara River flowed south, rather than north? To be fair, I think he was close to the Niagara River when he made those comments, which makes it less excusable…

    • The bigger issue with that blunder was

      (1) he was trying to make a point about the brain drain using the Niagara as a metaphor. In fact, as reported the next day, not only did he get the flow of the river wrong, he got the flow of intellectual capital wrong

      (2) he immediately turned around and blamed it on his staff instead of saying ‘ooops, sorry, my bad. I meant the other way and the real point here is….”

  10. I grew up on the east coast, and remember calling them The Rockies. In fact, I didn’t know their was any distinction in mountain ranges until a few years ago when we drove the horrendous #3 highway through Alberta and BC to Langley. Scary trip, actually, but it was reading the map for the trip that I learned there are several mountain ranges, and the Rockies is a specific one.

    So for politeness sake: should Nancy Greene have NOT corrected Mme Jean, or was it the right thing to do?

    Most importantly: do you think it was partisan of the newly minted senator to correct the G-G?

    • She was just making sure people could find her ski hill.

      • Not partisan, just instinctive. People from outside BC always make that mistake and people in BC always correct them. Nicely.

    • I think it was the right thing to do.

  11. The explanation for this slip up is quite simple, really – going back to her previous days as a journalist in Quebec. Everyone there knows there is Quebec, and then the Rest of Canada (ROC).

    So, in a sense, everything in BC is a ROCkie.

  12. O RLY?

  13. I think she should have to do a Citizenship Test. It’s OK for Rookies to fail it, NO?

    • Rookies …… Rockies ….. Let’s call the whole thing ……..

  14. I think we should cut Ms. Jean a little slack, given that she was born in the Dominican Republic and all…

    • See, and I think we should cut her some slack because 90% of Canadians from outside of B.C. would have made the exact same mistake.

    • You mean Haiti, don’t you?

      • Yes. Just trying to be funny.

        For the record, I always thought you could lump them all together as the Rockies too.

        • Ditto.

          I hope I’d have the common sense in the same situation to defer to someone who I knew had more knowledge than me about the mountains that she skis. Though, I have to say that the chance of finding myself talking to a class full of youngters is very remote.

          • Don’t you mean that you hope you’d also have the common sense to defer to someone whom you knew had more knowledge than you about the mountains that she skis?

            I don’t know what was unclear about it, but I’m pretty sure when the GG said “”We never stop learning. I have learned something today and I truly appreciate that Senator Nancy Greene took the time to point this out to me and to the children who were at Rideau Hall.” that that was the very definition of Jean deferring to Greene’s greater local knowledge.

          • Yes. I hope I’d also have the common sense.

            I was speaking only of myself in the above comment.

          • Cripes, man. Lay off. My humility can only take me so far.

            With repeated badgering it becomes rage and I get all bitey like a—
            Like a badger!

  15. How about cutting her some slack because of LKO’s excellent defence and because there ain’t a human being on the planet who is perfect?

    And, shame on Greene for making this an awkward I’m-smarter-than-you display to Her Excellency in front of the children. You don’t fluster someone in public speaking with trivia like that. You point it out with discretion later. If GGMJ then feels that a correction is important, she can write a note to the dear schoolchildren, acknowledge the error, set the record straight, and reassure them that it’s ok to make a mistake without getting all embarrassed. What happened here? Greene interrupted and embarrassed her because she said something incorrect. What does that teach the kids?

    • MYL, cut Greene some slack. Her instinct may have been overly-corrective, but at least she reined in that CON gene that would have countered with a “you made the biggest mistake the leader of, er the representative of the Queen ever made”, followed by a trumped up ad campaign, threat of legal suit, with 10percenters for follow-up.

    • Cf. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1.7 —

      From Alexander the Grammarian [I learned] to be un-reprovable myself, and not reproachfully to reprehend any man for a barbarism, or a solecism, or any false pronunciation, but dextrously by way of answer, or testimony, or confirmation of the same matter (taking no notice of the word) to utter it as it should have been spoken; or by some other such close and indirect admonition, handsomely and civilly to tell him of it.

    • I completely disagree with you. With a little grace and humility she wouldn’t be embarassed, she would be thankful that someone had the decency to stop the kids from being misinformed, and to teach her something new.

      • So, when Jean said ”We never stop learning. I have learned something today and I truly appreciate that Senator Nancy Greene took the time to point this out to me and to the children who were at Rideau Hall.” you felt that that was insufficiently humble and/or graceful?

        Jumping on the GG for the mistake is one (silly) thing, but attacking her for being insufficiently appreciative of the correction??? That’s just crazy talk imho. Should she have invited Greene over for dinner as a thank you? What exactly do you expect beyond “Thank you for taking the time to teach me something new” to meet your standard of “a little grace and humility”???

        • My mistake for not having read the link—my objection was based on what was presented by Wherry, above, which did present the outcome of the geography blunder.

          I quite humbly take back what I said the comment being negative. It was clearly not contextualized.

          However, it does remain a good example of how we take certain “knowledges” for granted, and that we don’t necessarily know what we think we know. (In my case, in THIS case, as well).

          • However, it does remain a good example of how we take certain “knowledges” for granted, and that we don’t necessarily know what we think we know.

            Too true. I thought you were being mean and overly critical of Jean, but if you didn’t read about her response then I can see how one might misinterpret based on the above.


          • Group hug.

          • As a painful aside, I’m noticing that I’ve been dropping critical words from my comments—words that actually complete sentences and thoughts.

            Friday brain?

    • Well, on Greene I’m not sure I agree.

      I haven’t seen the tape, but it seems from the description that Greene was quite polite about her correction, and Jean was not only pleased to be corrected, but went on to use the moment to say to the kids “see, you learn something new all the time, learning new things is important” (that’s a paraphrase, of course). I don’t see anything wrong in what Greene did, and the fact that Greene seems somewhat embarrassed after the fact to have corrected the GG, seems to make perfectly clear to me that Greene’s intentions were entirely pure and well-meaning.

      As for some people’s attacks on the GG for making this mistake though, they’re totally ridiculous. And people bringing up that the GG wasn’t born in Canada? WTF???

      This post and the comments here make me painfully aware of two things. One: Generally, people are really idiots. Two: Jean and Greene are likely exceptions to that rule.

      • Just to be clear, I was making an ironic joke there – not trying to note Jean’s birthplace as something that matters.

    • I call BULLSHIT.

      Where there is a factual error there is no option but to correct it immediately.

      There is no shame in being wrong, there is shame in perpetuating mistaken or false information; cf Pierre Poilievre.

      It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.

      — Thomas Paine

      • You speak in reason. I don’t know if that’s tolerated here.

  16. This is a rite of passage for all Canadians…to be corrected about the Coastal Range versus the Rockies. The last time I flew into Vancouver, I overheard two instances of it while landing.

    I myself underwent it at the age of 24 and I remember it well.

  17. Have you no standards? Do I have to be the first nitpicker to criticize Senator Greene for saying “I feel very badly that I might have embarrassed her”? You do know that proper English requires “I feel very bad that I might have [etc]”, don’t you? (Unless of course Senator Greene has developed numbness in her fingertips from all those years out in the cold and snow.)

  18. Typical easterner if you ask me. Though you gotta admit our little coastal mountains must look like the Rockies to someone from Ottawa : back there you have hills of which some are bigger than the others and I know as I was 18 when I came out west from Peterborough – wow what a transition. I realize that this is off topic … but do we have the hottest head of state or what ?

    • …do we have the hottest head of state or what ?

      I don’t know. She was certainly quite fetching back in her prime, no doubt. I’m just not sure I’d call Her Majesty “hot” in 2009 though.

      Attractive? Sure. Beautiful? I’ll buy that. But “hot”???? It’s a matter of subjective taste of course, but I don’t think I could be accused of disloyalty for saying that the Queen’s not that hot.

      • “… but do we have the hottest head of state or what ?”

        I nominate Queen Rania of Jordan.

        • Well, there’s no arguing with that, aesthetically, though Queen Randia is a consort. Consorts don’t quite count, since there’s an element of choice involved.

          • I assumed Wayne was referring to our GG, and not Queen E II, so in this game ‘choice’ is acceptable. :)

          • Actually, during the FUFU, I had a great idea for a CBC TV show about a young girl (18) from Winnipeg who gets appointed as GG. (She happens to have the same name as a distinguished constitutional expert or something, who is approved by the Queen; but the Queen takes ill and the nominee dies, so the only way for the government to carry on is to appoint someone with the same name. A bit far-fetched but, hey, it’d be TV.) Doesn’t that sound like a great idea? She’d be accompanied by her cynical friend from high school, be befriended by a distinguished Eugene Forsey figure at Rideau Hall, face a series of constitutional crises with unexpected aplomb, etc., all while dealing with the full set of teenager issues. CBC, give me a call!

          • Well, I’m quite certain that Wayne was referring to Jean, but I think the “choice” that J@ck refers to is the choice of the King for a wife, i.e. that Queen Randia isn’t Head of State either, she’s the Head of State’s wife.

            So, either we accept Randia and change the parameters to “hottest person connected closely in some way to their nation’s head of state” or we have to exclude Randia and determine who has the hottest Head of State.

            If we’re doing the latter, we might even find someone hotter than Queen Randia (may I nominate Carla Bruni-Sarkozy?). If we’re gonna expand the search to include “the spouses and representatives” of the various Heads of State then we’re gonna likely come across some attractive people none of us have ever heard of.

            It would certainly add Michelle Obama’s name to the list along side her husband’s.

            Along the ACTUAL HEADS OF STATE line of argument, I’d start there. Who’s got a Head of State hotter than Obama? There’s bound to be some.

          • So, Heads of State — not representatives thereof and not consorts.

            Took me a while to find them, but there are hands-down winners in both the male and female categories. Female: Cristina de Kirchner of Argentina. Male: the new King of Bhutan (h**p://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigme_Khesar_Namgyel_Wangchuck).

      • For somebody approaching her 83rd birthday I think she’s pretty darn attractive.

        • Just in case my own assessment wasn’t clear, I should say that I think that Her Majesty is exceedingly attractive, particularly for a woman in her 80s.

          But not “hot”.

          I’m not sure what a woman in her 80s would have to look like for me to consider her “hot”, but I don’t think Queen Elizabeth (long may she reign) cuts it.

          • That’s true. Though I’d betcha there have been a few Frenchwomen over the centuries that might cut it.

          • OOh I don’t know have you ever seen her in a bikini?

          • Given who is taking practice swings on deck, long may she reign indeed.

          • Why is it that every single conversation about Queen Elizabeth II always has to degenerate into how “hot” she is? This would never happen with King George VI.

          • If it hadn’t happened with Edward VIII, the Commonwealth might have been spared some drama.

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