Yukoner Michael Schmidt says Order of Canada appointment 'feels unreal'

Michael Schmidt is a retired geologist and geophysicist who lives in Haines Junction, Yukon. (Marguerite Richard - image credit)
Michael Schmidt is a retired geologist and geophysicist who lives in Haines Junction, Yukon. (Marguerite Richard - image credit)

Michael Schmidt says he got the phone call in November from someone in the Governor General's office, explaining that he was to be named a member of the Order of Canada. It's the country's highest civilian honour.

"He says, 'Do you accept the honour?'" recalled Schmidt. "Well, yes!"

Schmidt, who lives in Haines Junction, Yukon, was formally appointed to the Order by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon last week, along with dozens of other Canadians. Schmidt was the only Northerner this time around.

He was recognized for "contributions to northern science and knowledge in the fields of geology and geodesy, as a geophysicist, photographer and explorer," according to the Governor General's website.

Even though he knew of the appointment in November, Schmidt had to keep it a secret until the formal announcement last week.

"That was hard. You kind of wanted to hop up on the roof and say, 'Hey, guess what world?'" Schmidt said.

"It feels unreal. I'm, like I said, totally honoured by it, humbled by it ... it feels pretty amazing."

A GPS pioneer

Schmidt started his career working as a surveyor and says things just evolved from there. His work in geography and geodesy (the science of measuring Earth's size, shape, and orientation) took him all over Canada, from coast to coast to coast, and also to the country's highest peak.

He's worked on a floating research station in the Arctic Ocean, studied earthquakes and tectonics on Vancouver Island, and led a mountaineering expedition to measure the height of Mount Logan. Along the way he helped pioneer the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology when it was still in its infancy.

Pat Morrow
Pat Morrow

"Over the years I've been fortunate to be able to do an awful lot of different things," he said.

"It kind of went from one thing to another and then other projects that came along here and there, and then a number of  years ago ended up coming up here [to the Yukon] and getting married — so it's been an amazing, amazing life so far."

He's now retired from the Geological Survey of Canada and spends more of his time on some other lifelong passions — theatre and, primarily, photography.

He's looking forward to travelling to Ottawa to accept the honour and meet the Governor General, though a date has not yet been set. He says the pandemic has created a bit of a backlog for the award ceremonies.

In the meantime, he's been overwhelmed by the messages he's received from old friends and colleagues across the country.

"I'm thankful to all the people who worked with me over the years," he said.

"I've worked with them, and they've trusted me and challenged me and just been there for me, and opened a door here, or supported me there, or whatever it was  — it's pretty amazing."