Nanaimo geography whiz has world in his hands

NANAIMO – Dover Bay's Jacob Burnley helps Canada secure silver in international contest

Nanaimo geography whiz Jacob Burnley is bringing home hardware from the National Geographic World Championship in Russia, after helping secure second place for Canada.

The 15-year-old Dover Bay Secondary student pit his geography knowledge against teams from across the globe this summer, hoping to win top honours at the championship in St. Petersburg. Team U.S.A. took the victory in the final round last week, leaving Canada and India to battle for silver in a tense finisher.

“It was the way a world championship should end – with some drama and a … tense, close final,” said Burnley’s father, Chris.

He watched from the audience as Team Canada broke the tie with the answer to a final question, earning the silver.

It was a nerve-wracking experience but totally worth it, said Jacob Burnley, who is elated to be bringing home a win for his country with teammates Kyle Richardson, 16, of Kitchener, Ont., and Spencer Zhao, 15, from Toronto.

“For four years I have wanted to be a part of this. To finally be there … it was just an amazing experience,” he said. “To represent Canada itself was just awesome … [and] it was great to meet people from different parts of the world.”

The geography contest happens every second year with aims of inspiring youth to get excited about geography. Burnley, who won his spot earlier this year in the Great Canadian Geography Challenge qualifier, believes the competition is proof geography can “take you places you can’t imagine.”

It was one of the reasons he became hooked on maps – the idea he could visit the places he saw in atlases.

In St. Petersburg, teams were challenged to answer questions on physical, cultural and economic geography and go on a digital scavenger hunt of the Russian capital. Team Canada’s performance landed them a place in the finals, which was moderated by Jeopardy game-show host Alex Trebek.

“The part for me that was most nerve wracking was just before we went on stage [in the finals] and were going over our last thoughts,” Burnley said. “[But] once we got the first question right, we all worked together so well …. [and] everything turned out.”

Burnley is returning home with plans to pursue a career in geography or Canadian diplomacy. His advice to other young geographers keen on qualifying for the international contest – study hard.