Jacob Burnley knows his maps.
The Grade 9 Dover Bay Secondary School student charted his way to second place – and a $2,000 scholarship – in The Great Canadian Geography Challenge in April.
The contest, in its 18th year, is one of the longest running programs of the Canadian Council for Geographic Education and is hosted to build student interest in geography. Each participating school holds a school-level contest, from which a winner is picked to go on to the provincial round.
The winner in the Grades 7-10 category competes at the provincial level for one of 50 spots in the national final.
Burnley, who finished fourth in Canada last year, got special permission to write the national test while in England visiting relatives last month – his family just returned this week from a four-month trip to Uganda and Europe.
Geography quizzes are fun for the energetic 14-year-old, who as a party trick can name the capital city of pretty well any country friends and relatives throw at him, although he’s not sure how he remembers it all, other than that he spends hours and hours reading maps.
“It’s just kind of there,” said Burnley. “I enjoy details and facts.”
His father Chris said that his son’s love of geography started at about age three.
“As long as we can remember, he was fascinated with road signs and road signs led to maps,” he said.
From maps, Burnley progressed to reading atlases and almanacs – his parents gave him his first atlas when he was six and while he couldn’t read all of the words at first, he spent hours looking through the book.
In elementary school, Chris helped his son’s principal establish a geography club at the school to encourage his son’s passion.
Now Burnley uses maps to study other subjects and in his spare time, he designs neighbourhoods, cities and countries on a planet that he and his younger sister made up, with carefully planned and pencilled-in sub-divisions, roadways and amenities such as hospitals and airports.
His skill with maps is handy on family trips – both parents are instructors at Vancouver Island University and have taken their two children on three lengthy sabbatical trips in different parts of the world in recent years.
“Driving around the UK, we didn’t need a GPS because he’s read the map books,” said Chris.
Burnley said the first thing he did when the family arrived in Paris was grab a copy of the underground subway lines, which he had memorized in about two days.
He hopes to put his skills to use one day as a cartographer or city planner and even possibly own his own map store one day.
Dan Companion, head of the social studies department at Dover, said winning second place in the country in a contest like this is impressive given that hundreds of students participate each year.
“He knows things you wouldn’t expect a kid his age to know,” he said. “He strikes you that way immediately. He’s mature beyond his years.”
The Canadian Council for Geographic Education is the educational branch of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, which publishes the award winning Canadian Geographic and Géographica magazines.