Alex Trebek was in the media lobby of the House of Commons, waiting to appear on a television show to discuss the gold medal he was about to be awarded by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
In response to a reporter's request, he motioned to a bench under one of the imposing portraits of former prime ministers that line the parliamentary walls. "Let's sit under Mr. Borden," he suggested.
Did the host of Jeopardy! read the tiny inscription on the gold plate at the bottom of the picture frame from a distance of five metres? Or did he actually recognize the face of the man who led Canada from October, 1911, to July, 1920?
"I recognized him, what do you think?" said Mr. Trebek, feigning indignation that his knowledge of his country of birth could be called into question. "He's on one of the Canadian currencies, isn't he?" he asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a $100 bill emblazoned with Mr. Borden's mustachioed face.
If Mr. Trebek were ever permitted to change places with the contestants on his show, he would be a formidable competitor. He would certainly ace the geographical questions – and the questions about Canada.
The 70-year-old native of Sudbury, Ont., was in Ottawa Thursday to accept the prize from the geographical society. It honours Mr. Trebek's long-time support of geographical education, something he has demonstrated on his show but also through his involvement in the Canadian Geography Challenge, the National Geographic Bee, and the National Geographic World Championship.
"I have been involved in promoting geography for most of my adult life," he explained. "I received an award a few years ago from the National Geographic Society in Washington. And that was special. But this one is coming from my native country. And it's coming from a city that I really love. So it's more special."
Why is he so interested in geography? Why not history?
"Geography is about the future. History is about the past," Mr. Trebek said. "Geography encompasses every aspect of your daily life without you realizing it. When you get in your car and you set up your GPS to find a restaurant or to take you to a location, that's a geographic event."
The volcano in Iceland that disrupted travel and commerce across the North Atlantic at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars was geography in action, he said. So was the tsunami in the Pacific and the earthquake in Haiti. "All of these were geographic events that have serious impacts on certain parts of our civilization."
Geography has also affected the development of civilizations over thousands of years, Mr. Trebek said. "Why did a particular civilization flourish in one part of a continent and another civilization very similar to it not flourish in another part? Well, geography has something to do with that."
Of course, some types of geography hold more appeal than others.
Mr. Trebek and his wife, Jean Currivan-Trebek, love to holiday in England, where they walk the moors "like Heathcliff and Catherine." His heart, he said, is in Africa, where he has been involved in projects for World Vision. And he has a strong affinity to Canada.
Mr. Trebek now lives in California, but returns to this country often. He might even consider returning on a long-term basis if the right job opened up.
"Well, you've just got a new Governor-General," he said.
But David Johnston's term lends in five years.
"In five years, I will be ready to retire from show biz," Mr. Trebek said. "And would I consider returning to Ottawa and being governor-general? Absolutely."