The Bank of Canada’s new $50 note features the Arctic research icebreaking ship CCGS Amundsen — a vessel which, according to the Bank, “reflects Canada’s commitment to Arctic research and the development and protection of northern communities.” But with the federal government’s recent confirmation to stop funding the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS), and the resultant grant cut to our High Arctic research station, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), we’re forced to question: is Canada, perplexingly, retreating from climate change research at a time when knowledge is evermore valuable to the global conversation?
Canada’s environmental performance has never impressed (we are currently at the bottom in international rankings, such as our fifty-fourth global position in the recent Climate Change Performance Index), although the Martin and Chrétien Liberals pushed forth encouraging progress. Stemming from their innovations, university climatology programs attracted global experts and our Arctic research facilities fed data into a wide network of international centres. But this spurt was short-lived, and the country’s reputation in climate change science is declining: dozens of newly trained climate specialists are leaving the country en masse for jobs abroad. “We’re bleeding people,” atmospheric physicist Richard Peltier, the 2012 recipient of Canada’s top science prize, the Herzberg Gold Medal, recently told Postmedia News. (more…)
We visited Kimmirut yesterday, a tiny community on southern Baffin Island, where we were given a warm welcome by what seemed like every one of the hamlet’s 400-odd residents. We were the first large vessel to visit this year. Kids mobbed us as we entered the harbour. An elder shared a seal that was caught that day, carving it up and dividing it in front of us. My verdict? The same as the Governor General’s: seal’s pretty great, a tender red meat with a subtle seafoody flavour. Like surf ‘n’ turf, but all within a single delicious animal. You could make a killing selling it as “Inuit Sashimi” at trendy Manhattan restaurants. (more…)
LYUBOV ORLOVA, HONTSCH ISLAND, NUNAVUT – Above is the walrus, as captured off the coast of Baffin Island by my neighbour onboard the Lyubov Orlova, photographer Lee Narraway. We saw over eighty of the creatures yesterday, lolling around on ice floes in all their wrinkled glory. And it must be said: the walrus is a deeply undignified, almost repulsive animal. I don’t know what the founding editors where thinking when they named the magazine.
Picture a Volkswagen-sized ball of fat squeezed into a lumpy, ten-foot sausage casing. Attach a tiny pinhead, some bristles, warts, and those stumpy, perpetually wet-looking flippers – “the asset” as David Foster Wallace would call them – and you’ve got the walrus.
And the smell. Imagine the smell of pig shit. Now let’s say that pig weighs four thousand pounds and lives on a diet of mollusks. Now imagine five or six of these monster sea pigs, wallowing together out on an ice floe, burping and farting and generally rubbing up against one another, as is typical of this disgusting, highly social animal. Does this sound like an appropriate name for a high-brow, general-interest magazine? (more…)
LYUBOV ORLOVA, CUMBERLAND SOUND, NUNAVUT — Resolution Island is a collection of three-billion-year-old rock plunked into the sea just off the coast of Baffin Island. So it’s remote. Going east, the next stop is Greenland. As our ship pulled into Acadia Cove on the island’s southern coast yesterday afternoon, we could just make out some white markings on the granite cliffs. Fred Roots, the all-knowing geologist on board, had spent the morning talking about rock formations, so I was eager to investigate further. As we got nearer, the thin markings began to look more familiar, until they finally took on a clear form: the words “MOON MAN MARTINEZ” carefully printed in foot-high capital letters, possibly the work of some poor soldier in the Canadian military bored out of his skull while stationed at the base nearby. Graffiti in the arctic: a testament to the humankind’s indomitable spirit.
In any case, Martinez the Vandal wasn’t wrong: the place looks like it’s from another world, with sheer rock faces rising out of a grey, soupy sea and none of the obvious signifiers of life familiar to southerners like me. As we made our way further inland three polar bears appeared off the starboard side on rocks in the distance – a mother and two cubs, according to the various wildlife experts onboard. Before we could get close, they took off up the steep face of the rock and disappeared behind a ridge.
MBF: The Thule mummies that were discovered at Qilakitso—the women had tattoos; when did you first see these, and what were your thoughts?
AP: I first saw them in 1979, when I was working at the museum in Nuuk. I remember especially the young woman who was pregnant when she died and she looked as if she had been frozen in that state, as if she was in pain. Her tattoo was a single line on her forehead, with a dip in it.
MBF: Like a line drawing of a bird?
AP: Exactly that. I was too young to understand the significance. It was only when I visited the site several years later that I realized that these were real women, not museum objects. I could see their home, where they had lived, and I had a sense of their souls being present. (more…)
THE LYUBOV ORLOVA—We are in Greenland, motoring through battalions of icebergs off the west coast. In the collision of light, rock, ice, water and sky, it is the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. The small town of Ummannaq, for example, sits under what can only be described as a heart-shaped mountain, and when you first hear that description you think it must be nonsense—how can a mountain be heart-shaped—but it is true. And that is what ummannaq means. A heart made of pink granite and beneath it, perched on its lower slopes, a Legotown, it seems, tall handsome wooden houses painted deep red and mustard and green and a rich blue, windows trimmed in white, perched on the rocks, many accessible only by sturdy wooden staircases.
The first thing you think when you see this bright, warm town in Greenland is how shameful it has been of the Canadian government, how thoughtless and oh, I don’t know, southern, in the 1950s and 60s and ever since, to have the ugliest, cheapest building materials and the greyest and brownest of paints possible sent north for the construction of indifferently designed, too strong a word, dwellings and public buildings. (more…)
First Dialogue: John Huston, culturalist and filmmaker—son of Arctic curators the late James and Alma Houston, John was a child at Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. He has made numerous award-winning documentaries about Inuit culture and is fluent in Inuktitut.
MBF: What’s the best thing that has happened in the Arctic in the past twenty years? (more…)