A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘arctic canada

[PHOTO] Three non-Harris works from The Idea of North

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One thing I liked about The Idea of North was the inclusion, mostly towards the end, of works which inspired Harris or which were inspired by Harris. His aesthetic lives on.

Rockwell Kent‘s Icebergs, Greenland, also painted in the 1930s, looks at the same Arctic territory Harris explored.

From Icebergs, Greenland, Rockwell Kent #toronto #artgalleryofontario #ago #theideaofnorth #rockwellkent #greenland #iceberg//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

A triptych of works by Nina Bunjevac, The Observer, reflected nicely Harris’ earlier urbanism. Sunny Days, below, looks at City Hall.

From The Observer: Sunny Days, Nina Bunjevac #toronto #ago #artgalleryofontario #theideaofnorth #lawrenharris #ninabunjevac #cityhall

This still from Jennifer Baichwal and Nick De Pencier‘s Ice Forms takes a look at Harris’ Arctic as the landscape enters a melt.

Still from Ice Forms, Jennifer Baichwal and Nick De Pencier #toronto #ago #artgalleryofontario #theideaofnorth #lawrenharris #jenniferbaichwal #nickdepencier #harrisago

[AH] WI the Mid-Canada Development Corridor was realized?

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A couple of weeks ago, Tristan Hopper’s National Post article “The grandiose — but failed — 1960s plan by an Ontario war hero to settle a ‘second Canada’ below the Arctic” caught my attention.

It all comes down to Richard Rohmer, a Canadian war veteran perhaps more notable to many as an author of pulp fiction (really bad technothrillers, mainly). As Hopper notes, he had an ambitious plan for the settlement of the Canadian Shield.

If things had gone Richard Rohmer’s way in the 1960s, the Canada of 2016 could have been home to as many as 70 million people.

Canada would have had a GDP rivalling that of the United Kingdom and new highways, new railways and new metropolises, all built in the sparsely populated boreal forest region that Rohmer came to call “Mid-Canada.” He would even help to spawn an entirely new type of citizen: The hearty, winter-loving “Mid-Canadian.”

Rohmer — a lawyer and decorated RCAF Wing Commander — was leading a charge to build a “second Canada” on top of the old one.

“It was a very simple concept; the country needed long range policies and plans for the future orderly development of this vast land that we have,” said Rohmer, 92, speaking by phone from his home in Collingwood, Ont.

[. . .]

In its heyday, Rohmer’s Mid-Canada plan attracted the attention of a who’s who of powerful Canadians: Captains of indus/try, bank CEOs, labour leaders, scientists and Aboriginal leaders and the patronage of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the Governor General.

“Canada’s future is inseparably linked with the development of Mid-Canada,” read a preliminary report. More zealous boosters even claimed that a Canada without the moxie to develop its boreal forest might as well meekly surrender to U.S. annexation.

The scope, as the above map indicates, was very ambitious.

There would be diagonal trans-continental railroad connecting Labrador ports to the Yukon. A highway to the Arctic. New growth centres; Flin Flon, Whitehorse, Labrador City, Thunder Bay and High Level were all pegged as settlements that could reach Calgary-esque levels of size and influence by the year 2000.

Strangely, Waterways, the precursor to Fort McMurray, was left off the list. It remains one of the few Mid-Canada cities that achieved any semblance of the growth envisioned by Rohmer.

Final infrastructure cost for a full-blown 1970s incursion into Mid-Canada? Four to five billion dollars, about $35 billion in 2016 dollars.

Governor General Roland Michener, a friend of Rohmer, arranged a meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The idea was that Rohmer would show up, present the report, screen some slides and get the ball rolling on a Ministry of Mid-Canada or the like.

Instead, he met the disinterested eyes of the Prime Minister, who couldn’t seem to escape Rideau Hall fast enough.

“The message was ‘don’t even bother,’ but in any event we did our best,” he said.

Rohmer has long chalked up the failure to partisan considerations. The airman reeked of Tory blue, and whatever Trudeau planned to do with Canada in the 1970s, settling the North was not on the list.

I would argue that political differences were less important than the immense cost of this project. Could there have been any constituency for this sort of massive spending? To this, I would add the question of politics, not least with the First Nations. How would the indigenous peoples of the North, the last peoples not to be overwhelmed by European and Euro-Canadian settlers in their homelands, respond to this?

A September 2014 article in The Walrus, “If We Build It, They Will Stay” argued straightforwardly for this plan to be implemented now.

If the federal government had bought into Richard Rohmer’s vision from the start, the mid-Canada corridor would look very different today, beginning with infrastructure. Fifty years ago, it was still a government responsibility and, to a degree, priority. Now, it seems, there isn’t a government at any level that has the money for it. Infrastructure is incredibly expensive, and without a commercial imperative, a difficult sell.

But it’s not just infrastructure that governments have abandoned; they’ve abandoned leadership, as well. The government of Stephen Harper is a facilitator. It doesn’t spend money on northern infrastructure; its interest in policy tends to be narrow and ideological (gutting environmental law to pave the way for resource extraction, for example); and its record on Aboriginal concerns got off to an unfortunate start when it reneged on the Kelowna Accord, a Liberal initiative that had allocated $5 billion to First Nations education, housing, health services, and economic development (things haven’t improved much in the years since).

Canada was founded on bold action (David Thompson’s exploration of the West, Alexander Mackenzie’s push north) and big ideas (Confederation). But we have lost the appetite for both. The last big idea in nation-building was Clifford Sifton’s immigration policy under Wilfrid Laurier’s government a century ago, when a cheery, somewhat misleading campaign lured one million foreign settlers to the Prairies. Occasionally, we are pushed toward something larger (Expo 67, various Olympics), but for the most part we have come to settle for the “Peace, Order, and good Government” described in the British North America Act of 1867.

Good government, however, has become synonymous with good management. Courage isn’t prized, and we’ve paid a price for our caution. When it comes to infrastructure investment, planning, and urban development—activities that shaped the country at its founding—our caution has worked against us.

We are in need of a bold national vision, and the thoughtful development of the mid-Canada corridor certainly qualifies. Rohmer envisioned sustainable development, and if anything that’s even more desirable now than it was five decades ago. It would bring us prosperity. It would force us to be environmentally responsible. It would hasten the long-overdue respectful inclusion of First Peoples in Canadian society. It might even help us realize that elusive dream: meaningful national unity.

I am much less convinced of this. Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s noted that, by most metrics, the Canadian North is terribly underdeveloped and that Canadians by and large are fine with this. At Vice, meanwhile, James Wilt’s article “Why Scott Gilmore’s Latest Claims About the North Are Bullshit” makes the point via a series of interviews that much of what Gilmore would term development (large-scale resource exploitation, particularly) would be unwelcome among the people who actually live there.

Roger Epp, Director of UAlberta North, political science professor and author of We Are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays

VICE: What’s wrong with how Gilmore approaches the North?
Epp: First, Gilmore’s North is a slippery one. Sometimes it is strictly the territorial north, when he is counting people; and then, when he is counting ports, it slips down to Churchill. The question of where North begins is the subject of endless debate. Is Fort McMurray north? Labrador? Prince George? Sudbury? Chicoutimi? Or only those places where Indigenous peoples predominate?

Second, the “North” is judged entirely in terms of whether it is the site of effective sovereignty and economic development, especially of its “mineral wealth.” Those are not necessarily the only criteria that Northerners would apply, though the assumption is that their perspectives are irrelevant. What matters is whether the North is genuinely “ours,” meaning Southern Canadians’. As if it is up to people in Toronto and Ottawa to decide if “we” are a northern nation. People live there, and have been living there a long time.

Is this a symptom of Gilmore simply not being able to conceptualize that distinct cultural interpretations of lands/waters, economies, and societies exist? Or what’s going on here?
Especially outside the territorial capitals, and in parts of the provincial norths as well, there is a complex relationship between what we might call traditional and wage economies. The latter presumably is a mark of “development.” But it is not one or the other for people. Traditional land-based, water-based skills still compensate for the ridiculous price of food, for example, and the relationship between those skills and real self-determination and also the character traits required to live it out should not be discounted.

I was in the community of Deline on Great Bear Lake in late August, just before the effective date and the celebration of a self-government agreement that was almost two decades in the making. While Deline is not without its challenges, those negotiations were an incredible test of community leadership and cohesion, as well as a grounding in traditional stories and spirituality. Deline was rightly celebrated. Where was Gilmore?

For Rohmer’s Mid-Canada Development Corridor to take off, or anything like it, at the very least we would need a national government willing both to engage in massively costly projects like this and to ignore the complaints of the people who actually lived there that these projects were hurting their lifestyles and communities. (In addition to First Nations, the Canadian government might well find itself in conflict with provincial government with their own plans for their portions of the Canadian Shield.) This is not impossible, but it would require some fairly significant tweaks.

Would there even be any guarantee that this plan would work? Hopper’s article notes that we could well end up creating a sub-Arctic urban dystopia, with mined-out resource cities in environmental wastes. Northern Canada could look much more like post-Soviet Siberia that we Canadians would like to imagine. What would happen if funding to these vast projects was interrupted, as they were in the Soviet Union in the 1990s?

What do you think about this possibility? Was the Mid-Canada Development Corridor realizable?


Written by Randy McDonald

September 20, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[ISL] “Inuit conference will bring traditional art and music to St. John’s”

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The Labradorian‘s Evan Careen reports on the impending Inuit Blanche event in St. John’s. This is a fantastic idea!

This October the city of St. John’s will be playing host to a three-day celebration of Inuit art, culture and knowledge.

The 2016 Inuit Studies conference, co-hosted by Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut government, will bring researchers, storytellers, Elders, and artists together to explore the diverse and unique culture.

The conference will run concurrent to two festivals, the katingavik Inuit arts festival and iNuit Blanche, St. John’s first all-Inuit, all-night art crawl.

The katingavik festival will be a three-day celebration of Inuit film, music and visual arts. iNuit Blanche will feature more than 25 performers spread throughout downtown St. John’s.

The theme of this year’s festival is Inuit traditions, with a focus on Inuit inclusion and Inuit ways of knowing. This is the second time Memorial has hosted the conference and it has been held in in Quebec City, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and Iqaluit, to name a few.

“(It’s held) anywhere where there’s a great deal of interest in Inuit culture,” said Dr. Tom Gordon, conference organizer. “But in those 40 years it’s never been hosted by an indigenous government. It has always been a university or research institute. For us, what we’re really proud of, is it a full on collaboration with the Nunatsiavut government.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 10, 2016 at 5:15 pm

[URBAN NOTE] Two links on the questionable prospects of the Arctic port of Churchill, Manitoba

Scott Gilmore of MacLean’s wrote in the atmospheric Abandoned Churchill” about the distress of people in the northern Manitoba port of Churchill, a perpetually promising port on Hudson’s Bay, that their port is being shut down.

I flew up to Churchill in a small private plane, with a map in my lap so I could trace our progress north.

This is a good way to appreciate how vast and empty this country is. Churchill is as far from Winnipeg as Toronto is from Nashville. From the cockpit, on a clear August day, the pilot and I could see for more than 100 km in every direction. It was simply forest, muskeg and hundreds of lakes, most left nameless on my map. But it did show the occasional mine, fishing camp or radio tower, and each of these was marked with the same bracketed annotation: (Abandoned).

We began our descent just as Hudson Bay appeared on the horizon. The town sits on a narrow point of land bounded by the sea to the north and the Churchill River to the south and west. The first visible landmarks were the grey stone walls of Fort Prince of Wales (abandoned 1782) and the white grain elevators of the Port of Churchill (abandoned 2016).

The massive superstructure of the port is visible from everywhere, and the main street ends right at its gates. When I pulled up in my rental pickup, these were open—the guard shack empty.

Other than the concrete elevators and the loading gantries there was not much to see. A rusting tugboat sits on blocks. There are no train cars waiting to be unloaded, and no ships to take on cargo. Other than seagulls and the wind, it was quiet.

At 4:30 p.m., though, a few people began to emerge and walk toward their cars. This was the last shift, leaving for the last time.

In the National Post, Brian Hutchinson’s “Port in a storm” also looks at length at the dire situation for the town. Without the port–something that might well be useful in time of global warning–what point is there to keep Churchill, isolated in the far north, functioning as a community?

Bobby deMeulles sits at his usual perch, next to a window at the Reef coffee shop, keeping an eye on Churchill’s main drag, and beyond that, the town’s old train station and the tracks.

This time of year, railway cars filled with prairie wheat should be rolling past the station for the port of Churchill, 500 metres down the line on Hudson Bay. There are no grain cars today.

There haven’t been any all summer, because Canada’s only deep-water Arctic port — the only port of consequence along 162,000 kilometres of northern coastline — has suspended all grain shipments, a decision made by its Denver-based owner, OmniTRAX Inc.

DeMeulles figured something was up, long before the company announced last month it was halting port operations, save for the movement of local freight to small communities further along the Hudson Bay coastline, mostly in Nunavut.


A private transportation company with most of its holdings in American short-line railways, OmniTRAX Inc. claims none of its regular grain suppliers wanted to do business at Churchill this year. “The grain season for 2016 has passed the solutions stage,” it says. Townsfolk wonder if it ever really tried to salvage the season.

DeMeulles understands how things are done in Churchill. He spent 60 years working at the port, receiving grain, cleaning it, running the elevator. He retired just four years ago, when he turned 75. “I worked until I couldn’t work no more,” he says. “I was well looked after.”

But things looked bleak, well before OmniTRAX pulled the plug on the current shipping season.

“We’d always know how many ships were nominated (coming to the port) well ahead of summer,” deMeulles explains. “We’d first start to hear about the nominations in March. Grain would starting coming up in railcars around the June 15. If you don’t hear nothing, and you don’t see nothing, and there’s no grain coming, you know something’s wrong.”

He shakes his head. “It’s a terrible thing, for a small town.”

Written by Randy McDonald

August 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm

[LINK] Two notes on tourism at the poles

Chris Sorensen’s “The one per cent are coming to Canada’s Arctic” in MacLean’s describes a new cruise ship visit to the Canadian North.

Residents of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., population 402, may feel as though New York’s tony Upper East Side has come to visit when Crystal Serenity steams into town later this summer. The towering cruise ship, the biggest to traverse the fabled Northwest Passage, will be carrying 1,070 passengers who paid between $25,000 and $155,000—and 655 crew members—for a 32-day trip that promises “intrepid adventure, the great outdoors and immersive cultural experiences.” Which is where Ulukhaktok comes in. Crystal Serenity is not the first cruise ship to visit the coastal hamlet, mind you, but it’s by far the largest. “There was one back in 2012 called the World,” Janet Kanayok, the local economic development officer, says of the privately owned luxury yacht that carries between 150 and 200 passengers. “But it wasn’t nearly as big as this.”

Nor is Crystal Serenity likely to be the last giant, gilded passenger ship to come calling. Rising temperatures and receding sea ice have opened more of the Northwest Passage’s interconnecting waterways in recent seasons. In 2013, MS Nordic Orion made history by becoming the first bulk carrier to make the historically treacherous trip, hauling a load of B.C. coal to Finland and shaving about 1,000 nautical miles off its usual route through the Panama Canal. The following year, the MV Nunavik, operating on behalf of a Canadian firm, sailed from the Hudson Strait through the passage to China carrying nickel concentrate. In all, there were 25 full transits of the Northwest Passage last season, according to data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. That’s up nearly 40 per cent from five years earlier.

With the Arctic’s defences melting, Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises is understandably excited about a huge opportunity to wow well-heeled cruise junkies who’ve grown bored of sand and sun. The company’s inaugural Northwest Passage cruise, from Anchorage, Alaska, to New York, sold out quickly, and tickets for next year’s trip are already on sale.

The Bloomberg article “Antarctica Now Has a Jaw-Dropping Luxury Hotel”, by Nikki Ekstein, looks at a new hotel I Antarctica.

Travel to Antarctica has reached fever pitch.

You can go by yacht. You can come and go in a single day. You can even book a fly-around for New Year’s Eve. And now you can stay in a five-star hotel with bespoke furnishings and its own fleet of aircraft.

To be fair, the White Desert camp isn’t exactly new. And it’s no secret spot, either; the guest ledger includes such names as Prince Harry and Bear Grylls. But as a means of celebrating its 10th anniversary, the so-called most remote property in the world has gotten a complete luxury overhaul.

What it now humbly calls “sleeping pods” are six heated fiberglass domes, with bamboo headboards, Saarinen chairs, fur throws, and en suite bathrooms stocked with sustainable Lost Explorer-brand toiletries, created by a scion of the de Rothschild family. Wooden skis adorn the walls; thick parkas for each guest hang from free-standing coat racks. And each suite stands alone on a rugged strip of land in the interior of Antarctica, midway between a frozen lake and towering walls of ice. Drama is in no short supply.

Perhaps the most significant renovations have taken place in the lodge’s library lounge and dining room. Whereas the dining room once consisted of one long wooden table, it’s now a more formal affair, with furs thrown over chairs that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Brooklyn Heights apartment. After hangout sessions with 6,000 emperor penguins, this is where guests share convivial, three-course meals comprising ingredients and wines flown in from Cape Town. (They’re prepared by an in-house chef who cooks privately for the British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton when he’s not at camp.)

Written by Randy McDonald

August 22, 2016 at 7:59 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “A city of two worlds, Yellowknife is an open book well worth reading”

Dave Bidini’s ode in The Globe and Mail to Yellowknife is a lovely read.

Yellowknife is small and openhearted, but it’s also hard to find. You think you know what it is, but then it moves – from the darkness of a tavern teeming with North and South Slavey, Cape Bretoners, Métis, Saskatchewanians and old men from the Dehcho to the cool shadow of a Twin Otter cruising low enough above your dockside rock that you could poke it with a fork. Here’s a fun game: When visiting, try to describe Yellowknife to your friends on a postcard (hint: buy a lot of postcards).

Yellowknife has a main street, but no one calls it that. In fact, they call it two things: 50th Avenue and Franklin Avenue, depending on how you feel about the former British explorer and northern colonialism (spoiler alert: The Dene don’t feel good, while most non-indigenous shrug as if not quite understanding the question). The main street – or 50th or he-who-will-not-be-named – has its own naked charm, including the denizens outside the main Post Office, most of them undomiciled.

If you spend any time with them, it isn’t hard to walk into a story. One afternoon at the main post office, I met two men the size of compact cars – Bear and James Thrasher, both from Tuktoyaktuk – who, like many of the city’s homeless, had come to Yellowknife because of greater access to services, housing and alcohol (Tuktoyaktuk is a dry community on the shores of the Western Arctic, which I visited during my eight-week stay in the Northwest Territories).

When they found out I was going to their hamlet, Bear asked for my book so he could write down the Inuvialuktun word for “white person.” I handed it to him – the hardbound writing book looked like a church pamphlet in his great hands – and his tongue curved around his lip while engraving the word on the page: kabloonak. He told me in a voice like a hammer on a drum: “Now, listen, you might hear this word, but it’s not necessarily bad. It depends on how someone uses it. You got that?” I told him I did.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm

[NEWS] Some Monday links

  • Bloomberg notes Amazon’s development of a portal in Japan for Chinese tourists visiting that country, reports on an unexpected decline in Russian manufacturing, and looks at Poland’s conflicts with the European Commission on legal and democratic issues.
  • Bloomberg View notes Trump’s social security plan depends on immigrants, and looks at the geopolitics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • CBC looks at plans for a greenhouse in a Nunavut town that might bring down the prices for fresh food substantially, and reports on a Brazilian town home to descendants of Southern migrants who are mystified by Trump.
  • The Globe and Mail reports on a South African discovery suggesting ancient hominins practiced burial and reports on a British Columbia judge who threw out the convictions of two people charged with terrorist plots, saying they were entrapped.
  • MacLean’s reports on how transit companies and airlines respond to abusive posts on social media.
  • The National Post reports on the impending return of hundreds of jihadists to the North Caucasus.
  • Open Democracy reports on the state of affairs in Hungary.