David Nanook and the Wrottsley River Valley, Boothia Peninsula, 1975


Images of the Canadian Arctic
1974-1976by Don H. Meredith

In 1974, after completing my field and course work for my Ph.D in Zoology at the University of Alberta, I took employment with Renewable Resources Consulting Services Ltd., to join a team of biologists studying the distribution and behavior of caribou and muskoxen in relation to the building of a proposed gas pipeline (Polar Gas Project*) in the High Arctic of Canada.

That first year, we mainly flew aerial surveys to determine the distributions of the two species. The surveys were based out of Resolute (Qausuittuq) on Cornwallis Island in the High Arctic Archipelago. We also set out some camps to investigate caribou habitat.

In 1975, I spent six weeks in a camp on the Boothia Peninsula to determine the migration patterns and movement to calving areas for Peary caribou. David Nanook, an Inuk from Spence Bay (Taloyoak), was my assistant. I learned many things from David about the Arctic, the culture of his people, and how to live and survive in this unforgiving environment.

The summer of 1976 found me once again in the Arctic, this time working for another biological consulting firm, LGL Limited, in relation to protecting a research camp from marauding polar bears. Enroute to the camp, I spent some time with LGL's marine biology crew and visited the graves of the first casualties of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition (1845-48).

The following are just some of the images from those summers. They were scanned from 35 mm film slides:

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*Polar Gas Project

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, petroleum production peaked in North America and other parts of the world. Companies began exploring far-flung regions to look for new sources. As a result, an estimated 450 billion cubic metres (16 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas reserves were found in the High Arctic Islands in Canada. The Polar Gas Project was formed in 1972 to determine how to move that gas to southern markets. The project was a consortium of companies, including TransCanada Pipelines, Panarctic Oils, Tenneco Oil of Canada, Petro-Canada, and the Ontario Energy Corporation. Pipeline routes were proposed from the islands to Montreal where it would connect with other gas pipelines.

Work began in 1974 on the feasibility of the routes, including assessing the potential environmental impact on the flora and fauna, as well as the impact on Inuit hunting and fishing. Several biological consulting firms were hired to look at the plants, mammals, birds, fisheries and marine environment along a corridor from King Christian and Melville Islands through Cornwallis Island, across Barrow Strait to either Somerset or Prince of Wales Islands, and then on to the Boothia Peninsula (mainland North America) and south.

Although the environmental impact of the pipeline would be significant, the engineering required to lay pipe was substantial. The pipeline would have to pass over permafrost and under large stretches of ice-covered ocean. The ocean alone posed many problems, including how to get the pipe from land to undersea while passing through several metres of sea ice that rises and falls with the tide, and moves with the currents, scouring the coasts.

All of those concerns soon became academic. In the early 1980s, much cheaper natural gas was discovered in the south and the project was abandoned. The natural gas reserves are still there but current thinking is that if and when they are needed, the gas would be liquified in the Arctic and shipped out by tanker, as a result of the opening of the sea ice by global warming.

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