Photostory #501: The Canadian Arctic Unfolded

John Ough
National Film Board of Canada
Release Date
October 1, 1969
CMCP fonds
Credit Line
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archive
Main Text
In progress Photostory 1/11 : Canada's unknown arctic is just a romantic myth. Over the past 25 years thousands of Canadians, taking over from the old-time explorers, have made the regions north of the provinces such a subject of special, businesslike scrutiny that they have amassed a veritable storehouse of information. In fact, in some aspects, much of the Canadian north is better known than parts of Ontario and Quebec._x000B__x000B_To get the ball rolling, Canadian mapmakers by 1957 had established a complete pattern of geodetic control points across arctic Canada. This, combined with a follow-up multi-million-dollar program to obtain excellent aerial photographic coverage of all the land areas, produced maps of such detail that even individual dwellings and buildings (few and far between as they are) were shown._x000B__x000B_On top of this vital basic framework was built a sturdy and robust body of knowledge. While out at sea and along the inlets, passages, channels and sounds, hydrographers carefully charted actual and potential shipping routes, geologists onshore, using all manner of transportation, made a preliminary examination of the land. Geomorphologists studied the glaciers and ice-fields, biologists and botanists the flora and fauna and, 600 miles overhead, Canada's amazingly-successful artificial satellites, Alouettes I and 11, beeped down unique information on what happens high above that select piece of Canadian real estate -- the north magnetic pole._x000B__x000B_At a much lower altitude, another group of Canadians with a self-designed magnetometer of fine capability, flew a laborious criss-cross pattern across the entire Canadian arctic (and incidentally also across the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans from Japan to Norway while they were about it) and thereby measured the magnetic forces closer to the surface of the earth. Still lower, other aircraft were engaged on similar tasks in the search for mineral-rich areas._x000B__x000B_Meanwhile, what was probably the most cohesive and intensive program of sustained and sophisticated research, the Polar Continental Shelf Project, took to the field amid 50-below-zero temperatures in early 1959 and, still going strong after 11 years of work, relentlessly probed all scientific aspects of the great frozen flank of Canada's northwestern extremities. In this vast area, bordering Canada's outermost islands and the intervening channels, oceanographers, seismologists, geophysicists, marine biologists, topographers, geologists and an array of other researchers have systematically pursued a wide range of studies._x000B__x000B_The result is a mass of scientific data for future use and such practical information for present serious consideration and action as the fact that very extensive oil deposits are certainly lying under the arctic islands and mainland._x000B__x000B_Coupled with this is the fact that Canadian ships have plowed the arctic waters for decades, testing their strength successfully against the ice. From their journeys and from a program of aerial ice observations, the more general movements and extent of the ice-fields have been plotted and techniques of marine navigation adapted to the region._x000B__x000B_It is from these initial trail-blazing and subsequent routine voyages in support of distant outposts that present experiments in commercial marine transportation have developed._x000B__x000B_All of this work has involved hundreds of millions of dollars and many thousands of Canadians, most of them employed by the federal government but many of them private air-survey teams on contract, the crews of chartered commercial ships, and lately, private oil seekers and mining explorers._x000B__x000B_Today, with the arctic about to be opened up for big international business, Canadians can take full credit for the work and expense of its arduous unfolding.