Students get a little Northern exposure

Trevor Taylor
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For the past couple of weeks, I have been away. Once again this summer, I was fortunate enough to work (I use this term loosely since it is far too enjoyable) with the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition.

With most of the 85 high school students, from 15 countries,  and the roughly 40 expedition staff (mostly volunteers like myself) assembled in Ottawa, we boarded a plane and flew to join our ship, the Sea Adventurer, in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Upon boarding the ship by zodiac, we lifted anchor and, under the midnight sun, sailed southwest out Kangerlussuaq Fjord, which at 120 kilometers long, is the longest fjord in the world.

With a first glimpse of the immense Greenland icecap beyond the towering cliffs of the fjord, the evening was a powerful indication of the spectacular voyage ahead.

By morning, we had turned north and dropped anchor in a bay near the community of Ittileq.

After a shore excursion with presentations on the glaciology, botany, geology and wildlife of Greenland, we landed at Ittileq. The community of approximately 75 (I didn’t get to count them all) treated us to a warm welcome, a tour of the small salt fish plant, and a beating in an impromptu soccer game — turns out the community is home to the southwest Greenland soccer champs.

From there we headed further north and into Disko Bay. As we headed up Disko Bay, humpback whales and more icebergs than you can imagine greeted us.

After navigating through the last six miles of heavily iceberg-infested waters, we docked at Ilulissat, a town of about 7,000 at the mouth of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jacobshaven Ice Fjord.

The Jacobshaven fjord, with its glacier running at approximately 20 metres per day, spews an astounding 80 per cent of the icebergs found in the Northwest Atlantic.

Sailing in through the icebergs there were small Greenlandic vessels hunting whales and seals alongside fishing boats coming and going from the turbot and shrimp grounds.

From there, it was further north until at just above 70 degrees latitude we arrived at what has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, the community of Uummannaq.

We arrived in the community of 1,300 on the day of their 250th anniversary celebrations.

With the Prime Minister of Greenland in attendance, we were treated to traditional Greenlandic food, seal and dry caplin amongst other things, as well as traditional music and dance, and a setting that honestly would humble Gros Morne.

As we sailed across Davis Strait back to Canada and eventually into Pangnirtung, some of us among the staff couldn’t help but reflect on the dramatic differences that the water between Greenland and Baffin Island seemed to highlight.

For me, it was my third trip to Greenland, and during the past 20 years I have taken many to the Canadian north.

As you sail up Cumberland Sound to beautiful Pangnirtung, up its fjord and into Auyuittuq National Park, the scenic beauty is strikingly similar to the west coast of Greenland. The population, its dispersal, the culture and the people are similar.

Greenland, like Canada’s North, relies heavily on financial transfers from the central government. But there, it seems, is where the similarities end.

Whether you look at it from an infrastructure, educational, socio-economic or communications perspective, to name a few, Greenlandic communities seem to be doing better than communities in Canada’s North.

Maybe it is something in the water. Could it be as simple as the lingering warmth of the Gulf Stream running up the west coast of Greenland, versus the cold Arctic waters running down the east side of Baffin?

It certainly makes it better for fishing. Or is it that the education system in Greenland is working for Greenlanders while ours is generating, for Inuit, amongst the worst high school graduation rates in the western world?

Three visits to Greenland, part of the Kingdom of Denmark, combined with my many visits to Canada’s Arctic provide me with more questions than answers.

One thing I do know though — and an apology to Shakespeare — is that there is something right in the state of Denmark.

Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister

under the Danny Williams administration.


Organizations: Students on Ice Arctic Expedition.With, UNESCO

Geographic location: Greenland, Canada, Ottawa Disko Bay Kangerlussuaq Pangnirtung Baffin Island Ilulissat Northwest Atlantic.Sailing Uummannaq Arctic Auyuittuq National Park Gulf Stream Kingdom of Denmark

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