The Heyday and Decline of Arctic Exploration: a Case Study in Two Paintings

Guest post by Michael Engelhard

Analyzing the heroic quest narrative, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out that it is crucial for the protagonist to face unknown dangers and to gain spiritually or physically value. As a placeholder for Arctic adversity, the polar bear perfectly embodied such a notion. Captured alive, pictured, described for science, or slain for its meat or skin, it signified the hero’s trophy, his travails, and his rewards.

Two English nineteenth-century paintings fall well within the Heroic Age and epitomize the polar bear’s role in visual mythmaking: Richard Westall’s apotheosis Nelson and the Bear (1806) and Edwin Henry Landseer’s memento Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864). This essay explores these works.


Edwin Henry Landseer — Man Proposes, God Disposes — 1864 — oil on canvas

Landseer’s monumental canvas alludes to the fate of Sir John Franklin (Nelson’s subaltern at the battle of Trafalgar), “the man who ate his boots,” who—with his sailors—disappeared sometime after 1845 while seeking to conquer that northern chimera, the Northwest Passage. Using dark tones throughout this painting, Landseer, who’d studied live polar bears at the menagerie at the Exeter Exchange in London’s Strand, cast long shadows upon “an English optimism and triumphalism, which was particularly apparent at mid-century.”

Franklin’s had been the largest and best-equipped Arctic expedition to embark until then. His wife, Lady Jane Franklin, who never stopped hoping for his return, attended a soirée at the Royal Academy at which the “offensive” painting was shown—and was outraged. Her indignation was caused by the inclusion of two polar bears that, in Landseer’s imagining of the aftermath, gnawed on a human ribcage and shredded a red British ensign. Lady Franklin’s shock at the sight of the disgraced flag could have been exacerbated by the fact that she had sewn it (or one very much like it) for her knight-errant before he embarked on his last journey. Allegedly, at home, she had thrown that silken flag over Franklin, who was stretched out on a divan, and he had startled, reminding her that the Navy covered corpses with the Union Jack before burial at sea.

Every animal painting is also always a self-portrait, a story we tell about Nature and thereby reflective of our own nature. The red ensign in Man Proposes, which draws the viewer’s gaze, recalls Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”—but to pious Victorians, the horror of men becoming bear prey was nothing compared to the evil whose name few dared to speak.

In 1854, word had reached London that Dr. John Rae of the Hudson’s Bay Company had met some Inuit who had learned from others that about forty white men had been seen in 1850, dragging a boat south, and that later, the bodies of those men had been found. They most likely had died from cold and starvation, but John Rae’s report included a disturbing detail mentioned by his informants. “From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and the contents of the kettles,” he wrote, “it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means for sustaining life.”

Richard Westall — Nelson and the Bear — 1806 — oil on canvas

By contrast, Westall’s Nelson and the Bear—painted four decades earlier—reflects a younger, more confident empire. It poises the plucky, fifteen-year-old midshipman and future hero of Trafalgar at the edge of the pack ice, clad in a frockcoat with buckled shoes and a bonnet resembling a chef’s hat—not really dressed for such an outing. Nelson wields his musket like a club against an opponent that has flattened its ears against its head and looks more like a scared sheepdog than a polar bear.

In 1773, young Horatio’s ship, HMS Carcass, on the search for the Northeast Passage like many before it , ground to a halt in the ice near Spitsbergen. Carcass and a second ship, Racehorse, were sailing under the command of Commodore Constantine Phipps, who on that same voyage named the polar bear Ursus maritimus.

Together with a shipmate, Nelson went after a bear, whose skin he wished to give to his father. That, at least, is the story the ship’s captain, Commander Skeffington Lutwidge, started telling decades later. He added the companion and the loyal filial element only in 1809, four years after Nelson had bled to death on the deck of HMS Victory. In Lutwidge’s story, Nelson’s rusty, borrowed musket misfired and he was saved only because a rift in the ice had appeared, separating him from the bear. Westall’s painting, however, shows only Nelson, a single, steadfast Briton facing the epitome of the hazardous North. Obviously, a companion on the ice would have diminished Nelson’s glory. Westall also included, in the background, Carcass helping to scare off the bear by firing a cannon. Besides adding to the hagiography of a national hero, the work celebrated Britannia and its mariners, tougher than walrus hide.

Nelson and the Bear and, to a degree, even Man Proposes follow conventions of the exploration narrative, a genre seeking to terrify and to titillate. Such dramatizations of the quest—hand-to-paw combat, hull-crushing bergs, scurvy, and starvation—hallowed soldiers and explorers, especially in cases of premature death. By the time Landseer finished Man Proposes, more ships and men had been lost in search of Franklin. The futility of Arctic exploration was starting to register, but British hubris and vainglory persisted until 1912, when another hero—Robert Falcon Scott—perished at a pole, and an iceberg ruined both an “unsinkable” ship and the confidence of a nation.

Michael Engelhard is the author of Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon and of American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. Trained as an anthropologist, he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and now works as a wilderness guide in the Arctic.

The Land God Gave to Cain

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A guest post by Lena Onalik. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

The Torngats: they call this place the land of the spirits, the place where Torngat, the spiritual entity of the Inuit people, rests. Along the shores you will see evidence of people before us, spanning thousands of years. You cannot help but feel their presence.

In Nachvak Fjord we tread lightly on the remains of a five hundred-year-old village, where the remnants of sod houses overlay the even older Paleoeskimo settlement. Millennia of human history lie here, outlasted only by the creatures that call this land home, and by the ancient rocks that tower above it all.

To the south is Ramah, where the beautiful translucent mineral known as chert received its name. This material was traded throughout the eastern seaboard, down into Maryland, to Ontario, and north into Nunavut. Shaped into magnificent tools used to hunt the local animals and seek out survival, the precious chert accompanied the burials of our ancestors.

At Hebron, the history dates back thousands of years, with the most recent inhabitants being the Moravian missionaries in the early 1800s. The community thrived, and the German missionaries the local Inuit living in harmony until 1959. When the Newfoundland government made the decision to close the town’s only store, the missionaries elected to pull out of Hebron. That same year, the Inuit were forced from their homes and faced a devastating relocation to the south. To this day, the atrocities endured by the Labrador Inuit are present in the lives they live. Looking out over the landscape, and visiting the graveyard with its German inscriptions, we will find the mission buildings and the church still standing, and the newly erected Apology Monument that recognizes and remembers those who were cast from their homes. Although there are no longer any human inhabitants, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut still hunt and fish the area. The spirit of our ancestors still walk the land, watching over us, and will live among us as we embrace this beautiful place. This place is for the curious.

When asked to join the Adventure Canada team on the Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition, my reaction was nothing short of ecstatic. To visit the stunning shores of Greenland was thirlling enough, but to share the home of my ancestors with curious minds is a great honour. On this journey of discovery, I shared a special moment when I travelled to the birthplace of my dearest friend, my late grandmother (Kangidsualujjuak). The spiritual presence at the Torngat Mountains is one that beckons again and again. Along along the beautiful, rugged coast there are stories to tell. Stories like that of Jacques Cartier, when he named this place, “the land God gave to Cain.”

Lena grew up in Makkovik, NL. She spent her summers during childhood fishing in Island Harbour with her father’s family, the McNeill clan, who also fished with Bob Bartlett’s family. Lena is an archaeologist, the first Labrador Inuk to obtain this title. She also held the position of Chief Archaeologist for the Nunatsiavut Government. She shares her culture through storytelling, crafts, singing, Inuit drum dancing and throat singing.

Our 2017 Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition sets sail on September 23.

A Bird’s Life

A guest post by Mark Mallory. Photo by Dennis Minty.

Forget the ubiquitous cell phones, the white noise of city streets, and even the passage of aircraft. When you get to the Arctic, what do you hear? Perhaps nothing. But, more likely, you hear the wind—either rolling gently over the tundra and shorelines, or swirling off glaciers and cliffs. And what do you hear on the wind? Birds.

The Canadian Arctic is full of birds, some fifty million of them! Nunavut along is home to over 260 species, and more than 150 of those have nested there. From the tiniest hoary redpoll to the giant sandhill crane, birds can be found everywhere from the verdant river deltas that drain the barren lands to the lunar landscape of glacial Devon Island. Some of their names evoke polar images: tundra swan, snow goose, snowy owl, snow bunting (unsurprisingly, all of these are white). The Arctic tern lives here: the animal that travels further annually than any other on earth.

When you sail along Arctic coastlines, it is often difficult to reconcile the stark, simple, and spartan surroundings with the abundance of life they support. How can five hundred thousand birds eke out lives on a single chunk of rock?

Leaning on the railing around the rear deck of the Ocean Endeavour, watching northern fulmars effortlessly wing along in the wake of the ship, their wingtips barely touching the cresting waves, one cannot help but marvel at these creatures. To me, birds are harbingers of good news. I think of how much joy those early explorers must have found in spying them after long months at sea. How thrilled Hudson’s crew must have been to see the bounty of food available to them at the murre colonies of Digges Sound. The wonder that Sverdrup’s men must have experienced seeing eiders and fulmars return to Hell’s Gate, despite the hundreds of kilometres of sea ice in every direction.

Perhaps at no other point in history has the contrast between life in the Arctic and life in the south been so dramatic. Southern society can be fast-paced, hyperconnected, and noisy. But step onto an Arctic coastline, and feel wonderfully slow. Removed. Silent. In that silence you will be welcomed.

Mark is a Canada Research Chair in Coastal Wetland Ecosystems at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, where he studies coastlines in the Canadian Maritimes and Arctic. He was appointed to the Royal Society of Canada in 2014 and has long been a member of the Adventure Canada Expedition Team.

Magic Happens


A guest post by Stephen Gorman

“If you want to take better photographs,” I tell myself, “put yourself in front of better scenery.”

It sounds like a simple solution—a surefire way to jumpstart you photographic creativity—and it is. There’s nothing mysterious about it; it’s utterly practical. You just have to be there, camera in hand, eyes wide open. When you are there—wherever there is—when you are ready…magic happens.

So when I follow my own advice, I spend a lot of time in spectacular places. Places like the Canadian Arctic. I’m a better photographer when I’m in the presence of something magnificent like the Grand Canyon, like the Canadian Rockies, like the Ilulissat Icefjord. In places like these, opportunities to take great photographs are at once bountiful and ephemeral. The scenery changes with the light from one moment to the next, and each scene is more breathtaking than the one before. It’s magical.

This is the magic I know we discover with Adventure Canada as we explore the High Arctic. I want to be there—to photograph the serrated, ice-capped peaks of Ellesmere Island; to see the haunting beauty of Devon Island; to explore the towering ice fields of Greenland.

I want to be ready to seize the moment. Every moment. It’s where the magic is.

Stephen is a professional photographer. He lives in Norwich, Vermont.

Stories and Storytellers

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A guest post by Michael Crummey. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

When I travel on the mainland, I’m often asked to explain the remarkable national and international success of Newfoundland writers, musicians, and entertainers. It does seem to require some explanation. For a province representing less that 2% of the population of Canada, the wealth of talent seems bizarrely out of proportion. Wayne Johnston, Great Big Sea, CodCo and This Hour has 22 Minutes, Lisa Moore, Michael and Kathleeen Winter, Hey Rosetta!, Rick Mercer, Bernice Morgan, Ron Hynes, Republic of Doyle, Amelia Curran … the list seems endless. Maybe there’s something in the water. Or it might be a part of our cultural DNA.

I grew up around storytellers, although I never though of it that way as a youngster. It was just people talking or singing or telling a joke or some old foolishness. My father, in particular, had a repertoire of stories he would dip into on nights he’d had a drink or two. They were just incidents from his own life, but they were diverting, often hilarious, and occasionally terrifying. Much of what I know about telling a story I learned from listening to him talk.

It’s only as an adult I started to see the Newfoundlander’s gift of the gab as a cultural trait, something unique to the place and its circumstances. Storytelling was how people in isolated communities entertained one another, how local history was kept alive, how the long winter nights were passed. It was a survival strategy as much as anything and it has become a defining characteristic of the people here over the course of generations. You still hear it in local kitchens and pubs, at the corner store, on the wharves. And if I had to guess, I’d say that tradition is also part of what makes the contemporary novels and films and songs of Newfoundland so compelling and entertaining.

Sit down a spell. Have a listen.

Michael Crummey is a celebrated Canadian author. He is travelling aboard Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage 2016 expedition.

Near the Top of the World

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A guest post by Vern Turner. Photo by Michelle Valberg.

Before the blush is off the memory…

I decided not to make this essay a travelogue. This journey is one that simply must speak for itself. Adventure Canada runs these tours, and each of you will have to lead your own journey to and through them. I hope to give the reader an idea about a special place on the Earth that few of us get to see. That’s a good thing, because those of us who get to see it, appreciate it so much more than if it were something seen on every giant cruise ship commercial, and ruined by these behemoths of over-the-top luxury.

The west coast of Greenland and the east coast of Baffin Island are laced by fjords of various lengths carved by glaciers of various sizes. The cliffs may be a thousand feet high of defoliating granite that plunge into the clear water of the Davis Strait, or just rocky shores with boulders and moraines from previous glacial activity. It is a land of ice. Ice from millennia gone carved this land. We could see it from the air as we flew into our little air strip, a former U.S. Air Force base. We saw tundra and pools of water, but always there was ice. The icebergs we saw from 30,000 feet looked like flecks of dandruff on the collar of the sea, but when we were next to them in our Zodiacs they were city blocks carved by water and melting into shapes too complex for mere descriptive prose.

Since there was almost no dark time, we could see our new world just about any time we were awake. The seas stayed calm and the skies clear for us the whole trip. The reflections of the rock and ice on the glassy seas made for spontaneous art shows every moment of every day. We stopped at several villages along the way and even had some on-shore walkabouts to view artifacts of human attempts to find the infamous Northwest Passage in wooden ships. I wonder if those ancient mariners were as mesmerized by the raw and savage beauty of the Arctic as we tourists were. Theirs was a pursuit for a trade economy. Ours was one of using our economic successes to be able to see the place where life hangs on by a thread.

The tallest plant I saw was about one metre tall, and that was at our most southerly point, the airport where we landed in Greenland. Every thing else was less than thirty centimetres tall. Short growing season, you know. We spent the next five days visiting the fjords of Greenland and were allowed the luxury of seeing some humpback whales, several kinds of seals, birds galore, and some polar bears wondering who we were. Our walkabouts on shore were accompanied by armed guides to prevent us from trouble should we stumble upon a bear, especially a mother with her cub. 

From the observation deck, I watched icebergs slide by like giant sentinels of the sea. Some were tabular, having sheared off from some distant glacier as it moved toward open water. Others were multifaceted with shapes like solid clouds; one could play games by seeing shapes in them. Those bergs that had recently rolled had surfaces pocked with small depressions from the action of the water. The Zodiac excursions into the berg fields were especially awe-inspiring as we could literally get close enough to touch them.

Then, there’d be a loud crack! An iceberg calved into separate parts. You could see the fault lines on some of the bergs and see mini-waterfalls defining where the next break off would be. The crack was often followed by the sound of something very large being dumped into the water. Watching an iceberg half the size of our hundred-metre ship bobbing like a toy certainly makes one feel tiny. One had to keep realizing that an iceberg towering over the Zodiac by tens of meters and as long as a football field was only showing us ten percent of its volume. It takes some persistence to keep things in perspective.

Each new destination brought new and unique geography to our senses. We were fortunate to have a glaciologist/geologist on board who described the history of the rocks we were seeing and the dynamics of how the ice shaped them. It was her first trip to this part of the Arctic and she was, at first, moved to tears and speechless awe by what she saw. I was next to her as we stepped out onto an outer deck and felt a similar wave of wonder pass over me. There are just certain moments of magnificence that strike one dumb. For me, that was not much of a challenge, but this place…this place did me the service of resetting my wonderment program.

We were once anchored in a large bay at the end of a fjord so some travellers could visit a village on shore. I stayed aboard and basked in the sunshine of the fantail observation deck. The water was almost dead calm. There was barely enough wind to riffle the water, but the icebergs loomed in the distance as white monsters guarding the peacefulness that can occur nowhere else. On the shore, the colourful buildings of the village offered a paradox to the raw, natural beauty of the sea, the mountains and the ice. It was always the ice that captured my attention because of its impossible geometry and regal, aesthetic beauty. It struck me as a “no wonder” moment for those aboard guiding us as to why they love the north so. 

Then, there was a large ripple breaking the surface and the absolute tranquility. Then, another. I pulled the binoculars to my eyes to see harp seals doing what they do best. Three of them were swimming and diving while staying submerged for about five minutes between appearances. They just appeared. I never saw them coming until they were there. It was just me and the seals. Yes, I know. My fertile imagination was working overtime.

The only day it rained was our departure day from Resolute Bay in the archipelago west and north of Baffin Island. This was our highest latitude at just under seventy-five degrees north. I began to see how hard this country is during winter and inclement weather. For humans to live and work there, a special constitution is required. Not minding the dark for months has got to be a real challenge.

On the other hand, living for the beauty of the good days has its offsets. As our plane circled Resolute, before it entered the rain clouds, we caught a glimpse of our ship anchored in the bay waiting to collect its next human cargo to retrace the steps we took back to Greenland. The arms of the harbour, in their desolate look of dun-coloured rock, embraced the steel of the sea and accentuated the ice bergs here and about. It was quite a sight and I couldn’t help but feel that my earlier adventures no longer stood alone as “a trip of a lifetime”. I came to realize that the trips I take IN my lifetime are what are most important. This is a trip of a special nature that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. The new friends I made and the moments of overwhelming silence among the ice fields will be there for me forever.

Vern Turner travelled with Adventure Canada aboard our 2016 Arctic Safari expedition with his wife. They hail from Marble Falls, TX. Click here to find out more about upcoming expeditions like this one!

Travelling in the Company of Inuit

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Guest post by John Houston.

Photo by Michelle Valberg shows Kathleen Merritt—artist, culturalist, and youth leader—in 2015 aboard our Arctic Explorer expedition.

When I travel to the Arctic, I travel in the company of Inuit. Always have, ever since an Inuit dog team carried my mother from Cape Dorset to Kimmirut, the start of a long journey south so that I could be born.

We were returned to Baffin Island on the C.D. Howe three months later, and that trip likely sparked my love of sailing Arctic seas—but I think it goes deeper than that. The Arctic feels as mysterious, exotic, and elusive a place today as it must have appeared through the spyglasses of early explorers. The mind requires context to make sense of its images, its rhythms, its scale—and no one can create that context like Inuit can. We also need time to process all that information—and travel by ship allows and affords us that time.

I think a sea voyage with Adventure Canada is the best way to experience the Arctic. They were first to engage Inuit resource staff, a decade before other ecotourism operators would follow suit. The opportunity to spend time with people who live their culture, who embody their values, who share their world so generously—brings one to a better understanding of what culture is. What spirituality is. What hospitality is.

Perhaps international of awareness of the Inuit began with Robert Flaherty’s film Nanook of the North. Now, his granddaughter, Martha Flaherty, is one of the Inuit featured in a new film she has co-written. The ancient Inuit oral tradition was challenged by the arrival of our non-native culture, but Inuit quickly found new ways to communicate. Inuit culture is alive, and thriving. It is thriving in their art, in their performance, in their film, in their television—and now, in their digital media. It is thriving in festivals and gatherings, in communities large and small, in the North and beyond. Inuit are communicating to the world and amongst themselves the need to cling tightly to culture in order to preserve identity.

The Arctic sea and land are calling. If we listen, they will set things right deep within us. And the Inuit we meet along our travels remind us of what is truly important in life. As long as I am able, I intend to travel the Arctic seas. Always have. Always will.

John Houston is a culturalist, filmmaker, and expert polar swimmer. He has travelled with Adventure Canada since 1991.


A Sense of Place

Nachvak Fjord, Torngats National Park

Guest post by Dennis Minty

“Where do you belong?” A common question in this province. Not unlike “Where are you from?” but with a big difference. Behind it, there is an expectation of a sense of place and being rooted in it. Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians feel this in their bones. We don’t really have a choice about it. Nor would we want one. But move one of us to another place on the globe and we can look with wonder, work with vigour, laugh with glee, eat with relish, and mix with pleasure. Then there comes a time when we just have to get home.

We can’t be alone in having this sense of place. I know other people feel it too. I would expect to find it, and do, in New Zealand, in the Hebrides, in the Arctic. Is it something to do with remoteness, otherness, being on the fringe? A bit I suppose. It’s even a little bit tribal, but in a good way.

We don’t own the place; it owns us. Sure its family and heritage and familiarity but there is much more than that. There’s a kind of magical grip on the heart that is bigger than all these things. I don’t understand it fully and choose to leave it as one of life’s mysteries. 

Whatever it is and however it is explained, it exists, in spades. And it is this sense of place that travellers see in Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when they visit. It doesn’t matter if it’s in La Poile, a tiny community of a few hundred with no road access to anywhere, or in old St. John’s, our inspiring, port city, visitors find people who are open, enjoy life, are happy to share what they have, are quick to dance and who love, truly love where they live. 

Then there is the place itself. As a professional photographer, I have been making images of it all my life, and it still knocks my socks off. Give me a soft summer morning with the mists painting the headlands and the mewing of gulls in the background. Give me a breaching humpback exploding through the ocean’s blue surface, forty tonnes of life airborne from two or three flicks of the tail. Give me the majesty of Saglek Fjord in the Torngat Mountains of Labrador with ancient, giant, weathered peaks all around and underfoot, a cushion of brilliant colour. I hear the word “spiritual” in quiet, church-like murmurs. Give me a soaring gannet against a northern blue sky, its wings broader than a tall man’s height. Then the wings fold into the body as it plunges with force into the sea to snatch a silvery herring. Give me the steep roofed salt boxes and the shallow-slopped biscuit boxes, houses built by the hands of their owners a hundred years ago before “vinyl clapboard” and “bungalows” were ever part of the lexicon. Give me the small boats moored in quiet coves and the increasingly rare flakes and stages where fish was off-loaded, gutted, split and dried in the sun by families toiling together to make ends meet.

Travellers can’t help but absorb some of this sense of place. This enrichment can inspire them to think about their own lives and what’s important. Some will bring home a fine collection of images, but all will have a bank of new memories to lighten the spirits as their journeys continue.

Dennis Minty is a professional photographer with a long history of work alongside Adventure Canada. His photographs have been widely published, including recently in his companion books on Newfoundland and Labrador. You can find more of his work here.

Fur, Feathers, and Fat: What it Takes to Survive an Arctic Winter

Polar Bear

Arctic birds and mammals are specialized for life in the extreme environment they call home. Insulation against cold is a key factor in their survival. Indeed, it has been shown that the skin temperature of large Arctic mammals is only a few degrees lower than their deep-body temperature, even when the air is as cold as -40°C! In fact, there can be a difference of more than 51.6°C between skin and air temperatures, demonstrating the efficiency of the animals’ fur as an insulator.

For example, the musk ox has a dense layer of wool next to the body, covered and protected by an outer layer of long fur. By comparison, the caribou or reindeer has a coat that consists of long, hollow hairs to trap air. The hairs of the polar bear’s coat are transparent, and allow light to reach the skin beneath, which is black and absorbs its heat. The fur then traps the heat, and little escapes.

Other animals, like the walrus, rely almost entirely on thick reserves of blubber to insulate them from the harsh environment.

Walrus, Rookery, Haul Out, Colony

Bird feathers are also good insulators! The plumage of resident Arctic birds tends to be denser than that of the migrating bird species. Birds can reduce heat loss by fluffing their feathers. When it becomes very cold, they can pull their legs up under their bodies and tuck their heads under the feathers on their back, turtle style.

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Adventure Canada is Flying it Forward!

A guest post by Ella Swan

Greetings fellow adventurers! I have just returned from a two-trip stretch working aboard the Ocean Endeavour. Fjords, whales, engaged travellers—I saw it all. Back home, I have to readjust to reality. There will be no daily wakeup call, no weather report for the day; I will have to cook my own meals. I will also have to go back to work at my other job.

Luckily for me, I have not one but two enviable summer jobs. Here in BC, I work with an organization called Groundswell at their award-winning Community Greenhouse and Permaculture Campus in the Canadian Rockies. I am involved with a bunch of different aspects of the project, including helping to forward a regional curbside composting program, tackling climate change with renewable energy, developing a permaculture garden, and special projects such as a corn trial for Lush Cosmetics. Groundswell aims to push the envelope on all things social development, community building, and environmental sustainability.


What does this look like practically? It looks like school groups of every age getting their hands in the soil and learning how to grow food. It looks like moms and their toddlers at Plant and Play mornings, learning together and bonding over volunteering in the Greenhouse. It looks like people travelling from all over Canada and the world to visit and find out how to make a space like ours in their neighbourhood. It looks like John, a seventy-six-year-old volunteer arriving two days a week at 7AM to dig out paths because he loves to volunteer. It also looks like volunteer appreciation nights gathered round the cob oven eating wood-fired pizza.

flyitforwardWe exist because of people power. Since our ground breaking eight years ago, we have relied on donations of materials, time, and money. We have a program that we would love for you to get involved in called Fly it Forward. We have partnered on this program with Adventure Canada. All of their employees, (including me) are a part of it. It is a voluntary carbon offset program for air travel. For every 1000 kilometres flown, you are invited to invest $3.50 into Groundswell. For example, my return flight Cranbrook to St. Johns to join the Ocean Endeavour was 6,916kms. This will mean a $24.20 investment through Fly It Forward!

This year, the focus of Adventure Canada’s Fly it Forward is finishing the outdoor teaching space in the Permaculture Garden. It will be the capstone on the Permaculture Garden and creates a community gathering and teaching space. If you would like to learn more, visit and register for the Fly it Forward program. When you sign up, let us know you heard about us through Adventure Canada. A healthy community is one where people feel needed, appreciated and necessary. Through our space and our projects we aim to inspire and create stronger communities everywhere and we invite you to join us in this goal.

Thank you!

—Ella Swan


Ella lives in Invermere, BC and spent part of this summer aboard the Ocean Endeavour as Assistant Cruise Director. Click here to watch a video outlining Fly it Forward.

The Encounter

A guest post by Lisa MooreMinty_20160706_210545_copy[1]

We are cruising out of haunting Hebron, where the remaining wooden houses bow and bulge in the wind, get down on their knees, collapse in the grass, where inside the church attic there is graffiti, written with a finger on the dusty glass of an old window, just some names and some dates, a teenager’s joke at the expense of history, see how ephemeral we are?  And where the apology from Danny Williams is mounted on a plaque, and where on the same plague the Inuit respond to William’s apology, and say that they accept it, without diminishing the trauma suffered by the community, accept it with such honesty and grace that the letters blur and enlarge under a smooth lens of tears because you can’t read it without tears, you can’t, trust me.

And where the sun bursts in shafts through blistering, silvered windowsills and the old paint flakes off the walls, and the church is being restored, yellow beds of insulation piled in one corner, a rusted woodstove, ornate with curliques and clawfoot legs, sinks into the dead yellow grass. Inside the dry wood smell of shut-up buildings and the ghost-voice of the choirs and brass bands and, as we emerge from that music and shadow we walk down to the water, step into the Zodiacs, patterns of sediment swirling on the landing rock, and where Billy gets the Arctic char, willing it out of the water with a wrist-flick or Vulcan mind control, or just the fresh air hunger for something salty and sweet. If you eat something that fresh, like the gutted roe, it will give you prophetic dreams.


Later in St. John’s Harbour: some hikers on the mountain are as tiny as insects against the skyline. We look up at the sun and try to wave but they don’t wave back. Maria picks red berries left over from last year, points out the flock of ducks at the pond’s edge, and Pavel’s drone catches us all in our garish bright jackets against the lurid emerald grass messy with boulders, there we are, making our way, caught in a god’s eye, and the mosquitos come out all at once. Stick their thin and stately needles in, guzzling our blood, and then they float off drunk or sullen or bloated or blitzed and glutted and lazy and slow enough to catch in a single clap. We cruise away, leaving the Inukshuk standing watch, pointing the way to Nachvak Fjord. 


And in the afternoon? 

Stealth. A rumour. A momma and two cubs. The Zodiac swings on the crane, an ink blot in the middle of the sun. Hits the water, and the chain coils up, and another Zodiac sways down. The drivers zip out. The ocean is a bed of harsh, sharp sparkles. Everything lit up, hyper-bright. The bay is calm; it should be cold but it isn’t. 

Five Zodiacs, another hanging up there, and swaying like a cradle. 

The rumour says a cove further down the bay, lolling in the grass, soporific, snoozy and rubbing all that fur against the sand. More yellow than white, paws bigger than your face, fifteen Zodiacs in the water now. Engines idling, drivers standing with legs apart, braced against the tiller, silhouettes. Splat of radio static, but the drivers are talking low. The drivers are using bedroom voices. Copy that.

Nineteen Zodiacs in all, load them fast, hurry up. Fast, but quiet. That’s the first ten. Copy that. Go, Tina, to the left. That’s the next ten. Let’s keep our voices down. Go, go, go.  

A little ride around the bay while we wait. We have to go together. Give everyone a chance to see. If they’re there, we won’t scare them off. We won’t get too close. 

So, we zoom up to the waterfalls. Fans of spring melt, thick as concrete where it spills off the black rock, and then shrapnel, bullets or feathers or glass bead far flung dazzle, icy cold. Drilling the water below, drilling down to where the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain gorge on whatever billowing energy the tumbling water stirs up and the other sentient beings, blind or numb scoot around the  boiling turmoil to feast. 

Will the Zodiac engines send the bears gambolling through the long grass. Can we see them? Is it different? To see a polar bear in the wild? Is it different than a zoo? Can 198 passengers, staff, and Zodiac drivers sneak up on the momma? Not disturb her? 

There was a polar bear in the water as we entered the Nachvak Fjord, swimming. The smooth pellet of a head, tiny in the distance, imagine the churning paws the drive and power, holding up all that weight maybe a mile from shore. All that power concentrated in the work of keeping his black nose up above the surface, held high, sniffing.


The Zodiacs, nineteen now in a line, approach the shore. How blue and eye-hurting the ocean is in the binoculars when you touch the focus dial, and a single sparkle bursts like a bomb in one of the lenses and a tiny bump makes the mountain blur in a slo-mo jerk, so the solid rock goes unsolid and seems to pour. Squish the two sides together, fold them in and the visual shock of the shore crisp as close and clear. Vivid and sharp enough to cut. You can see each blade of grass for an instant, the another bump on a wave and it all goes liquid and runny again. Then we stop, we idle. Nineteen Zodiacs and you can hear, on the wind, passengers saying: I can see them. I see them. A momma and two cubs. And the shuck-shuck of the camera.   


Search the landscape. Each boulder yellowish and could that be the momma? Could that be a cub? A kind of stabbing disappointment with each boulder that is just a boulder.

But, oh god? The elegant, awkward clambering from a grass roll, standing now, and the shimmer the binoculars make of mist and distance. Standing now and turning her head, looking back over her shoulder. Shaggy and shapeless and bigger than you thought. Much bigger. And the cubs, someone says, have got to be two years. The cubs are big.


Turning to sniff the air, turning to acknowledge. And the cubs beside and there is no hurry.  Hand the binoculars over. There, there. But it’s yellow, it’s not white, and bigger than I thought and slow/fast. Dangerous and peaceful. Mother and monster. Silent and arrogant. Powerful and endangered and solitary. The fur has no pigment. Each hair is hollow. The skin beneath is black. So what is that colour, why white? Why does it look ancient? It might be made of ice.

Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore


In the sand, bear paws.

Noses of the Zodiacs scrudging into the sand. Haul. Wet ropes, lean back, heels sliding on wet pebbles, tug the Zodiac up snug.  Slap down the bright yellow wooden step. Swinging legs over the side, walking poles, knapsack, step. Step on the block. Step into the water and feel the tug on your rubber boot. Water rushing up over the top of the wooden step, swirling  away in all directions, smooth pebbles tumbling end over end, everything stirred up underfoot. Stab the walking stick, lapping kelp, up, up, on the beach. Bright GoreTex jackets, red, aqua, mosquito net hats, hiss of radios, MJ, MJ, Jason. Jason, MJ.

The resettled Moravian/Inuit community of Ramah—bear paw. Some of them still filled with water. Claw scrapes on stone. The bear had just rambled through. Haunch and rippling muscle/chunks of hunger and force, but gone. The print a cup surging with water, gleaming in the sun.


Partridge eggs. Hold back the alder branches. Can you see them? Speckled. See them? I can’t see them. There. The mother just flew. Where? There, the mother.

On the ridge overlooking the beach the bear monitors are just fluorescent orange flecks on the grey stone. They were far away but I could hear them checking in with each other on the radios.

The fjord last night. But impossible to capture the intensity, the depth. Cracks running through the mountains, the black dykes, old molten lava, rust, caramel, cream, brown, black, white splotches of snow, the green like an old rug worn in places, the light slicing through. Light slashing up the mountains. Clouds bunched like grapes, like marbles, like bowling balls. Still blue up there. Blue as a GoreTex jacket. I wish you could see this. I miss you. How can I tell you about this? You would love this. There was no wind. It was still. A black bear just a dot.  A moving dot on skyward straining granite. 

I felt tears lifting up inside me. Like the water rushing around the yellow block by the Zodiac, swirling all directions around my rubber boot, and tugging on my ankles, my leg, this answer in my body to beauty all mingled up and confused with you would love this and I miss you and my god, my god, what is this, the tears are disorienting, salt water—what is this? This is wordless. This is big. This is still. This is forever. This is infinity. This is a fork in the fjord. This is which way do we go? Do we ever go back? Can one go back from this? This is every path ever taken. Never taken. This is giving up, giving over. This is smallness. This is a blasting apart of the inner things. This is we are together, aren’t we? We are in this together. This is missing you and wishing you could see. This is a bunch of people on a deck, on all the decks, nosing in, deep and deeper. This is nowhere. This is the only place. 


The rocks are cinema and the light is unrequited. The light is, don’t mess with me. The light is, you have never seen anything like this light. You will never see it again. Okay, this is vast. The light is a love affair. The light is going. The light is pink now. The light makes creases and folds in the mountains. The light fingers through. The lit up caves and the lit up faces of the people on the deck. The light is a last hurrah. The pink of inner things. The pink of new things, like the cry of a grandchild, like don’t stop, please don’t stop. This is the pink of the fresh salmon pulled from the water this afternoon and cut up with a pocket knife, and dip/flicked in the ocean on the side of the Zodiac and we ate in raw like religion, like a gift.

On the beach this morning Michelle told us about sod houses. The windows were made of seal intestine, translucent. Just imagine in a snowstorm. Just imagine a child born. The frame might have been wood or whale bone. This is so long ago. The ghosts are translucent. The ghosts are windows made of brass. They sang in four voices. They covered houses in cured skins, and then sods, and when there was a fall of snow, the sod house was very warm. 

The floor of the house might have been slate or wood. Now it has collapsed and grasses overgrown. Let’s not walk over it. Let’s leave it alone. There would have been a cold trap built in the entrance. A depression in the earth into which the cold would sink. But keep your eyes on the water, because bears can approach from there. Swimming sometimes as much as eight miles. Keep your eyes on the land. Be alert. I wish you could have seen. What a fjord that was last night. The way the light slashed across the uppermost blade of mountain. The way it faded. Or lasted. Went dark. Bellowed like a trumpet in the dining room. Looked all sultry and come thither, crooked its finger, said the truth. Flipped a coin, told a joke; the light was a pole dancer a circus, a dream with monsters and empty streets and everything was wet. Everything it touched turned to gold.


I was talking with another writer on the deck about how hard it is to write. We laughed about ‘hard’ work. Because it isn’t coal mining after all. It’s pure pleasure. It is one-hundred voltage thrill. But it is hard. That’s what we said. And we said of course it wasn’t hard. Nobody twisting your arm to write. What is the difference between intense pleasure and pain. What is the difference between desire and discipline? If we follow this fjord forever where will we end up.

In the sod houses they had soap stone lamps with a wick made of woven beach grass burning in seal oil. The idea of that tiny flame, the halo it must throw out, in the midst of these  mountains,standing up in the dark. I hear Maria, on the radio, say she has spotted a white beluga. Mathew James, Mathew James, Maria, she says. And he answers: Maria, Maria, Mathew James. The hiss and clutches of sound bursting out of the radios. Maria, Mathew James. It is still very early in the morning.

The truth is I got up at five to write. I stumbled out onto the deck, almost blinded by the morning sun. Did it ever go to bed? Did it get tiny like that little flame in a sod hut, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, glowing through the intestine of a seal? A line of radiant mist on the horizon. Pure white, where it touched the earth. Burning upward. On the hill in Ramah this morning, a little graveyard. Grey stone, half devoured by the grass, sunken, almost gone, splotches of orange lichen and the dates softened by the rain. It’s only ten thirty in the morning, but I feel like I have experienced a century since that mist on the deck burned away. I cannot wait to see you. I have a lot to tell.    

A Boatload of Kids

IMG_2212Working at Adventure Canada certainly has its highlights. Every voyage brings new peak experiences—that’s part of what keeps staff, as well as passengers coming back time and time again.

The best part is, you never know what’s in store in a given season, on a given trip, even on given day.

This spring, on my seventh trip with Adventure Canada, I finally had the opportunity to bring my wife and two kids aboard as we travelled the Mighty St. Lawrence from Quebec City to St. John’s. Better yet, it turned out we were not the only family with children on the trip.

In all there were eleven kids, every one of them a pint-sized explorer brimming with enthusiasm for what each new day brought.

The highlight of the trip for me was driving the Zodiac with all eleven of those kids on a morning cruise around Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island. The feeling of excitement and freedom was as fresh and stimulating as the morning breeze. To see kids embrace the fullness of nature’s bounty and the glory of a day at sea made an impression that will last a lifetime for me—and perhaps for them too.

Here’s the best shot we could get, with waves and wind (I got big props for taking a selfie stick along!). Clockwise from left, here are kids Olivia, Julianna, James, Leah, Ethan, Dylan, Jasper, Alexander, Islay, Brian, and Sage, plus parents Tammy, Steve, Cedar, Alana, my wife Meghan, and me—the luckiest Zodiac driver in the world!

It just doesn’t get better than this.

Up Periscope from Hopedale!

Lisa Moore reports in from our 2016 Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition:


Before leaving the Ocean Endeavour, we watched a tremendously sad and powerful documentary by France Rivet called “Trapped in a Human Zoo.”

The “human zoo” was created by German Carl Hagenbeck in the 1880s. Hagenbeck, an entrepenure, endeavoured to feed a growing euro-centric appetite for  the “exotic” by sending head hunters to remote corners of the globe in search of people who would become “human specimen” for his zoo. These people were exhibited in traditional, indigenous clothing, and made to “perform” traditional hunting and gathering practices as well as rituals, alongside wild animals from the same regions.

hopedale inuit

This nightmarish and grotesque appetite for the exotic shaped decades of systemic racism and stereotypes about cultures and people from all over the world. For a time, a small group of Inuit from Labrador formed the most popular ‘display’ in Hagenbeck’s exhibition and as a result were trapped by the voracious crowds, with sometimes as many as 17,000 viewers. Filmmaker France Rivet traces the journey of this small group Inuit travellers, who quickly succumbed to smallpox. 

Derrick Pottle gave us a presentation about modern-day Inuit lifestyle, including hunting and gathering practices. Seal meat is still the major staple in the Inuit diet. The animals are harvested using humane hunting practices to ensure the animals do not suffer. All parts of the seal are used in cooking, except the gallbladder and lungs. In communities where a twelve pound turkey might sell for $70, Derrick says, “We couldn’t be here without the seal.” Duck eggs, gathered in season, are considered a delicacy, and the bright orange yolks look like you’d be eating undiluted sunshine. Inuit hunters apply annually for a license to hunt polar bear. Twelve polar bears licenses are given out each year, shared among a community of 8,000.   


The sun blasted down on our short Zodiac ride to Hopedale and we landed on a gorgeous mound of gneiss rock (pink as strawberry ice cream, swirled of blacks and greys). We were greeted on the dock by the community and treated to generous hospitality of Hopedale. Traditional snacks were on offer at the Inn (bannock with partridgeberry sauce, a pork and molasses cake with caramel sauce) and we ate some tasty pitsik in the gorgeous new building which houses the Legislative Assembly.

Inuit students demonstrated traditional games for us. We saw the one-armed push-up competition, the musk ox, and the one-foot high kick. Very dramatic!

Minty_20160703_171947_copy Minty_20160703_172229_copy

The church in Hopedale was built in 1865—and whether it is the balanced dimensions of the building, or the bright white paint, old beams and floor boards, or the lived experience those walls have seen, one experiences an undeniably good feeling inside there. The church has an aura. The pipe organ has been there since 1847.


Back on the ship we celebrated Explorers night with a conga line of Explorers in costume. There were two Mina Hubbards, a Marilyn Monroe (go figure! I didn’t know she had another career as an explorer but Blair makes a very convincing Marilyn!), a couple of James Cooks, ( one with a spatula) A Carl Jung, ( who was exploring the inner recesses of the mind and soul), several Vikings ( including “Broom” hilda) and Billy, who explored the tickle chest and came out wearing a fuzzy wig and nightdress which was very becoming. 

And…all of this was followed by the Newfoundland Bluff! Jason, Billy, and Kevin are all liars extraordinaire. After last night I wouldn’t believe a word coming out of their mouths! They were hilarious. Thankfully, Dennis kept them in line. And if you don’t know what a hinderdatter is, don’t let anybody try to tell you that the etymological root has something to do with the word “daughter”. Come on, who would believe that? I laughed so hard I nearly split my sish.

lisa moore

Guest post by Lisa Moore

Seven Ways to Stay Warm in the Arctic

Even though we travel to wonderful northern destinations in the height of summer, it never hurts to prepare for the chill! In the sun, there’s often nothing to worry about–but temperatures can swing quickly in the Arctic. These handy tips will help you stay nice and toasty during your expeditions to the far north.

1. Dress in layers

RaffanWhile a big, bulky parka might be best for urban wear, it will rarely be the best choice for Arctic summers. Instead of one large, cumbersome coat, choose multiple layers of synthetic fibres. A wicking layer close to your skin will help regulate your body temperature, while an outer waterproof shell will protect you from wind and sea spray. If further insulation is required, lightweight down and fleece layers should be used.

2. Stay dry

It’s hard to warm back up once you’re wet! During Zodiac travel, be sure to wear a waterproof shell over your expedition clothing. Even if it’s not raining, this barrier will protect you from sea spray and generally pack down quite small should you wish to remove it on land. Choose wool socks over cotton (which retains almost no heat when wet) and make sure that your hiking shoes have a degree of waterproofness built in–we’ll supply the rubber boots!

3. Protect your extremities

We lose the most heat through our hands, feet, and heads–so do your digits right, and always keep a light pair of gloves and a toque close by. Thick mitts help when it’s truly cold, but often gloves are sufficient–and let you use your camera!

At the foot of Executioner's Cliffs, Icy Arm, Nunavut

4. Warm yourself

The human body is a remarkable power plant, producing heat constantly. If you find yourself catching a chill, try moving about quickly to raise your heart rate and increase blood flow. It’s remarkable what just a few minutes of physical activity will do for your body temperature. And once you’ve created the heat, your layered clothing will trap it in and keep you nice and toasty.

5. Pack warm drinks

You can never go wrong with a thermos of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate–all of which the Ocean Endeavour has on hand twenty-four hours a day for your convenience. So stock up and bring along a hot cuppa to sip from a scenic vista!

6. Stoke the furnace

Being well-fed–meaning consuming more calories than you are expending–will help your body source the energy it needs to keep you warm. We recommend starting each day with a big breakfast and keeping your blood sugar up to make sure that your built-in furnace has everything in place to work effectively. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered–the Ocean Endeavour’s restaurant features three delicious meals each day, not to mention an afternoon tea and evening snacks. We find it’s hard to stop eating, frankly!

7. Skip the booze

Sure, a brandy or a hot toddy might feel like a good way to warm up after a trip around a glacier or brisk Zodiac ride–just make sure you save the hooch for after your expedition! Studies have shown that drinking alcohol before exposure to cold as it lowers core body temperature even as it creates the illusion of heat–a dangerous combination!

Seven Tips for Zodiac Travel

2009-Heart-of-the-Arctic-Andrew-Stewart-3870Our Zodiac landing craft make Adventure Canada expeditions truly special. With these hardy, rigid-hulled inflatable outboards, we are able to bring adventurers ashore efficiently and in comfort. They can land on beaches, rocks, and everything in between—and they are stable at speed with large groups of passengers. Ideally suited to expedition travel, the Zodiac allows us to explore incredible wilderness safely and easily. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Zodiac experience:

1. The Zodiac driver is in charge of the boat and its operation. Please promptly follow their instructions at all times (singing is optional but encouraged).

2. Always wear the provided lifejackets when travelling in the Zodiacs.

3. Familiarize yourself with the “sailors’ grip” for use when stepping in and out of the Zodiacs at the gangway and at shore. Always accept a helping hand, and grasp each other by the wrists. This provides far greater support than a more traditional handshake grip.

4. Minimize the number of separate items taken along with you. Backpacks are ideal for consolidating objects such as cameras, binoculars, extra shoes, etc. Waterproof backpack coverings can be purchased, and are recommended. Remember to pass any backpacks, walking sticks, etc. to the Zodiac’s driver or ship’s crew before embarking or disembarking.

5. Never disembark or embark the Zodiac over the wooden transom at the boat’s stern. The slightest wave could bring the heavy box down on your foot; wait for instructions and assistance if a stern disembarkation is necessary.

6. Never smoke in the Zodiacs. There are exposed fuel tanks connected to the outboard engines. Lit cigarettes are also hazardous to the rubber construction of the boats themselves.

7. Always ask permission before standing in a Zodiac.

Following these tips will help ensure that our Zodiac operations are safe and fun for all aboard!

Arctic Photo Tips from a Pro: Guest Post from Michelle Valberg

MichelleValbergD4S5471.105926Nikon Canada Ambassador Michelle Valberg has been travelling with Adventure Canada for years, and her incredible photography plays a large role in helping us tell our story through exciting trip logs, brochures, and around the web. In addition to the successful photography business she runs in Ottawa, Michelle is the founder of the non-profit Project North, an organization dedicated to supporting northern communities with donated sporting equipment. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, the London Tribune, MORE magazine, Canadian Geographic, and In Style. She has self-published four books, including Arctic Kaleidoscopeand has been exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Ottawa Hospital, the Wall Space Gallery, and the Trinity Art Gallery.

A mainstay of Adventure Canada’s expeditions aboard the Ocean Endeavour, Michelle delights in being out on deck and on the land, capturing the wide world around her through an ever-present lens. In anticipation of our 2016 sailing season—and in light of Adventure Canada’s new partnership with Nikon Canada—we caught up with Michelle to ask her a few questions about Arctic photography, to help our guests make the most of their expeditions to the far north.

Adventure Canada: What is the best technique for photographers to best capture the scale of the Arctic landscape?

Michelle Valberg:  For the vast and stunning Arctic landscapes, I suggest using a wide-angle lens.Buchun Gulf 812830

Ideally, a focal length between 14–28mm; I use a NIKKOR 14–24mm for most landscapes I shoot. You can also photograph a panoramic image which tells of an even greater story with a very wide perspective—one that might represent more of how it felt to be there.

Pay attention to the rule of thirds, and where you place the horizon line. Avoid placing the horizon line in the centre of the frame to achieve better composition and interest to your viewer.

Arctic Bay Nunavut D4S7629

AC: Is there a specific recommendation you have for photographers seeking incredible wildlife shots?

MV: In contrast to the landscapes, a longer lens is very useful for wildlife photography. Most often than not, you aren’t that close to your subjects and it is great to have a longer reach. For versatility I like to use the NIKKOR 80–400mm or 200–500mm. Both are incredibly sharp lenses.

If possible, shoot in the early morning or late day; don’t be in your cabin at prime shooting times! In these magic hours, light angles are lower and create more texture and interest in your image. Shadows and contrast are increased, and, typically, you get more wildlife activity (since it is feeding time). Play with front, back, and side lighting to see how you can photograph your subjects in different ways. Most importantly, watch and change your camera settings to get better results.

Narwal tail 7948Pay close attention to your background and positioning of your subject when photographing wildlife. Experiment with different foregrounds for landscapes. Change your vantage point often while in the same shooting area. Composition can make or break your image, and it is critical to creating and capturing that first-class photograph. Look for ways you can capture motion—whether with a bird in flight or a waterfall. Maybe you want to create a sense of motion with water. Remember your tripod and change your shutter speeds to achieve different affects.

Finally, watching animal behaviour and anticipating their next move can help you get better results. An animal can change the tilt of its head ever so slightly and take your image from good to fantastic. Watch a bird’s wing position, or how an animal walks or swims. Above all be patient—very patient!

King Eiders 0292AC: What’s the biggest mistake you see amateurs make in the field? How can they correct this?

MV: I find that many people don’t shoot enough!  SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT—and don’t stop shooting until you have your ultimate image. Always carry a lot of memory cards so you don’t have to worry about how many images you can take. The beauty of nature is all around, and you don’t have to go far to photograph it. Photograph in your backyard, a park or on a trail; pay close attention to your ISO, shutter, and aperture and experiment, practice, and continue to learn. Try to be unique with your approach and creativity so your images stand out and command your viewer’s attention.

AC: Do you have any tips for shooting from a moving ship? How about from a Zodiac?Icy Arm Polar Bears _D4S2599

MV: With the continued improvement and development of today’s cameras, you can shoot at much higher ISO settings that any of us probably thought was possible. Since you are shooting on a moving ship or Zodiac—and perhaps with a longer lens—you need a faster shutter speed (at least 1/250 second). If you start with a higher ISO setting, it will give you the ability to shoot at a faster shutter speed. I would also recommend setting your camera to shutter priority so you can choose your shutter speed. Stay steady and be aware of your fellow passengers. When you see a polar bear, it is hard to contain your excitement!

AC: What’s your favourite memory of shooting with Adventure Canada? Do any wildlife encounters or expedition stops stand out?

MV: There are so many favourites or special memories—too many to name! Every trip I have taken with AC is outstanding and gifts me with amazing and precious moments.

Join Michelle in 2016 aboard our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, and the Heart of the Arctic Nikon expedition!

MYACWhat does Canadian adventure mean to you? Photographers who answer this question through the #MyAdventureCanada photo contest could win passage aboard Heart of the Arctic 2016 (where they can hone their skills in the field with Michelle), as well as gear from Nikon Canada!

All photos by Michelle Valberg

Welcome Back, Chief Mi’sel Joe!

Mi’sel Joe was born in Miawpukek in 1947 to a family with strong ties to the community. Both his grandfather and uncle have held the office of hereditary Saqamaw—a high ranking spiritual leader traditionally tasked with spiritual and cultural leadership. His great great uncle, Morris Lewis, was the first appointed Chief in Newfoundland by the Grand Chief in Mi’kmaq territory. Mi’sel was educated in the Mi’kmaq ways and traditions, and at sixteen was given the alternative to either leave the reservation to seek employment, or travel to a neighbouring community to attend secondary school. He chose the former.

During his years away from the community, Mi’sel travelled widely and cut his teeth on a wide variety of professions. He worked in farms and factories, in construction and on railroads. He drove trucks and operated heavy machinery. He worked on fishing boats and in mines underground, and acted as labour foreman. But years passed, and in 1973 he moved back to Miawpukek.

Since then, Mi’sel has been been involved in First Nations Politics, initially as a councillor. After the death of his uncle, Chief William Joe, in 1982, Mi’sel became Saqamaw and Newfoundland District Chief for the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. He is currently in his sixth consecutive two-year term as Administrative Chief for the nation, and is recognized prCHIEF MISEL JOEovincially, nationally, and internationally as a spiritual leader and healer, ambassador of his people. He has presented on native medicines and traditional healing practices at international medical conferences and hosted the 1996 International Healing Conference at Miawpukek. He is on the board of Parks Canada, a mentor of the Trudeau Foundation, a member of the First Nations Trust Fund, and sits on the Executive Council of the Atlantic Policy Congress. In 2004, Mi’sel was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador in recognition of his contribution to the economic, social, and political development of the Mi’kmaq people of the province.

Adventure Canada is delighted to be setting sail with Chief Mi’sel Joe yet again in 2016 aboard our Newfoundland Circumnavigation. This stunning itinerary takes in the sights and sounds of Newfoundland the way they were meant to be discovered—by sea! Chief Mi’sel Joe will be on hand as a member of our elite team of resource specialists, helping to share his wealth of knowledge and experience in—as well as his lifelong love for—the region. We are also thrilled to be stopping in Miawpukek (Conne River), where we look forward to meeting with the community and sharing stories.

Just one more way Adventure Canada is helping to spread culture, knowledge, and community.

Polar Bear Sightings: Some Guidelines

Polar bear sightings can be a highlight of our expeditions, and we do our best to visit areas where bears can safely be seen. We must, however, be aware that the polar bear is a predatory animal. We must also be mindful that the polar bear is vulnerable; as a responsible tour operator, we are committed to avoid disturbing all wildlife.Polar Bear, South Baffin

Select licensed and experienced members of our expedition team will be outfitted with firearms and other deterrents to ensure the safety of our group, as well as that of the bears. It is imperative to adhere to the instructions of the expedition team, and safe behaviour around polar bears is part of your responsibility as a visitor. The following are our guidelines to ensure safe and responsible interaction with the world’s largest land predator:

• We will never follow or approach a swimming polar bear, from any angle.
• We will position our Zodiacs so they may be operated in a safe and controlled manner.
• We will maintain a minimum distance of thirty metres between polar bears and our Zodiacs.
• We will always increase our distance from polar bears should they demonstrate any signs of distress.
• If you spot a polar bear, stay calm and immediately inform a member of the expedition team.
• Never approach a bear for any reason
• Never stray from your group.
• Never leave food or garbage anywhere.
• Always follow the direction of the expedition team.

Polar Bear at PlayThese guidelines will ensure that our encounters with the majestic polar bear will be moments to treasure forever. There is something unforgettable about seeing a polar bear striding across the Arctic landscape or dismembering a fresh kill along the shore of a rocky fjord. They are truly an embodiment of the spirit of the north–and, with our respect, will hopefully remain so for generations to come.

The Light Returns to Inuvik

There is a town far, far in the north by the name of Inuvik. It lies near the northwestern border of the Northwest Territories and, like many of the other communities north of the Arctic circle, its inhabitants eke out lives in conditions far harsher than those experienced by their southern countrymen and women. The community averages low winter temperatures of -30°C, though fierce winds have taken the mercury as low as -67°C. For the last thirty days or so, Inuvik has been shrouded in near total darkness as the earth’s axis leans it away from the sun.

But today, the light returns to Inuvik.

Today, and for the rest of this weekend, the town’s inhabitants take the the streets for their annual Sunrise Festival, celebrating the first sunrise in over a month. The event has brought people together since 1988 to celebrate the light, and there is an abundance of ways to do just that. Local food, dance, music, and winter activities like snow carving and snowmobiling take place across the town and a giant bonfire and fireworks display keep locals warm on Saturday night.

All of which we find truly inspiring. To us, Inuvik represents a true triumph of the human spirit; it represents all that we can do when we are pushed to our limits, together. The welcome return of a ray of light after a long, cold darkness shows us our capacity for resilience. In the cheerful, goodhearted revival of spirt and the rebirth of another year under the sun, Inuvik and its inhabitants remind us to be thankful for what we have. To be good to one another. To cherish the little things that make us whole and make us human.

The light at the end of the tunnel reminds us to look for the guiding flame even when things seem at their darkest. The dawn at the end of a long night reminds us that our time on this swiftly tilting planet is not destined for perfection–nor should it be. Instead, Inuvik turns its face into the sun today, nourished by its healing power, but, perhaps, all the more secure in the knowledge that in its absence they still endured. And flourished. As they always, year in and out, again and again.

It is a new year for all of us. But the light has returned to Inuvik; some would say that it never left.

Nunatsiavut celebrates ten years

Bustling Nain, Nunatsiavut

Imagine coming from a small community, in a mostly undeveloped district, of a remote region of an isolated province of a very big country. You wouldn’t feel far away, especially if your homeland was rich and beautiful, culturally vibrant and blessed with a unique history and heritage. But it might just take a while for the rest of the world to know your story.

That’s what life must be like for the inhabitants of Nunatsiavut—the self-governing territory of the Labrador Inuit. As Nunatsiavut celebrates its tenth anniversary, many Canadians remain completely unaware of the word, or the region it defines. This is a pity, because Nunatsiavut is both a proud Inuit homeland, and a unique Canadian story.

Traffic in the Torngat Mountains

Ten years ago, when the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement went into effect, binding the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Government of Canada, it culminated decades of work and struggle for recognition by the Inuit of Labrador, who have dwelled in Nunatsiavut (“Our beautiful land”) for centuries.

The agreement, among other things, establishes the Inuit right “to make their own laws relating to cultural affairs, education and health”. It covers 72,520 square kilometres of land, of which more than 15,000 are owned outright by the Inuit. The agreement also established Torngat Mountains National Park, one of the most beautiful natural wilderness areas in Canada, or anywhere.


At anchor off Torngat Mountain National Park

Adventure Canada has been a proud supporter of Nunatsiavut since before the Agreement was ratified. Our expedition cruises to the region are an important cultural and economic contribution to Nunatsiavut, and we proudly employ Inuit from the region as culturalists, bear guides and boat drivers. Visits to centres like Hopedale (the seat of government) and Nain (the administrative centre) and to important historic sites like Hebron and Ramah help create markets for local goods, and foster among our passengers a sense of the wonder and importance of Nunatsiavut.

Please join all of us at Adventure Canada in celebrating this important milestone. Nunatsiavut, you’ve only just begun!

Visit Nunatsiavut on Adventure Canada’s Greenland and Wild Labrador voyage, June 29-July 11, 2016. Book before December 18, 2015 and save up to 30% on available berths!

All photos by David Newland.

The Northwest Passage!

A legend made real: that’s how the Northwest Passage feels for those who have the rare privilege of travelling there. The mythical sea route between Europe and Asia holds a peculiar fascination. The many failed attempts to find, and later, to traverse the passage through the ice-choked waters of what is now the Canadian Arctic archipelago only increased its lure and its lustre, through the era of exploration to the present day.

The story most associated with the Northwest Passage, that of Sir John Franklin‘s lost expedition, deepened last summer with the discovery of the wreck of his flagship, the HMS Erebus, on the sea floor off King William Island, by the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition.

Yet the great irony of the Northwest Passage is that a route across the North American Arctic had long existed—in the form of the migration and hunting routes of the Inuit and their predecessors. The recent increase in loss of sea ice due to global warming makes all the more poignant the oft-overlooked fact that the Northwest Passage traverses the Inuit homeland.

And of course, even before the ancient human presence in the North, whales, seabirds and other migratory creatures delved the waters of the Passage, while seals, walrus and polar bears depended on its sea ice for food.

All of this is very much on the minds of travellers aboard our Northwest Passage excursions. There is the place, and then there is the sense of place—which is exceedingly difficult to express. This video, by film maker Jason Van Bruggen, with its impressionistic, highly cinematic approach, comes as close as anything we’ve seen to conveying the magic, and the mystery of the Northwest Passage.

Travel the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada:
Into the Northwest Passage, August 26-September 11, 2016.
Out of the Northwest Passage, September 11-26, 2016.

Bidding farewell to Bill Freedman

Dr_Bill_FreedmanIt’s a sad and reflective time for Adventure Canada: beloved AC staffer Dr. Bill Freedman has died of cancer at 65.

It’s difficult to imagine Bill as anything other than ALIVE. He practically defined that word, with his boundless enthusiasm, his unflagging cheer, and his remarkable passion for the preservation of the natural world.

Bill was a true original: fun, funny, and astonishingly well informed. An ecologist, researcher, and professor of biology, Bill was also an environmentalist whose efforts helped preserve vast swaths of land in a natural state. A brilliant communicator with an evident love for all living things, Bill combined scientific rigour with infectious humour and energy.

geniusBill had travelled with Adventure Canada in 2007, but I first encountered him in 2013 on a video conference about Adventure Canada’s planned trips to Sable Island. I could not help but smile from the moment I saw him on screen with his trademark walrus moustache. It was as though the animated Einstein character from Office 97 had come to life! And Bill’s detailed extemporaneous lecture on the ecology of Sable Island merely underscored the mad-scientist image—one he appeared to relish.

A few months later, I got to know Bill well: we were roommates on my first Adventure Canada trip, Into the Northwest Passage in 2013. Bill’s charm, his zeal for nature, his lengthy presentations chock-filled with facts, fun, and occasional eyebrow-raising humour endeared him to staff and passengers alike. But he was also a man of many small kindnesses: he would share his cookies with a staffer on the run; offer his elbow to an elderly passenger. He once threw me a pair of mittens when he knew I had to make a frigid Zodiac trip, stoically putting his own cold hands into his pockets.

When Adventure Canada launched our inaugural trips to Sable Island, Bill was there in all his glory, expounding the virtues of coprophilous fungi, which might otherwise have been outshone by the rare birds, seals, and horses that make the island oasis home. He travelled with AC again that year, up the coast of Labrador. Sadly, it would be his last trip with us.

Bill showed great courage and fortitude when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His Facebook posts cheerfully detailed his current condition and prognosis. We often speak of people ‘battling’ cancer; Bill, ever the scientist, expressed his situation instead as a series of carefully presented facts, and thoughtfully interpreted options. Occasionally, he’d lampoon his own progress reports—posting a picture with a watermelon over his face, or one of himself as a child with a wry update.

But perhaps the most touching of Bill’s posts was a recent one of his daughter Rachael, proudly pregnant. Bill’s joy was evident, as was his sense of the continuity and beauty of life itself.

Despite his great gifts and his impressive resume, what stood out most about Bill was his heart. Though his wife George-Anne did not accompany Bill on his Adventure Canada trips, she was ever-present in Bill’s constant fond references and anecdotes. His children, Jonathan and Rachael, were likewise a source of great joy and pride for Bill.

DrBillInTireBill was such an easy-going guy, and such a remarkable character, that his extraordinary achievements as a scientist and conservationist might easily go unmentioned. He certainly never tooted his own horn. Yet Bill authored more than 100 scientific papers, publications and textbooks. He had been the chair of Dalhousie University’s biology department and was a professor emeritus. For more than twenty-five years, Bill volunteered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, serving as a regional and national chair and literally writing the book on the history of the organization.

In honour of Bill’s work with the conservancy, which led to the preservation of vast areas of land, a 150-hectare site at Prospect High Head, Nova Scotia has been named the Bill Freedman Nature Preserve. In addition, the Dr. Bill Freedman Science in Conservation Internship has been established in his honour.

Adventure Canada will be making a donation to the NCC in remembrance of Bill. We wish all love, warmth and healing to George-Anne, Rachael, Jonathan and all of Bill’s extended family and friends. Bill showed us all how to live more deeply. He will be deeply missed.


Meet Matt Szczepanski

1Meet Matt Szczepanski, filmmaker. He’s fresh out of high school, and he’s taking a year off to “figure it all out,” before attending university. He’s planning a backpacking trip through Poland later this year. He’s a Students On Ice alumnus. And he’s headed back to the Arctic. Again.

Matt has seen more of Canada in his eighteen years than most people do in a lifetime. The Mississauga native has always had a penchant for film, but it was during a Students On Ice expedition aboard the Ocean Endeavour last summer that his ideas really began to coalesce.


“I started in elementary school,” Matt tells me over the phone as he gears up for this summer’s trip, Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage expedition. “I would always make films for school projects. Little random things, like a Shakespeare play, or a science project. They always seemed to end up as films.” Now, a decade later, Matt’s lens is honing in on work in the Arctic. “I’ve started doing my own projects for the sake of doing them,” he says, “I love the idea of adventure film. Documentary filmmaking. Right now, I want to stay behind the camera … but that’s because I don’t really have anyone to work with! I do it all. I film, I edit, I direct. And I like being in front of the camera, too.”

3The call of the Arctic is heard by many, and so it was with Matt and the friends he made aboard the Students On Ice expedition in 2014. In May, he and his friend Justin Fisch, a Montrealer, went to Naujaat (Repulse Bay), NU to meet up with Edmund Bruce, a third SOI alumnus, who lives there. Together, they planned to snowmobile into the recently established Ukkusiksalik National Park—in fact, they planned to be the first to visit. They planned to document the whole operation as an examination of how young people interact with these kinds of spaces. But alas—their film project documenting the adventure, Hello Ukkusiksalik, was put on hold due to inhospitable weather.

“Total white-out, seventy-kilometre-an-hour winds, constant snow,” Matt laughs. “We had it all. We waited out two weeks in Naujaat, but it wasn’t to be. We ran out of supplies and had to head home.”

I comment that this is exactly how expedition travel tends to happen, and we talk about deviation from the plan. Matt agrees: “Of course! And now the story isn’t about visiting the park so much as it’s about how we failed to visit the park. But the good news is we got more funding. And we’ll be heading back in April!”


Matt is excited to be back aboard the Ocean Endeavour and back travelling to new and exciting places in the Arctic. The jumpstart that Students On Ice provided has certainly done wonders for the young filmmaker, who will be using his time aboard the Adventure Canada voyage to hone his technique and build his portfolio. He’s looking forward to being back among the amazing people in the north: “Kids here always asked me, ‘are you a boy or a girl?’ — My long hair was very misleading for them!” He’ll be working alongside an elite team of resource staff, all experts in the area, all of whom—like him—have dedicated their lives to answering that strange call when it is heard.

And, like most who venture through the storied Northwest Passage, he’ll never be the same.


All images by Justin Fisch.

Presenting: Adventure Canada’s Scientist-in-Residence Program

We are proud to present an exciting new program debuting for the 2016 sailing season aboard the Ocean Endeavour. Read on to find out how we are helping spread love for and knowledge of the areas to which we travel through innovative intersections between research-based science and Arctic expedition cruising!


The Concept:

Adventure Canada is keenly interested in expanding world knowledge of the areas to which we travel. We believe that only though better knowledge and understanding, will we be able to protect these areas and inspire the general public to take an actionable interest.

To that end, starting with our 2016 expeditions, Adventure Canada will be providing one cabin—two berths—aboard each of our voyages, for the purpose of scientific study. The cruise itself, as well as any charter flights will be provided. Transport to and from the point of embarkation will be the responsibility of the applicants. We would like to offer the scientist-in-residence an opportunity to observe the environments and communities visited by the cruise and interact with individuals on the ship with and interest in the research area.

Please note that Adventure Canada is interested in all types of science—from social science experiments, to ethnobiology, climatology, geological, oceanography, and beyond.


The Process:

Adventure Canada will have a RFP process through which interested scientists can apply for the space available aboard our voyages.

Proposals must take into account our proposed itineraries and the constraints that come along with the need to move along a predetermined—but sometime changing —sailing schedule.


Proposals will be judged on the basis of:

  1. Passenger Participation — does the proposal involve our passengers?
  2. Community participation — does the proposal involve the stakeholders in the regions we visit?
  3. Perceived interest to the public at large.


Adventure Canada would also like to be able to promote the type of science and the specific projects that are taking place onboard the vessel though its website, social media, and any other outlets it deems appropriate.

We would also like to be notified on studies or reports published so that we can share the results with our passengers and constituents, to help promote the knowledge base we are helping to build.

Should there be insufficient interest, or should the applications not be deemed to have enough merit, the spaces will not be allocated, but Adventure Canada will endeavour to source as many proposals as possible.

A board comprised of Adventure Canada’s executives and the scientists they currently employ on board will judge proposals. They will meet twice yearly to evaluate proposals.


Guidelines for Applications

Proposals should be short and succinct: less than 1000 words, yet including enough information for Adventure Canada to make a decision with the information below. An existing research program or funding proposal with a cover letter briefly outlining the below is also acceptable.


  • Problem Statement — How their research would be supported by participation on an Adventure Canada trip. 
  • Research Project Participants
  • Anticipated Results and Benefits                               
  • Proposed Activities during trip
  • Equipment Needed                                                           
  • Timetable of Activities                                                
  • Proposed Passenger Participation (if relevant)
  • Proposed Community Consultation or Participation (if relevant)


Please send all inquiries and proposals to, to the attention of Clayton Anderson.

We’ll be kicking off the program through our partnership with Beakerhead, Canada’s premier science festival, taking place in Calgary from September 16–20, 2016. Co-founded by Adventure Canada friend Jay Ingram, Beakerhead is a hands-on, citywide celebration of science. As in-kind sponsors Adventure Canada will announce the Scientist-in-Residence program to a captive audience of Canada’a top scientists across all fields, encouraging those interested to apply to be a part.

“We have always been keenly interested in expanding world knowledge of the areas we travel,” says Cedar Swan, Adventure Canada CEO. “We believe that only through better knowledge and understanding will we be able to protect these areas and inspire the general public to take an actionable interest.”