Meet Milbry Polk

Our staff profile series continues with the founder of WINGS WorldQuest, preeminent worldwide organization of female explorers.Milbry Polk

Since her earliest years, Milbry Polk has held a passion for visiting new places and discovering new cultures. She grew up in Egypt, Virginia, and Massachusetts and studied anthropology at Harvard University—there, her passion only grew, and she went on to hone her exploratory talents roaming through north Africa, the Middle East, and Asia as a freelance photographer and writer. Having, in her words, “unusual and often challenging experiences as a woman,” abroad inspired her to co-found an organization dedicated to supporting women in exploration. This project went through several iterations, and is known today as WINGS WorldQuest.

From the organization’s website:

“WINGS WorldQuest’s mission is to celebrate and support extraordinary women explorers by promoting scientific exploration, education and conservation. Our work is focused in the following areas: recognition, grantmaking, outreach and community-building.

“Through Women of Discovery Awards and WINGS Fellows program, WINGS recognizes and supports the groundbreaking work of women scientists and explorers, whose discoveries advance scientific inquiry and lead to better understanding of our world.

“Outreach projects provide a platform for WINGS Fellows to share their work and inspire the next generation of intrepid explorers and global problem-solvers.”

Milbry has made waves as a pioneering ambassador for female explorers around the world. Over the course of her diverse and varied career, she has founded and directed programs for the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the American Indian; she was Vice-Chair of the Conference on Affordable World Security in 2012. An award-winning author, her writings include Women of Discovery with Mary Tiegreen (Library Journal award Best Books of 2001 and School Library Journal, Best Books of 2002) and Egyptian Mummies (Margaret A. Edwards Award Best Books of 1998). Her impressive list of accolades and honours include the Anne Morrow Lindbergh Award (2011); Alumnae of the Year, Madeira School (2011) and the Environmental Leadership Award, Unity College. She is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Fellow of the Explorers Club. She served on the Board of Governors of the National Arts Club, and on several advisory boards for organizations such as the New York School of Visual Arts Graduate Program in Communications, the Wilbur Mills Polar Prize, George Polk Journalism Awards Committee and Takster Foundation. She has lectured at more than 150 schools and universities, inspiring others with her tireless work ethic and lifelong dedication to the field of exploration.

This summer, Milbry will join Adventure Canada’s Newfoundland and Wild Labrador and Heart of the Arctic expeditions aboard the Ocean Endeavour.

 

Alex Trebek heads to the Arctic

Alex Trebek, widely known as the host of the hit TV series Jeopardy, has a keen interest in geography. Among his many accomplishments, Alex has hosted the National Geographic Bee for years. A winner of the prestigious RCGS Gold Medal for his contribution to geographic education and the popular study of geography, Trebek, who was born in Sudbury, Ontario, is also a noted philanthropist and conservationist.
We are delighted to welcome Alex Trebek aboard our Adventure Canada expedition, Arctic Explorer 2015, as a special guest of our partners at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Says Alex:“I’ve just finished reading John Geiger and Owen Beattie’s book on the Franklin expedition, “Frozen in Time“, and I’m looking forward to retracing some of their steps this summer.  I’m also looking for additional ammunition that I will use to confront global warming doubters”
Welcome aboard, Alex Trebek!

Carol Heppenstall says goodbye

Carol Heppenstall Adventure Canada

 

There are some things in life that are harder to accomplish than others. For me, telling Adventure Canada that I was retiring was one of those.

I have just passed my seventy-first Birthday and after twenty-two wonderful years of adventure, it’s time to pass the baton (or Wellies) to the next generation of art and culture lovers.

I joined the company because I wanted to share the arts of our Inuit and First Nations people. As an art historian, I believe the best way to understand a culture is through its artistic expression. When I joined Adventure Canada, we had three staff, most brochures were xeroxed, and we designed and went on all the trips. I can’t describe how exciting it was and what a privilege it has been. The Swans are like family—I’ve watched Cedar, Alana, and Matthew James grow up and seen their addiction to travel develop alongside their keen sense of humanity. Of course, they come by it naturally with June as their incredibly talented mother, Matthew, their wise (and most often, goofy) father, and a host of relatives who were always on hand with advice and support.

The resource staff that I was privileged to work with were extraordinary in every way. Names like Beedell, Catt, Houston, Peters, Reid, McGoogan, St.-Onge, Thomson,
and Tamblyn are award-winning Canadians—but I am pleased to call them my friends. Our special guests over the years exposed us all to a world of wonder, often sitting next to us in a Zodiac! Names like Davidson, Suzuki, Bateman, Piqtoukun, Ashevak, McCarthy, Lopez, Hallenday and Atwood come to mind, but there were so many others.

Perhaps the greatest rewards were travelling with friends and clients and sharing the landscapes of those “empty” places, as Matt likes to call them. As we soon discovered, they were, in fact, filled with the most generous and resourceful people we are likely to encounter. What memories! What photographs!

Back in Mississauga is a core of committed people who have made my life of adventure so easy. Laura Jane, and later Loretta, Sheryl, and Clayton have been with me a long time—but Judy was my go-to gal who held all of my endeavours together. Without her, my dreams would never have fit the schedule or happened on time. Thanks to all of you for your loyalty and good humour.

I have retired to Santa Fe, got a dog and and named him Bodhi, and yoga classes are my adventures these days. Life is rich and fulfilling; I see my children often, and get to my cottage on Lake Winnipeg every spring. Travel is not a priority these days, but don’t be surprised to see me now and again. I long for the exquisite opportunities of travel … and Adventure Canada does it best.

Yours in adventure,

Carol.

Meet Jean-Claude Roy

Our staff profile series continues with a Canadian landscape painter.

 

Jean Claude RoyJean-Claude Roy was born in Rocheford-sur-Mer, France, in 1948. His grandfather, a farmer, encouraged his grandson’s artistic interests and Jean-Claude says he knew he would be an artist “from the age of seven”. At sixteen, he attended merchant marine training, and took his first job on a cable-repair boat as an apprentice electrician. Thus began his years at sea.

By 1971, he had emigrated to Newfoundland and for the next decade divided his time between marine electrical work and artistic pursuits. Though he attended a few classes here and there, he is largely self-taught, and the time spent in port at St. John’s turned his focus to landscape painting. He describes his style as “expressionist-colourist,” preferring to work in oils with a palette knife. Jean-Claude’s work is vibrant, emotive, and bold—all while evoking the subtleties and charms of his east coast subjects. He paints nearly every day, and more often than not paints on-site; his work thus reflects seasons, weather, stories told by passers-by … the mood of the place. One hallmark style of his is representing the sun in his compositions as a splash of light and colour that transforms the subjects below.

In 2011, Jean-Claude’s vast portfolio of Newfoundland art was published as Fluctuat Nec Mergitur (“Tossed, but not sunk”). This collection represented a culmination of forty years of work and contained a painting of every community on the island of Newfoundland over almost four hundred and fifty pages. He is currently working on a companion volume, scheduled for publication in the fall of 2016.

This summer, Jean-Claude will join Adventure Canada’s Newfoundland CircumnavigationJune 24–July 4 2015, aboard the Ocean Endeavour.

C.W. Nicol: The Raven’s Tale

CWNicolC.W. Nicol is one of those writers whose own life is a dramatic story in itself. Born in Wales, he now makes his home on a nature preserve in Japan, having made stops along the way as a game warden in Ethiopia, a bird researcher in the Canadian Arctic, and as a writer aboard a whaling ship.

Today Nicol is a well-known nature author and advocate in Japan, but his work ought to be required reading for Canadians interested in the North.

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The Raven’s Tale (Harbour Books, 1994) is a perfect example. As Robert Bateman notes of this wondrous work whose characters are Arctic animals:

The artist in me revelled in the colours, forms and moods of the Arctic landscape. The naturalist in me nodded in recognition at the detail of appearance and behaviour of all the creatures. C.W. Nicol carries us through a world of drama and vitality in a way that captures both the surface and the soul.

It is the expression of surface and soul that makes The Raven’s Tale so compelling. Like myths of old (and kids’ books of late), The Raven’s Tale gives voice to the creatures of the Arctic landscape.

The story is one of an unlikely friendship, between a three-legged fox and a lone wolf. Beginning with the eponymous raven, the animals of the Arctic—fox, wolf, owl, hare, lemming, caribou, seal, orca, polar bear—each tell a part of the pair’s great journey over land and ice from their own unique points of view. Thus The Raven’s Tale, unfolding through the eyes of the denizens of the North, reveals the intricate web of relationships that binds all creatures to one another, as to the land and sea and sky.

Simply phrased and lightly told, with great care for the unique voices of each creature, The Raven’s Tale would make wonderful reading for children. Yet the story, like the Arctic landscape itself, is much deeper than what is easily seen on the surface.

Ultimately, what The Raven’s Tale expresses is a cosmology of kinship that is the abiding spirit of the Arctic.

Travel with C.W. Nicol aboard our Heart of the Arctic expedition, July 17 – 29th, 2015.

 

The Floating Book Club

author-coversAcclaimed publisher, editor, and storyteller Doug Gibson—whose authors have won every major book award in Canada—will lead our first-ever onboard Book Club, featuring bestselling authors Terry Fallis and Kathleen Winter.

Kathleen Winter will guide readers through her groundbreaking novel, Annabel. Set in coastal Labrador, Annabel was a #1 Canadian bestseller, and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Terry Fallis will present the first of his four national bestselling books. His hilarious debut novel, The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads competition. A CBC TV miniseries based on the book aired in January 2014.

In addition to his literary leadership, Doug Gibson will perform an exclusive showing of his one-man play, Stories About Storytellers, and offer his unique editor’s insights into the work of Alice Munro.

Join the Floating Book Club on our Newfoundland and Wild Labrador voyage, July 5-17, 2015.

Meet Richard Sears

Our staff profile series continues with a world-renowned authority on the planet’s largest animal.

Richard SearsRichard was born in Paris to a French mother and an American father. At eighteen, he took part in a oceanographic training expedition aboard a schooler between Puerto Rico and Boston. It was on this trip that he encountered whales for the first time; the rest, as they say, is history.

He completed his studies in marine biology in 1976 and went on to work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution at the Matamek research station in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Later, he would become the onboard naturalist for whale-watching vessels in Massachusetts and work alongside, in his words, the “pioneers of whale research”—his greatest sources of inspiration. Formidable intellects, scientists and researchers with names like Sergeant, Katona, Schevill, Watkins, and Payne, helped Richard realize that the best way to know whales is to spend as much time with them as possible. As much time at sea as possible.

With this philosophy in mind, Richard was motivated to return to Matamek and Mingan; in 1979, he did just that, and established the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS). MICS is a non-profit research organization dedicated to the ecological study of marine mammals and ecosystems—the first organization to conduct long-term research in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the first organization to carry out long-term studies of the endangered blue whale. In addition to its extensive research mandate, MICS invites public participation and encourages interested parties to join the team and learn field techniques and contribute to research. This approach, called ‘research tourism’, affords participants the opportunity to work closely with teams of experienced field biologists and help understand these magnificent creatures and their environments.

Richard will be joining the Adventure Canada team in 2015, bringing his considerable expertise and unique research perspectives to bear on our Mighty Saint Lawrence expedition—our first adventure of the season. Richard will be sharing his passion for the study of marine mammals aboard the Ocean Endeavour with a number of exciting talks and seminars, as well as helping us keep watch for the giants of the deep on deck and out in our fleet of trusty Zodiacs. We are thrilled to have him aboard and look forward to seeing one of the world’s foremost marine biologists in action!

You can join Richard and the MICS team for an exciting event in just two weeks time, in Montreal. The first annual MICS fundraiser, La grande bleu, will be kicking off with an exciting roster of speakers at the Montreal Biodome. Participants will be able to learn about the exciting work done by the Study, enjoy musical presentations, and spend the evening with marine mammal experts with experience from the St. Lawrence to the Arctic and Antarcitc—as well as Iceland, western Greenland, the Azores, Norway, and French Polynesia. Highlights include a silent auction and a storytelling session, and all proceeds will directly support MICS and its field station as well as education programs. More information is available at the MICS website.

Please join us in welcoming Richard to the Adventure Canada team for what is sure to be an exciting and enthralling expedition!

Meet Chief Mi’sel Joe

CHIEF MISEL JOEMi’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 provincially, 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 proud to be setting sail in 2015 with Chief Mi’sel Joe on our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador expedition. This stunning itinerary departs from Saint-Pierre, France, and travels up the west coast of Newfoundland before crossing into the wilds of Labrador. As we move north, 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) on our 2015 Newfoundland Circumnavigation expedition, 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.

Chief Mi’sel Joe will be delivering the 2015 Whipper Lecture on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, at the Canadian Canoe Museum (in partnership with Adventure Canada) in Peterborough, ON. Join us for an evening that promises to be enlightening and entertaining—free to all museum members, and $10 for non-members. The lecture includes a free guided tour, starting at 5:30PM. RSVP to 705-748-9153 or info@canoemuseum.ca for more information.

For more information about our Newfoundland & Wild Labrador itinerary, click here!

Remembering John Beedell

John Beedell

John Beedell, 1933 – 2014

The Adventure Canada community has lost a dear friend. The late John Beedell was a longtime traveller with Adventure Canada and the father of photographer Mike Beedell, A.C’s longest serving guide & resource person.

John Beedell & Joe Derochie

John Beedell & Joe Derochie

John had a storied life. He competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics for Canada as a sprint paddler and directed the Ontario Leadership Centre at Bark Lake for many years.

A passionate science teacher and outdoor educator, John taught at Ottawa’s Ashbury College from 1968 – 1988.

A tragic accident while he was building a home in 1988 ended his formal teaching career but John handled his disabilities with amazing tenacity and stoicism. He became an outstanding volunteer and patron of the arts, giving his time generously to many worthy causes.

John was fascinated by different cultures and he was an avid naturalist. He had a reverence and sense of wonder for all aspects of the natural world… from a tiny tundra wildflower or a sculpted glacial boulder to a breaching humpback whale.

His journeys took him to the Northwest Passage, Greenland, Spitsbergen, Russia, Mongolia, The Labrador Coast, Nahanni National Park, Haida Gwaii, the Scottish Isles, Antarctica, North Africa, Timbuktu & Guyana to name a few.

He is survived by Ann Beedell and their sons, Michael, Jeff and David and his five grandchildren.

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John received fitting tributes from Maclean’s, as well as articles on CBC.ca, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Ottawa Sun.

Mike’s brother Jeff remembers their father this way:

Allow me to close with one of my own memories – really a picture in words about my Dad’s return to sailing this past summer after 25 years away from the sport. One of our sons, Leslie is a sailing instructor and last summer helped with a sailing program for persons with disabilities at the Pointe Claire Sailing Club. Leslie thought that his Grandpa might be interested in trying this out through a similar program at the Nepean Sailing Club called ABLE Sail. We contacted the program and Caroline the head instructor asked about my Dad’s age, the nature of his disabilities, and said she would have to assess his abilities first to see what level of instruction course he would require before being permitted to take the boats out with just a volunteer companion.

Out we went to the Club on a Sunday afternoon in August – Caroline showed Dad the boats – they use a special Martin 16 sloop with a weighted centreboard, 2 low seats facing forward one behind the other like in the old bi-planes, the main and jib sheets all run to the hips of the skipper in the front seat with a vertical stick tiller for steering. There is a manual hoist on the dock to lift a disabled sailor in and out of the boat.

The short story that day was that my Dad said “well, let’s give it a go”, he waived off using the hoist, managed to roll down on to the dock, and slide himself into the front seat, Caroline taking the back seat, off they went onto the Ottawa River where it widens as Lac Deschenes, and by the time they came back 30 minutes later Caroline certified my Dad fit to sail anytime he wished with a volunteer companion, no sailing instruction course required. And so he did thru August and September.

But the picture I want to leave you with is this – not a photograph, just a memory – of my Dad, John Beedell underway in his Martin 16, low in the skipper seat with just his head and shoulders visible above the deck, the front brim of his Tilley hat cocked up like an old sea dog, a fresh warm breeze, sails trimmed, waves lapping at the bow, a big smile on his face ….. the master of his ship…

Our hearts go out to Mike and his family. John will be very much missed.

What NOT to do around icebergs

Adrenaline junkies are paradoxical people: they tend to evoke equal parts admiration, and dismay.

On the one hand, people who laugh in the face of danger help us expand the boundaries of human endeavour. On the other, their habit of doing potentially deadly things on purpose displays one of humanity’s most perplexing traits.

Watching Aweberg (now streaming at SnagFilms) highlights both aspects of the difficult balance. A self-portrait of a couple of ice-climbers determined to climb icebergs, the film reveals a little of what drives courageous athletes (literally) to new heights.

Despite serious warnings from a series of experts, lead climber Will Gadd is determined to scale a berg, for the thrill and the challenge of the climb. And while the resulting attempts make for fascinating, nerve-wracking viewing, (the film won the Special Jury Award at the Banff Film Festival) they also amount to a virtual list of what NOT to do around an iceberg.

Icebergs are nature's own abstract sculptures.

Icebergs are nature’s own abstract sculptures.

Adventure Canada expeditions frequently encounter icebergs on our east coast and Arctic excursions.

When we visit Greenland, as we do several times per summer, we see bergs in numbers and sizes that put the imposing, but relatively small bergs in this film to shame.

In Ilulissat, Karrat Fjord, Uummannaq, and other locations along the Greenland coast, the icebergs loom like small mountains. The cracking, tipping, splashing and crashing of these glacial remnants is one of nature’s most thrilling scenes.

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

The beauty of icebergs is awe-inspiring, as the title of the film suggests. But true awe includes a healthy dose of respect. We view icebergs from a distance (equal to no less than two to three times their height), knowing that they can flip at any moment, creating a deadly wave in the process. We never touch them, let alone land on them. To try to climb something that is by nature in the process of breaking up is to enter the realm of insanity.

As a Zodiac driver, I’ve seen the waves generated by icebergs breaking up wreak serious havoc more than a kilometre away. And that’s about how far I’d want to distance myself from the antics of these brave (but foolhardy) ice-climbers. To their credit, these guys quit when they realized all their instincts, all their training, and all the warnings were on the money.

As Will Gadd and partner, Ben Firth, and their crew learn in the course of Aweberg, the expert advice they got at the beginning is dead right: icebergs are NOT for climbing. Watch this film for its scenery, for its glimpses of life in Makkovik, Labrador (and an appearance by Expedition Team member Jason Edmunds’s dad, Randy).

But especially, watch Aweberg for a perfect primer on what NOT to do around icebergs.

View icebergs safely on our expeditions to the east coast, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic in 2015. Choose your trip here!

Sailing with a Sushi Chef

At the heart of Adventure Canada is our staff. We would be nothing without them, these bold explorers and learned documenters of our natural world. They enliven our voyages beyond compare, bringing with them unparalleled good humour and expertise. Time and time again we are astonished and heartened by the caliber of expert resource leaders who fill our ranks. So, in the run-up to our exciting 2015 sailing season, we will be helping you get to know some of them a little better, here on the blog.

Tojo


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For those Vancouverites among us, the name “Tojo’s” scarcely needs an introduction. Hidekazu Tojo, or Tojo-san, reigns supreme over Vancouver’s most beloved sushi institution. Born in Kagoshima, Japan, Tojo-san apprenticed at the Ohnoya restaurant where he would master over two thousand traditional Japanese recipes as he worked sixteen-hour days. Driven by a passion for inventiveness, Tojo-san left his home country in 1971 and moved to Vancouver, where he sought an audience for his groundbreaking fare.

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In the 1970s, Vancouver only had four Japanese restaurants. At one of them, Tojo-san began to craft a menu that harmonized Japanese and North American tastes. One of his innovations became world famous: for those who felt uneasy eating seaweed, he created an ‘inside-out’ roll of crabmeat and avocado—the California Roll. Today you would be hard-pressed to find a Japanese restaurant that doesn’t serve a variant. Fresh local ingredients unknown back in Japan began to hold places of honour in his cuisine.

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In 1988, Tojo-san opened Tojo’s Restaurant on West Broadway, and the rest is history. Vancouver regulars rub shoulders with celebrity guests and Japanese visitors, all of whom gather together to share in his visionary take on traditional Japanese cuisine; one foot in the past and the other stepping boldly forward. He has garnered accolades too numerous to name, and has begun to train a new generation of chefs to follow in his footsteps. The Wall Street Journal selected Tojo-san as one of the top ten sushi chefs in the world, and he is the recipient the Vancouver Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award and a member of the BC Restaurants Hall of Fame. The tightly-knit family that runs Tojo’s constantly produces new and exciting menus for their guests, a practice born out the firm believe that taste is not static and truly wonderful food is born out of a caring and reciprocal relationship between the master and the people he serves.

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Adventure Canada is, therefore, thrilled to announce that we will be partnering with Tojo-san in 2015. Aboard our Heart of the Arctic expedition, Tojo-san will delight travellers with his culinary expertise, leading a series of workshops on and discussions of his art. But perhaps most exciting is his plan to design a unique culinary creation based on ingredients and customs of the local Inuit population. We cannot wait to set sail with such a luminary member of Canada’s culinary elite: just one more way Adventure Canada is helping to spread culture, knowledge, and community.

 

Join Tojo-san on Adventure Canada’s voyage Heart of the Arctic, July 17–July 29, 2015.

 

All images courtesy of Leila Kwok.

James Raffan: Circling the Midnight Sun

CirclingTheMidnightSunAuthor, paddler, and inveterate traveller James Raffan sets himself a daunting task in his latest book: to make his way around the Arctic Circle, by country, culture, and community. In a time when climate change threatens ways of life that have endured for generations, Raffan hopes his journey may highlight some of the ways northern peoples have been most affected by the changes wrought during the past century or so.

That makes it all sound simple. In fact, it’s anything but. What “Circling the Midnight Sun: Culture and Change in the Invisible Arctic” reveals first is that a journey along the Arctic Circle, like the issues it explores, is complex, difficult, and often disheartening—though potentially rewarding. Raffan’s circumnavigation of the planet at 66.6 degrees North, which takes place piecemeal over the course of three years, spans the Arctic territories of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. He travels by virtually every imaginable means, from sled and snowmobile to Adventure Canada’s own former expedition cruise vessel, the Sea Adventurer.

As Raffan makes his way along the ice roads and airways and (emerging) shipping lanes of the Arctic in a journey totalling more than 17,000 kilometres, a pattern begins to emerge: having cleared snarls of red tape and managed to put a first foot forward in the direction of his next (often terribly remote) destination, Raffan, white-knuckled, wide-eyed and keen, winds up in the car, tent, boat, shack, or sled of one generous host or fixer after another, whose insights he carefully and gratefully chronicles.

To Raffan’s own surprise, a similar story seems to arise in every place: for the indigenous peoples who live along the Arctic Circle, from the Sami to the Gwiich’in to the Inuit, climate change is far less a concern than the sweeping cultural changes that have preceded it. Everywhere he goes, the author finds savvy people whose most fervent wish is not to reverse global warming, nor to return to some ancient way of life. Rather, it is to “control their fate”—a key phrase. From Alaska to Siberia, this is the shared goal of the people of the north.

Amid the evocative-sounding names of people, places, languages and nations that make up his travelogue, Raffan introduces a bewildering array of advocacy groups, umbrella organizations, NGOs, territorial and tribal governments. Many (though certainly not all) of these are devoted to ensuring indigenous and northern voices are head amid the din of global politics and the rush to access Arctic resources. This is good news, in a way. Yet the mere necessity of their existence points to the scope of the changes facing people who until recently have been entirely dependent on the land and sea for their sustenance.

And so we meet a shaman with a cell phone, and a reindeer herder who sells Amway. We learn how control of resources may give Inuit Greenlanders a fighting chance at autonomy while the indigenous peoples of Siberia struggle to adapt to the collapse of communism, and Nunavut’s children face a future utterly unlike the one their southern compatriots may enjoy. We learn that while the Arctic comprises a mere six percent of the Earth’s surface, for the millions of people who live there, it is home. That home is changing—it has always been changing. Arctic people, we learn, are everywhere proud adapters. But the key to adaptation is a healthy, thriving, resilient culture: the very thing that is most at risk as climate change, resource extraction, new shipping lanes, communications technology and globalization leave the Arctic directly in the path of ‘progress’.

Raffan

The story of any journey is ultimately the story of change. For James Raffan, the change is a personal one: he quickly comes to understand that the imaginary line he follows is just that; roads and rivers, whales and caribou know nothing of lines of latitude. That’s part of what makes his journey interesting. More slowly, Raffan comes to a deeper understanding, personified by the ravens that appear wherever he goes. Symbolizing thought and memory in ancient Norse myth, they reveal to the author, and ultimately to the reader what is truly at stake in the Arctic. We have seen Thought wander, and the results are distressing. But what if we were to lose Memory? The results would be catastrophic. Memory is language. Language is culture. Culture is people. The people of the Arctic represent a critical element of the Earth’s own memory.

The lesson is there for the learning, and to learn it, we, like James Raffan, need to come full circle in the north.

Join James Raffan on Adventure Canada’s voyage Out of the Northwest Passage, September 5-21, 2015.
 

Kathleen Winter: ‘Boundless’

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
Kathleen Winter, August 2014

Boundless_Kathleen_WinterIn 2010, on a last-minute invitation from Noah Richler, best-selling author Kathleen Winter joined an Adventure Canada trip through the Northwest Passage. Winter and her cohort left the coast of Greenland bound for Kugluktuk, Nunavut by way of Ilulissat, Karat Fjord, Baffin Bay, Dundas Harbour, Pond Inlet, Beechey Island, and an infamous uncharted rock off King William Island…

Four years later, Winter’s memoir of that journey, Boundless, appeared in bookstores across the country, garnering excellent reviews. The Globe and Mail praised its “inexorable narrative drive and its keen attention to humanity“, while the Toronto Star noted Winter’s “graceful, poetic, shimmering prose“.

Naturally, I was curious. But having twice travelled a similar route with Adventure Canada as a Zodiac driver and host, I took my time before diving into Boundless. Would my own memories be compromised by reading someone else’s thoughts about places I’ve been to, and people I know?

To my relief, Boundless isn’t the sort of travel memoir that rehashes experiences, day by day and note for note. Winter’s writerly transit of the fabled Northwest Passage (a term she thoughtfully deconstructs) is hers alone. The roles of the various staff, the unique and sometimes frenetic shipboard experience, and all the daily work that goes into making the experience memorable for the passengers really fade into the background in this tale.

Adventure Canada promotes the thrill of Zodiac excursions, the emotion of cultural exchanges, the magnificence of the surroundings. But Winter’s is a journey of the mind, through memories and ideas and the notions we are made of. Taking a cue from the late folk singer Stan Rogers in his anthem Northwest Passage, Winter boldly traces ‘one warm line’ of her own.

Speaking of Rogers: from among over a hundred possibilities among the passengers, staff, and crew, Winter chooses but a few characters on whom to focus. Nathan Rogers, the folk icon’s son, aboard as the trip’s musician, becomes a confidant; we learn that he is tracing his own warm line where his father never went. Geologist Marc St. Onge baffles and beguiles with his enthusiasm for this rocky realm where cataclysm is laid bare. Sheena McGoogan’s watercolour workshops help Winter express what she cannot say. Inuit culturalists Berndadette Dean and Aaju Peter are by turns thoughtful, troubled, resolute, and wise, colouring Winter’s received Anglo-Canadian mythology of the North with insights into Nunavut—Our Beautiful Land.

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

This very real and contemporary place is more complex and ancient than any myth, as Winter and a few quirky passengers with whom she feels a quiet kinship learn along the way.

Stuffing tufts of musk oxen fur into her journal, donning a woollen beard, sketching an exquisite suit of ladies’ long underwear, Winter colours outside the lines of the classic maps of Meta Incognita.

Dancing on the ceiling of the captain’s quarters, sometimes silly and sometimes serious, Winter subverts the monolithic myth of Exploring the Great White North as she discovers that this journey, like all great journeys, really happens within.

One of the things I love about Boundless is that for Winter, the sublime and the mundane intermingle freely. Surrounded by the splendour of the Arctic, which defies description, she is led instead to remember and to muse over her own earthly passage. As she does, she dissolves the dotted lines across the maps we’ve worshipped, and instead brings the reader into reflection on the things that really matter: what we believe, how we live, whom we love, why we’re here. Boundless, indeed, is the territory of the heart.

Boundless was long-listed for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Winter’s previous book, Annabel, won the Thomas Head Raddall Award and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Awards in 2010. Annabel was also shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a Canada Reads selection in 2014.

Join Kathleen Winter on Adventure Canada’s voyage to Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, July 5-17, 2015.

A Family Affair

Adventure Canada mainstay and musical legend Daniel Payne has collaborated with his sister Stephanie on a new release, Winterside. It’s available now from Daniel’s website—check out the sounds of the east coast brought to you by one of our favourties!

Daniel is a regular member of our expedition team and we always relish having him aboard. His extraordinary talent and his can-do attitude make Daniel a shining example of what we pride ourself in: staff that go above and beyond in all that they do, at sea and at home.

Congratulations, Daniel!

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The Colour of Memory

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We were blessed this week at Adventure Canada HQ to receive an email from Gilles Matte, a passenger on our recent Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition. Mr. Matte lives in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, outside Quebec city, where he works as an architect. In addition to his trade, however, he is a singularly talented illustrator and watercolourist—he has worked to produce handsome tomes documenting old Quebec, the oldest roadway in Canada, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He is no stranger to capturing scenes of grandeur and contemplation, and we are proud to call him our friend.

With Mr. Matte’s generous permission, we are proud to present a selection of sketches and impressions from Greenland, Labrador, and Newfoundland.

Gilles, thank you for sharing your gift with us.

—Your friends at Adventure Canada

The Grand Seduction wins again

BarbaraDoranVeteran Newfoundland film director and producer Barbara Doran is beaming today, after Don McKellar took Best Direction in a Feature Film from the Director’s Guild of Canada forThe Grand Seduction‘.

The film, produced by Barbara Doran had already won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Actor (Gordon Pinsent) and the David Renton Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Mark Critch.)

We’re thrilled for Barbara, whose body of work includes the Newfoundland epic Random Passage, which many of our passengers have appreciated aboard Adventure Canada sailings.

Barbara will be aboard with us once again in the summer of 2015 on our Newfoundland Circumnavigation itinerary. Please join us in sending Barbara our heartiest congratulations!

My First Adventure

I grew up canoeing in Algonquin Park. I’m used to sleeping under the stars and battling hordes of insects; I’m no stranger to the raw power of a thunderstorm or the perfect moments of stillness at the day’s end. I have shot rapids and portaged thousands of kilometres with a boat on my head and a song on my lips; I have fished for my supper and stared down moose in the deepest of swamps.

But nothing prepared me for Greenland and Labrador.

Evighedsfjord

Nothing prepared me for the Greenlandic fjords, their grey-blue waters and ice-capped, soaring peaks that slipped in and out of low wisps of cloud. Nothing prepared me for the playful seal that dogged our progress, nor the profound calm as winter approached the continent.

Davis Strait

Nothing prepared me for crossing the Davis Strait in storm-tossed seas; desperately clinging to my bunk (and my sanity) and waiting for my Scopolomine patches to kick in. And then, once they did: screaming into the wind from the observation deck, laughing as the bow of the Sea Adventurer smashed through the waves, hurling spray hundreds of feet into the air. The sound was like a thunderclap.

Torngat

Nothing prepared me for the glasslike waters and towering summits of the Torngat Mountains, the panoply of colour and might that lay quiet and daunting on the Labrador coast. The sunshine that day was like something out of a fairy tale. Nothing prepared me for our brush with the polar bear that morning, watching agape as he tore great hunks of flesh from a seal carcass.

Torngat 2

Nothing prepared me for driving a Zodiac in gale-force winds during our arrival at Hebron, the abandoned Moravian mission. The waves crashed over me in salty tumult, my hands numb inside the bricklayer’s gloves I’d borrowed off a friend. But we made it. I made it.

Nothing prepared me for the thrill of diving into the 3°C waters off Labrador’s coast, waters deemed too warm by our Expedition Leader, who compensated for this setback by tossing a few trays of ice cubes into the drink.

Polar swim

Kiddos, Nain

Nothing prepared me for the smiling faces of the children in Nain, the celebration at the school as we descended on the community en masse and equipped them with the gear for two complete hockey teams. They followed us back down to the docks, laughing and singing. Some of them hopped in our Zodiacs and rode around the harbour, hooting and hollering.

Nothing prepared me for the soft grass and undulating dunes of Byron Bay, or the majestic shoreline of Castle Island, or the perfect moments on deck when the sunrise would play against the ship just so. Nothing prepared me for the northern lights that pulled us from our bunks late one night, to shiver in raincoats and pyjamas and look up in wonder.

Henley Harbour

Byron BayDawn

Nothing prepared me for the warm welcome at Conche, the steam rising from our soaked overclothes as we inhaled plates of the freshest cod in Canada. As we ate elbow-to-elbow at tables of grinning Newfoundlanders beneath garlands of crepe paper, the guitar picked up, and then the accordion, and then someone started to dance. Black clouds and wind muttered and grumbled outside.

Fogo bell

Nothing prepared me for the unsurpassed hospitality of the town of Fogo, where I played a hundred-and-fifty-year-old pump organ, climbed into the belfry of a church, shouted from one of the corners of the flat earth, and ran along a coastline wild and heedless of man and all the more perfect for it.

Nothing prepared me for the stillness that would take hold of our hearts on the last morning as the Sea Adventurer made her way up the narrows and into St. John’s harbour, nor the song that would waft across the breeze.

St. John's

Nothing prepared me for the hundred-odd strangers who had come together in two short weeks to share in something marvellous, something inexplicable, something powerful.

I have been searching for a long time for a way to bring together my love for the wilderness with my love of the written word, and with Adventure Canada I have done just that. I would like to thank everyone aboard Greenland & Wild Labrador 2014 for making me feel welcome, for trusting in the new guy (my Zodiac was always the cool Zodiac, thank you), for experiencing this sublime corner of the world with me. There is no shortage of wonder to be sought, and the adventure is just beginning.

Saglek

—Mike Strizic

Conche selfie

Treasures abound at Inuit Art Auction

Kenojuak Ashevak - Hare Spirits

Kenojuak Ashevak – Hare Spirits

Join Adventure Canada for refreshments and viewing of this 2014 Waddington’s Inuit Art Auction! Culturalists Heidi Langille and Lynda Brown will be on hand to present throat-singing, along with members of the AC staff and expedition team.

Hop to see you on Sunday November 16 at 3:00 pm at Waddington’s location in Toronto, 275 King Street East, Second Floor. Read on to learn about the art on view.

This season, Waddington’s is offering over 300 works of classic Inuit Art featuring sculpture, graphics and textiles from important artists such as Osuitok Ipeelee, Kenojuak Ashevak, Pauta Saila, Karoo Ashevak, Jessie Oonark, George Tataniq, Judas Ullulaq and many more.

There is a wonderful selection of anonymous works from the earliest period of commercial Inuit art, and a marvelous group of drawings from 1959-62 consigned by the original collector who worked in Kingnait (Cape Dorset).

Elizabeth Nutaraluk -  Woman with braided hair

Elizabeth Nutaraluk – Woman with braided hair

You will discover pieces carved in the distinctive style of the Kivalliq region, such as Elizabeth Nutaraluk’s depiction of a woman with braids.  There is a significant grouping of pieces – perfect for your mantel or curio cabinet – presented in Waddington’s Small Wonders section of the catalogue.

Karoo Ashevak - Bird guarding next of eggs

Karoo Ashevak – Bird guarding nest of eggs

Works in this auction include some sure to be sought after gems like a subtly carved owl by Tudlik, and a laden hunter by Ennutsiak.  Also of note: an extraordinary piece by Davidialuk illustrating the invasion of a threatening spirit; one of the largest sculptures of a solitary man by John Kavik that has yet come to auction; and some graceful and stunning birds by Lukta Qiatsuq.

Osuitok Ipelee - Polar bear with cub and seal

Osuitok Ipelee – Polar bear with cub and seal

In short – there is something for every collector.

Exhibition/Preview:

November 15-17, 2014

Saturday the 15th & Sunday the16th from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

Monday the 17th from 10:00 am to Noon

See you at Waddington’s!

 

Michael Crummey’s changing Newfoundland

MichaelCrummeyNoted author (and frequent AC staffer) Michael Crummey is a thoughtful, empathetic chronicler of the changing culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Like many passengers aboard our East Coast trips, Michael has been fascinated by the village of Francois (pronounced Fransway) on Newfoundland’s south coast, as well as other remote communities we visit.

Francois—whose population nearly triples when our ship pays a call— is one of a dwindling number of outports across the province.

Sweetland

Michael’s new book, Sweetland, is set in a fictional outport on the verge of resettlement.

Michael recently penned an article for the Globe and Mail, What it means to be a Newfoundlander is rapidly changing.

And in recent appearances on CTV’s Canada AM, and CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, Michael mentions his connection to AC and the unique perspective our trips have provided on his native province.

Michael’s insights about the changing ways of life in Newfoundland and Labrador are a boon to our East Coast expeditions, and Sweetland promises to be a fascinating read.

Well done, Michael Crummey!

Michael Crummey will join our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, June 24 to July 4 2015.

Dealing with the unexpected

Sea Adventurer off the coast of Greenland

At Adventure Canada, we specialize in dealing with the unknown. Unfortunately, sometimes the unknown gets the better of us—temporarily. We are in that situation now. Our ship, Sea Adventurer is currently sidelined with engine trouble in Nuuk, Greenland.

The problem was identified in late July, and after an unsuccessful attempt to make repairs, we received direction from FleetPro, Sea Adventurer’s management company, that the vessel was inoperable for passenger service. Operating in polar waters, in heavy ice conditions, we always place passenger safety first.

After being given an initial estimate of two weeks for repairs, we have now been advised Sea Adventurer will be back online, in full working order, in time to complete our Greenland and Wild Labrador itinerary in September.

In the meantime, we have had to cut our Arctic Safari trip short, and cancel Arctic Explorer, Northwest Passage East to West, and Northwest Passage West to East. This was obviously disheartening news for our passengers, as it has been for Adventure Canada.

But we’re in the business of dealing with the unexpected. We were able to quickly arrange replacement Arctic Explorer and Northwest Passage trips, and attractive make-up offers for next season to all affected travellers.

Expedition travellers are a special breed. The positive way our passengers are dealing with these changes to their plans inspires and motivates us.

Our customer service team is working overtime to ensure all our passengers are satisfied with their alternate arrangements. And the entire AC team —expedition and office staff alike—has risen to meet the challenge with cheerful resolve.

Ultimately, our clients will be the best judges of how we’ve handled this situation. We hope they will agree we’ve done our very best.

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Cedar Swan
Vice President
Adventure Canada
1-800-363-7566

Our Ice is Vanishing – Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq

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Who belongs to the North—and crucially, to whom does the North belong? Arctic writer, scholar and advocate Shelley Wright seeks to answer these questions in her eye-opening new book, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq.

Untitled-6As reduced sea ice in shipping lanes creates new opportunities for transport, travel, habitation and resource extraction in the Canadian Arctic, Canada has re-engaged with the issue of Arctic sovereignty. Wright’s book underlines the fact that when push comes to shove, it takes more than a map to prove who owns what.

Ask the Inuit: In terms of habitation, tradition, and use, the Canadian Arctic belongs to them. And, as Wright notes, Canada’s political claim to the Arctic hinges, in large part, on Inuit occupation. The creation of Nunavut cements that fact in law.

But can colonial Canadian notions, and traditional Inuit notions of land, ice, and sea be reconciled? Herein lies the challenge.

How do we balance elder wisdom, Inuit tradition, European history, Canadian law, and global politics? Considering what ice (by turns ancient, changeable, life-saving, deadly) means in these differing frameworks, Wright spins a kaleidoscopic portrait of the Arctic.

polarbear[1]The polar bear – living icon of the North – has been widely seen as a bellwether for the Canadian Arctic, and Wright touches on nanuq‘s symbolic role in the way the North is perceived elsewhere. But it is the resourceful, constantly adapting Inuit, their language and their relationship with the world who are at the heart of this work.

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Wright’s ability to illustrate the complexities – and incompatibilities – of intertwining world views makes this book an invaluable resource for those interested in understanding the Arctic today. Subtitled “A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change”, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq is essential reading for would-be citizens of the Great White North.

Shelley Wright has travelled with Adventure Canada several times; many of the pictures in the book were taken on our trips. This summer, Shelly will join us for a special Arctic launch of Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq on our Northwest Passage: West to East voyage.

Photos in this article courtesy Shelley Wright/McGill-Queen’s University Press.

 

The allure of the Arctic

We’re delighted to be welcoming Dr. Stephen Cumbaa—vertebrate paleontologist, veteran Arctic researcher, Canadian Museum of Nature rep, and children’s author—aboard our 2014 Northwest Passage: West to East voyage this summer. We asked Steve to tell us what excites him about a return to the Far North aboard an expedition cruise.

SC fording river

Fording an Arctic river

You’ve spent lots of time up in the Arctic over the years. What’s the allure?
As a former museum scientist, I’m one of those lucky people who feel as if I had one of the best jobs in the world: being paid to explore remote places and to share my fossil discoveries with other paleontologists and with the public through exhibits, articles, talks and interviews.

My expeditions to the Arctic were particularly memorable; each trip north an absolute adventure. Over and above the excitement of discovering more evidence of ancient life, the clean, clear air, the amazing quality of light, and the remote, pristine wilderness of the Arctic still captivate me.

Undeniably, a big part of the allure is the promise of discovery; the secrets of Earth’s past accessible to those who look a little closer, or walk a little farther. Little is truly hidden in the Arctic. At times the landscape itself can seem almost aware; for example, the feeling of being among the first to set foot in a particular spot is heady, but even those footprints sometimes seem intrusive. The Arctic is vast; the potential for significant discoveries immense, and the number of scientists working there is pitifully small.

What sites/sights are you looking forward to seeing on this particular journey?
I’ve spent several months doing fieldwork and camping in the Arctic islands, ferried about by Twin Otter airplanes and helicopters, but I’ve never seen the High Arctic from the unique vantage point of a ship, and its Zodiacs for shore excursions.

The opportunity for wildlife sightings is amazing with this kind of travel. Years ago I worked with archaeologists from Parks Canada, examining bones and other food refuse relating to Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition and the subsequent search parties, but other than Beechey Island, this will be my first opportunity to see some of those storied localities first hand.

Dialipina

Fossil fish found in the Far North

All along our route there are paleontological localities, such as near Kugluktuk, where Ice-Age fossil fishes have been found; the eastern coast of Somerset Island with its 400+ million year-old fish fossils; Beechey Island with its beach composed largely of fossil corals and other tropical invertebrates; and Bylot Island, opposite the community of Pond Inlet, where the fossil remains of dinosaurs, birds and marine reptiles have been discovered.

In terms of your own work, what are you most looking forward to sharing while aboard?
I’d really like to help give my fellow passengers a sense of the time depth of life in the Arctic, and the way the islands have moved about the globe as a result of what geologists term continental drift.

Today, we think of the Arctic as defined by glaciers, icebergs, seals and polar bears. But four hundred million years ago, most of the Arctic was a shallow tropical sea near the equator; its iconic animals were primitive fish, trilobites, and shelled, squid-like creatures. No animals existed on land.

Between then and now, the Arctic islands gradually moved toward their present location, over time populated sequentially by dinosaurs and birds with teeth, forests with 100 foot-tall trees, rhinoceroses and lemur-like primates, camels, and yes, even primitive beavers. I look forward to sharing these and more stories through presentations and informal chats on board and on our shore excursions.

SC & stumps

Steve with the petrified remains of an Arctic forest

You’ll be representing the Canadian Museum of Nature aboard. How does this trip relate to the work of the CMN?
One of the museum’s great strengths is its Arctic expertise. Our exhibits and collections contain plant, animal, fossil and mineral specimens brought back by researchers over the last 150 years or more, and are still growing.

These are hugely valuable collections for researchers all over the world. Under an agreement with the government of Nunavut, the museum also houses and curates Nunavut’s collections. The museum currently has a big Arctic science initiative, with active field programs focusing on biodiversity and response to climate change in vascular plants, marine and freshwater diatoms, and in my area of expertise, vertebrate paleontology.

Finally, what do you hope our visitors to the Arctic come away with, after their journey?
I think we will all return from the voyage with a sense that we’ve experienced extraordinary places, and learned a great deal about the special nature of the Arctic, its history, its plants and animals through time, and its people.

My own appreciation for and admiration of the Inuit people and their predecessors as well as the early European Arctic explorers grows with each visit to this often-harsh environment.

It’s impossible to see the evidence of rapidly melting glaciers and the tenuous hold that plants and animals have on life there without becoming aware of the fragility of the Arctic ecosystem, the human impact on it, and worrying about its future. However, I also hope our visitors will come back with a renewed appreciation of long-term ecosystem evolution and change over the last few hundred million years. The Arctic, whether tropical or polar in nature, has always been a special place, a resilient place.

This resiliency – the ability of life to bounce back from the severe stressors of environmental change – is clearly demonstrable in the Arctic, and is cause for hope.

Photos courtesy Steve Cumbaa – Canadian Museum of Nature.

Sable Island: where fantasies come true

Goldilocks!

Goldilocks, a Sable Island beauty

I spent a memorable few hours alone on an island with an enchanting platinum blonde today.

We first set eyes on each other as she was having her lunch – nibbling on some exotic greens.

I asked her if I could make some portraits and she just gave me a look of nonchalance which I took to be a sign of permission. Once in a while she would cast me a gaze. I was left in a state of infatuation and fascination, wondering how long she had lived on the island and if she had family nearby or on the mainland.

It looked like her flowing mane had been tinted by a professional. She hoofed it along the dunes and I was thrilled to join her observing from a respectful distance (60 feet as per Park rules).

I was intent on capturing her essence with my camera when a massive male appendage suddenly telescoped and drooped almost to the ground. 

She was a he… a well endowed stallion with a stunning feminine mane! I was dumbfounded by this profound moment of biological reality.

Shortly after, we met up with a band of horses which seemed to be his band or harem as I like to think.

Sable- Mike Beedell (8)

Horses seek naturally occurring fresh water on Sable Island

We parted company as I was drawn to the sight of a mare and frisky colt on a distant dune. A band of fog was moving in from the southwest and before long I was bathed in dense fog. As I dropped into a valley I came upon a band of horses in the mist, munching and crunching in harmony.

Tiny little purple shoots were poking out of the sand and the horses focused on cropping these off but they seemed to be eating a fair bit of sand with every nibble.

The fog ebbed and flowed like a river, swirling & eddying in different directions. The light was diffused by the mist but it allowed me to make beautiful monochromatic images of the horses engrossed in their intense browsing.

Sable- Mike Beedell (3)

Fog provides fascinating photographic opportunities on Sable Island

These equine spirits disappeared in the mists and for a time I was left utterly alone with my thoughts, the perpetual pounding of the Atlantic waves in the distance. I lay down in the warm sand and curled up in a ball and went to sleep. Walking in the loose sand for many kilometers with 40 pounds of camera gear on my back had inspired a well deserved nap.

When I awoke I was chilled by a breeze but bathed in beautiful light. The wind had blown away the fog and the sun was dropping quickly. I never did find that mare and colt who had melded into the labyrinth of dunes. I saw instead the exciting opportunity to get silhouettes of the horses on the high sand dune ridges.

Horses in silhouette

Horses in silhouette

It seemed that late in the day many horses would be drawn to the top of the dunes with these incredible views. So I ascended the dunes and waited for the right light to illuminate these hardy beasts.

After an intense half-hour of shooting I watched a red ball of fire being extinguished by the sea and I began the long trek back to park headquarters along North Beach. As twilight engulfed me I heard moaning and sighing. This was the sound of masses of Grey Seals on the beach pulling themselves from the sea.

Sable Island sunsets are magnificent

Sable Island sunsets are magnificent

I walked for about an hour and a half (4 km) and I was flanked by a solid  line of seals, ten or more abreast for my entire walk back to the main camp. I estimate I encountered several thousand seals of the variety sometimes known as horsehead seals. This was the most memorable pinniped walk I have ever done in my life.

Sable- Mike Beedell (11)

Gray seals, also known as horsehead seals, loll on Sable Island

I had walked among the members of the largest Grey Seal colony on the planet! A perfect coda to a day of fantasies on mystical Sable Island.

Life and death among the dunes of Sable Island

Sable Island's iconic horses live with freedom - and challenge

Sable Island’s iconic horses live with freedom – and challenge

I am at 43 55′ 59N & 60 01′ 40 W standing on the beach, mezmerized by the pounding surf and in a state of bliss on Sable Island.

With my feet planted firmly in the wet shifting sands I am about 300 kms off the Nova Scotia coast -nearing the edge of Canadas’ territorial waters. There are ten humans on this island paradise, hundreds of horses, hundreds of Ipswich sparrows, 50,0000-plus very smelly Grey seals and one tree.

Grey seals vie with horses for 'handsomest mammal' on Sable Island

Grey seals vie with horses for ‘handsomest mammal’ on Sable Island

I have already spent time with this gnarly little tree ( a pine) reaching an epic height of 3 feet. Its top had been broken off & its branches were broken & bruised from abrasive sand-blasting all winter. I did not know it was the only tree on Sable & so initially did not give it the respect and reverence it deserved.

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow

I was initially drawn to this wee pine on a quest for the rare and endangered Ipswich Sparrow. I could hear one warbling and calling for a mate. I found him perched atop this one tree, broadcasting his whereabouts to all that could hear him.

I took out my powerful 500mm Nikon lens and made some wonderful portraits of this wee little fluff-ball who had recently flown all the way from Florida to the one and only nesting ground in the world of his ilk.

Fortunately the wind was in the right direction for me to hear his romantic overtones—for the powerful winds here can suck the words out of your mouth and cast them out to sea, never to be heard again by another living creature.

Sable Island is like a stretched crescent moon which is oriented east – west. The upturned crescent faces north and catches the force of the north winds that lambaste it regularly.

Huge dunes rise hundreds of feet on the north side and taper off to broad expanses of flat beach on the south side.

Sable Island's spectacular dunes change constantly

Sable Island’s spectacular dunes change constantly

The island is roughly 48kms long; at its widest it is roughly 1.75 km across. But below the waves it extends for its entire length again on the east & west points, so that Sable Island measures some 160 kms in its entirety.

It is a shape-shifting entity that transforms every day, as the wind blows and the seas pound at its shores. Sable Island also sculpts and transforms all those who have been here since people first set foot here in the early 1500′s.

Today I witnessed the challenges for animals that live amid the “dunsescape” called Sable. For some creatures, depending on the season there is a life and death struggle to survive.

As I walked the beach yearning to know Sable as best I can in the short week that I am here, I began to feel its remote qualities. Although I flew in a few days ago during a window of good weather
you can never be sure of getting here when you planned. Nor can you plan on getting out when you would like ! I have been shrouded in fog for a lot of my time so far. Sable may be up for a fog award – it receives over 100 days of fog a year.

So this is not the place to go when you are in a hurry to get elsewhere. Only specialized twin engine planes can land on the beach strip which also changes day to day, often being obliterated by the waves crashing in from the surf surge from the south.

I counted 50 horses today on my peregrinations about the island. There were a few one-year-olds and many mature horses that looked in rough shape after a long, cold winter. I spent time at a distance observing their body language and photographing their behaviour then moved a little closer and sat down to keep a low profile. They are very accepting of me, and intent on feeding themselves on the fresh green shoots that are shyly poking their heads out of the sand for the first time in eight months.

As I crested a dune I came upon a motley looking band of horses; some were looking quite healthy and others were showing their ribs through their skin. Some were lame and others had misshapen hooves and limped along like injured war-horses from First World War battles.

But then a black stallion crested a ridge and the sight took my breath away. He stood atop a dune with the ocean in the background, his mane and tail blowing in the wind.

This regal creature on that ridge looking out to sea epitomized a powerful sense of freedom for me—but shortly thereafter, a more sombre reality set in as I began to find carcasses of horses that had not made it through the winter. The first body I found was partially subsumed by the shifting sands. This was a young horse and it appeared almost freeze-dried from the incessant winds.

Dead-Horse

Mike inspects the remains of a victim of the winter of 2014

It was also close to a pond where it would have been searching for water before it died. As I made my way through the dunes I found more bodies—all from last winter, for they were not yet decomposed. So it was with a heavy heart that I returned to Station Main ( Parks Headquarters) pondering the freedom that these horses have along with the challenges & starvation they face as every winter approaches.

A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

My spirits were uplifted, however by the sight of a young foal prancing about with its gangly, klutzy legs looking like a drunken marionette—while mother munched away contentedly. My day ended as a spectacular sun plummeted into the sea.

Tomorrow I would go and find this frolicksome foal and document and celebrate this new life that had just recently been born to Sable Island.

Sable Island: a photographer’s dream come true

View from remote, beautiful Sable Island

Sable Island: where every view is an ocean view

As a guide, resource person and photographer for Adventure Canada I have had the joy of exploring many stunning parts of the world with participants who yearn for what I call “deep travel experiences”.

Sable Island has been beckoning to me for decades and it is a thrill to have Sable as our newest National Park to be protected for perpetuity – not only for Canadians but all humankind. For many months I have been in a standby mode with Parks Canada ready to jump when there was a window of possibility to reach the island.

Finally, on April 30th, we took off from Halifax in our 1973 Islander STOL aircraft for the flight to Sable. I was in the co-pilot seat with Ted, our veteran pilot, who does a lot of over-ocean flying.

Selfie: Sable Island bound

Selfie: Sable Island bound

I was wearing my life jacket but Ted was not wearing his. I love a confident pilot. Three other passengers were headed to the island to do technical work for Parks Canada on infrastructure projects. After an hour and a half we dove through the clouds, and Sable came into view.

A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

Before we landed Ted flew us over West Spit and I could not believe my eyes. As I looked at the coamers roaring into the beach, Ted said “Here come the seals!” There were tens of thousands of seals basking on the beach. The biggest colony of Grey Seals in the world (estimated at 50,000 pinnipeds) make Sable their home. We flew up the length of Sable, then banked sharply near Lake Wallace, and I could see the Parks buildings below me. As we prepared to land, I could see a vehicle with a wind-sock attached to its bumper on a massive expanse of wet sand. We dropped out of the sky and Ted laid us down gently, using about 600 feet of runway.

As we stepped out of the aircraft the cold wind bit into us but we were warmly greeted by Aaron and Brent, Parks officials on the island. We jumped in a jeep annd were whisked off to our abode where we would stay for the next week.

Members of the world's largest colony of Grey seals

Members of the world’s largest colony of Gray seals

I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the beach on a quest to see the multitude of seals. As I crested cautiously over a dune a potent smell assailed my nostrils. There in front of me, about 200 feet away was the largest group I had ever seen in my life at close range! Hundreds and hundreds all snuggled in together enjoying a very flatulent day at the beach. There were black ones, brown ones, fat ones and little ones all enjoying each other’s company. There were more coming out of the water to join the Grey seal throngs.

Greetings from a baby seal

Greetings from a baby seal

Suddenly I heard a snort near me, and I looked over to see a sand covered baby Grey seal just 20 feet away! He had been sleeping, and was camouflaged by the sand that had blown over him. I quickly made some portraits of him and then moved away to give him a bit of space.

Wild horses speckled the dunescapes too, so I pointed my Nikons in their direction next. A young colt lay nearby. He reminded me of some ancient horse drawings I had seen of pre-ice age creatures. He was wearing his thick winter coat which was more like fur than hair.

Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Chunks of his winter coat were falling off, and he looked very healthy but others I saw were in rough shape —their ribs sticking through from a rugged existence and very cold winter. One fellow with a dreadlock mane nibbled away at the first shoots of the year. It will still be a month until the really nutritious grasses and sedges provide good volumes of food for these hardy equines.

Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

I scurried about with a sense of urgency to capture the essence of this place on this glorious sunny, windy day because I know weather here changes in an instant. Before I knew it the sun was going down. I had only been on the island for 8 hours but I was exhausted, sated and elated at absorbing and documenting this magical place.

As I drifted off to sleep with my plans for tomorrow I thought of the island as a sentinel of sand dunes, guarding the coast of Nova Scotia.

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets- fodder for a photographer’s dreams