Filming Worlds Apart

An interview with filmmaker-photographer Jason Van Bruggen

Jason van Bruggen is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker based in Canada. His lens has previously captured an incredible Adventure Canada journey through the Northwest Passage. We are thrilled to share Jason’s latest cinematic poem featuring AC staffer and author-explorer James Raffan, and caught up with him to ask some questions about his craft.


Adventure Canada: Jason, what draws you to the wilderness as a filmmaker?

Jason Van Bruggen: Our wilderness is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. Not only for its beauty, but also for the opportunities it provides us in terms of learning and reflection. As we enter an age of scarcity and climate change, these opportunities become more precarious. As a visual artist, I have a role to play in conserving wild places and encouraging an appreciation for them in others. Not only for their visual interest but for their profound importance. My passion for wilderness locations is decades old and predates my current role as a filmmaker and photographer. My current career choice was informed by a passion for wild places rather than the other way around. A fascination with intrepid travel has spanned my whole life. Growing up, I spent my summers on unsupported canoe trips in the Canadian backcountry, which is probably at the root of it. I have worked in the most remote and austere locations on the planet ranging from the Tibetan Himalaya to the deserts of Iraq, and spent time wandering around in well over a hundred countries. Wilderness travel and exploration have been profoundly formative and continue to provide me with boundless inspiration.

AC: What extra considerations does a filmmaker have to make when shooting in remote locations like the Arctic? How did you prepare? What is the hardest part about shooting in cold weather?

JVB: There are many, many additional considerations that go into shooting in remote locations, especially when travelling with a sophisticated equipment package. Preparation involves fastidious attention to detail, starting with the planning stages. You need to be ready for contingency, for equipment failure (total or partial) and have backups of all the essentials. The hardest parts about shooting in cold weather are pretty obvious—keeping yourself warm, keeping your batteries warm, and keeping your equipment running are always crucial.  

AC: Is there anything in particular that makes a shooting location special? What do you look for when gathering footage?

JVB: The light. The fleeting point of confluence at which light, topography, and activity all meet is what yields magic.

AC: Wildlife is notoriously hard to shoot. Is there anything you take into consideration to help get the perfect shot?

JVB: First off, I don’t think I have gotten the perfect shot. In my view, the best way to capture wildlife is to research where you might find the fauna you are looking for, identify a target location, and then spend time there. I prefer to wait in one place and get to know it intimately; this allows me to develop an understanding of where the best opportunities exist. This enables me to find the best light and, hopefully, understand the habits and interests of the animals I am shooting. Observing animals candidly, without disturbing them, is always the most rewarding. That being said, you can do everything right and walk away without a single shot. It’s a crap-shoot like that, especially in landscapes as vast and changeable as the Arctic.

AC: What was the most challenging shot in this most recent project?

JVB: Many individual shots had their challenges, but I think the most delicate part of this project was trying to strike a balance between a number of competing priorities. At the end of the day, this is a piece to promote Arctic travel on behalf of Adventure Canada. It is also a portrait of a friend of mine, and one that I wanted to make candid without being overly revealing. Like many of the stories that I imagine and film, I wanted this to be honest and to steer away from a clichéed interpretation of the North, exploration, and wilderness travel.

AC: Part of what makes your northern films and images so striking is the haunting, subdued palate. Can you comment on how you achieve such a vivid representation of local colour?

JVB: I try and represent on film what I feel when I am in the North. The Arctic, as it lives in my memory, is not an overtly colourful place. It is an eerily beautiful place, though. I see a great deal of photography which feels like it stretches the boundaries of credible human experience in the Arctic. While there are flashes of brilliant colour on many of my Arctic voyages, my emotional memory of the Arctic on most days is reflected in my colour treatment of both still and moving images.

AC: How would you describe the experience of working with Adventure Canada?

JVB: I love these guys. It’s a family-run business with tremendous purchase in the communities we visit and huge respect for the part of the world in which they travel. Those relationships have taken decades to build, and aren’t something that can be bought. The resource staff aboard the AC vessels keep coming back, year after year, for the same reasons that I do—we get to work with great people in amazing places.

AC: What is your dream shoot? Somewhere you haven’t been, and always wanted to?

JVB: Tough question. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot , and get to a lot of ‘bucket list’ destinations. I want to continue to explore the most compelling and hard to get to pieces of wilderness in Canada, and around the world. If I had to narrow it down, I would say all of National Parks in Canada that I haven’t been to yet.

AC: Thanks very much, Jason!

JVB: Thank you!


Jason’s work is focussed on depicting North American wilderness, including the Far North in a manner that is authentic and narrative—building new interpretations of these landscapes. Favouring travel that brings him in direct contact with the frontier and those who inhabit it, Jason’s immersive work seeks to explore these emerging landscapes and capture the vulnerability of the ecosystems and the people who live within them, illuminating a tension between the strength and fragility of the region; the age-old resolve to survive, and the current intention to thrive in places where scarcity fosters incredible ingenuity, resilience, and hospitality. Visit his portfolio online for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jason Van Bruggen.

Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.    

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.

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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

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.

What Farley Knew

The late Canadian author, environmentalist, self-promoter, and shit-disturber Farley Mowat was born on this day in 1921. Nearly ninety-two years later, on May 6 of 2014, he died. Between those dates Mowat led a legendary life. A polarizing personality, he was widely loved and yet frequently reviled.

Pinocchio MowatIt’s Mowat’s storytelling that will remain his greatest legacy, and drew his most vociferous criticism. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” was his mantra, and Mowat was duly dubbed “Hardly Know It” by many serious scientists, experts, and ordinary folk—especially Northerners—fed up with his penchant for myth-making. Saturday Night magazine depicted Farley Mowat as Pinocchio in a cover story that catalogued his errors, exaggerations and outright fibs.

For his part, Mowat claimed his wildly popular books—he sold 17 million of them, all over the world—brought much needed attention to serious causes: the starvation of the Ahalmuit (People of the Deer); the demonization of wolves (Never Cry Wolf); the plight of whales (A Whale for the Killing), seals and other marine life (Sea of Slaughter).

The factuality of Mowat’s work may often be sketchy, but his skill as a storyteller is undeniable. As Up Here noted in a reevaluation in 2009, (Farley Mowat: Liar or Saint?) the North has been hard on its writers at the best of times, and Hardly Know It might well have been reviled for his unpopular stance even if he’d been a stickler for accuracy.

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Certainly, if history judges his books by their emotional substance, Farley Mowat’s legacy will be a favourable one. Sympathy for wild creatures was once considered sentimental. Criticism of British and Canadian patriarchal authority in the North was weak-kneed. And advocacy for the Inuit way of life was anything but common when Farley Mowat first put pen to paper.

These were ideas Mowat introduced, and stood by, early on in his career. All are clearly in evidence in his Top of the World Trilogy. This compendium of old explorer’s journals, spanning several centuries, edited with commentary by Mowat, is well worth re-reading now: it’s vintage Mowat, and yet, published in 1973, it was well ahead of its time.

Favouring overlooked, underdog explorers like Samuel Hearne, Francis McClintock, and Captain Thierry Mallet, Mowat’s selections and commentary subvert the typical hero narrative, heaping scorn on hapless colonizers of the North acting on orders from far away, including the otherwise iconic Sir John Franklin.

Such views are common, if not dominant today, even in the South. Would that be the case without Farley Mowat? Clearly his most egregious missteps and misstatements will not stand the test of time, nor should they. But on what would have been his ninety-fourth birthday, perhaps we can admit that on some subjects, at least, Farley Knew It after all.

Editor’s note: the late Farley Mowat travelled as a special guest aboard Adventure Canada expeditions in 1995 and 1997. Among his many contributions he taught us invaluable lessons about garnering cheap publicity.

For a definitive take on this issue, see Ken McGoogan‘s thorough and beautiful overview of Farley Mowat’s literary legacy from the National Post.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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

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

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.

Follow the bear… to great adventures

BrochureThere’s so much to look forward to when the snow is all around! After all, the light is already returning on the horizon, and that means before long, the summer will be upon us, and we’ll be travelling north once more.

Just in time to inspire your summertime dreams, our new Expeditions 2014 brochure has hit the mail. Many AC travellers tell us they look forward to receiving their new catalogue, poring over the destinations and planning their future trips.

We feel this year’s new brochure is our very best yet, both in appearance, and in the trips it covers: Newfoundland Circumnavigation, Sable Island I, Sable Island II, Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, Arctic Safari, Arctic Explorer, Northwest Passage East to West, Northwest Passage West to East, Greenland and Wild Labrador, and Antarctica.

We’ve got so much to be proud of in 2014. We’re celebrating twenty years of operating in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s wild east coast. We’re visiting Antarctica on the centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary 1914 Endurance expedition. And for the first time ever, we’ll visit remote and mystical Sable Island, Nova Scotia, home of the world-famous herd of wild horses, and the world’s largest grey seal colony.

Whatever inspires your travel fantasies, we hope to see you on an adventure in this amazing year to come!

Click here to request a copy, or to view or download a PDF version of “Expeditions 2014”.

We’re big in China!

Passengers aboard our trip Into the Northwest Passage this past summer enjoyed the company of an 8-person crew filming a TV show, ‘You Can Be A Star in Canada‘. Stars Charlie and Lydia were as talented as they were charming: Charlie, a professional photographer, did a slide show of his amazing photographs, and Lydia, a singer, contributed a song to the Variety Show on the last evening.

Four episodes of You Can Be A Star in Canada aired in China this past October. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, it’s worth viewing these episodes here: lots of the fun is self-explanatory, and the landscapes need no words.

Episode 1 features footage of the spectacular glaciers, icebergs and ice formations off the coast of Greenland. Glaciologist Greg Coyes is a central character in this one.

Episode 2 features culturalist Lynda Brown and archeologist Lisa Rankin, along with film maker and Arctic expert John Houston. All appear at Qilaqitsok, Greenland, where the famous Greenland mummies were found. Additional scenes show naturalist Ree Brennin, and there are some shots of the back deck BBQ and Hawaiian party hijinks aboard the Sea Adventurer.

Episode #3 is shot mostly in Pond Inlet, including Arctic Games, shopping, and a cultural presentation. Lamech Kadloo, the Inuit culturalist who joined our trip in pond, features prominently. There are also scenes from the Northwest Passage, including Bellot Strait, Dundas Harbour, a Thule house. Both David Newland’s on-board ukulele workshop and Ree’s fish printing workshop also make it in.

Episode #4 features Linda & Lamech drum dancing and throat singing, and there are also plenty of scenes with expedition leader Chris Dolder. There’s some discussion of the explorers and various locations they visited: Dundas Harbour, Fort Ross, Port Leopold, and Beechey Island, among others. And of course no AC program would be complete without Zodiacking, and the polar dip!

Hinterland Hee Hee

In the vast reaches of the high Arctic, muted hues are often the order of the day, leaving the photographic eye to rove in search of dramatic colours. Luckily, our passengers and staff, geared up for their hikes and excursions, provide all the colours of the rainbow!

Videographer Pat McGowan of InMotion Production Group found a created this loving tribute to the glory of gear, with a gentle nod to that beloved Canadian institution, the Hinterland Who’s Who clip. Pat has captured in action a critter many adventure travellers will find familiar… Enjoy!

There’s LIFE in those rocks!

RaggedLakes

One of the highlights of the summer for me was an evening hike around a series of small lakes on Ragged Island, near the northern tip of Baffin Island, Nunavut.

The rocky heights of the island were grey and rugged, much like the familiar contours of the Canadian Shield. (You might say I took them for granite.) But as we climbed above the scanty tundra, it became clear the rock in question was anything but granite. In fact, we learned, it was limestone, albeit of a kind I’d never seen before: grey and granular, almost like sandstone; swept smooth in places by wind and water, or broken into boulders that were strewn every which way.

DSCN2692

But wait, I wondered, how can it be limestone? Isn’t limestone made of organic life forms? Yet we’re so far north, and we’re so high up, and this rock shows no signs of fossils or indeed of any organic origin. What gives? A fellow hiker assured me that the rock was very old, and the planet had shifted monumentally since its creation – but my question remained.

The answer awaited me the next day on the Rock Table, an ad-hoc display collected by a very dynamic Geology Club that formed early on in the trip.

Geology

One of those club members, passenger Mark Sleep was a former professor of geology whose passion for his subject was infectious. Mark wrote an amazing letter to explain the mysterious limestone of Ragged Island, and placed it on the Rock Table for all to see.

It says, in part:

This is a sample of one of the oldest limestones IN THE WORLD… There were NO CORALS at this time to produce limestones. There were no CEPHALOPODS (squids, ammonites, nautiloids, etc.) There were NO LAMELLIBRANCS (BI-VALVES) (mussels, razor shells, etc.) There were NO GASTROPODS (coiled shell creatures like snails.) There were no COCCOLITHINA (microscopic creatures that secreted the trillions of exoskeletons that form chalk.)

So where did the waters of this PRE-CAMBRIAN limestone get the carbonates to precipitate out as this sample? The answer is probably the first EVER organisms on Earth — the blue/green algae that go back to about 3,200,000,000 years ago! (give or take a half an hour!!!)

This is a sample of one of the oldest limestones IN THE WORLD! WOW!

I’ll never look at rocks the same way again. In a very tangible way, in the Arctic I came to appreciate the deeper meaning behind the work of the passionate geologist. Rocks may not be living things, but these rocks contain a record of the origins of life itself. WOW is right!

Mark_Sleep_Note

10 Arctic Surprises

After six months working behind the scenes as Adventure Canada’s creative director, I’ve just returned from my first trip Into the Northwest Passage, travelling from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to Resolute, Nunavut as a Zodiac driver, musician and host.

The adventure was everything I’d hoped it would be: inspiring, invigorating, educational. And like any great voyage, this one featured its share of surprises, too. Here are a few things I hadn’t expected.

Icy Arm, Baffin Island

Icy Arm, Baffin Island

1) Geology rules. Until I visited the Arctic, I had never really seen geology for what it truly is: the continual reshaping of the planet itself, measured in millennia. Where soil is thin, human habitation scattered, and forest non-existent, geology is everywhere, eternal—and endlessly fascinating.

Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat, Greenland

2) Europe is closer than it seems. Though Inuit culture looms large, western Greenland displays its Danish influence strongly. In busy ports like Sisimiut and Ilulissat you can buy Thai food in an Internet cafe, and watch publicly funded transit buses wend their way among brightly painted modernist houses surrounded by sled dogs.

Ice off Karrat Island, Greenland

Ice off Karrat Island, Greenland

3) Ice is amazing. From the massive chunks calving off Greenland’s Store Glacier, to the berg the size of a city block grounded in Ilulissat, to the 16 km2 floe we circumnavigated in Baffin Bay, to the slushy pans that blocked our transit of Bellot Strait, the Arctic ice never ceased to amaze.

Sled runner, Dundas Harbour

Sled runner, Dundas Harbour

4) Things last a long, long time. Detritus around former Hudson Bay posts, scraps and bones from traditional Inuit camps, tin cans from John Franklin’s expedition, foundations of Thule houses: all these items and more are preserved almost perfectly at scattered landings among the fiords of the Far North.

The Sea Adventurer

The Sea Adventurer in Karrat Fjord

5) The Arctic is huge. It’s not just that there’s a lot of area north of the Arctic Circle. The water, the landforms, the glaciers, and even the history of the Far North are epic-scaled. Lancaster Sound, for example, which we crossed three times, is the width of a Great Lake. Davis Strait takes more than a day to steam across, in good weather. Baffin Island covers over half a million km2. Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world. The works of man are dwarfed. It’s humbling.

Coastal Greenland

Coastal Greenland

6) Water, water everywhere. If you’re like me, you probably pictured the Arctic as a vast expanse of either ice, or tundra. But when you visit by ship, during the relatively ice-free summer months, you begin to understand the importance of the ocean. The communities face seaward. The animals directly or indirectly depend on ocean life and ocean currents. And in a territory almost entirely without roads, the ocean (or the sea ice on it) supports travel, too.

Fort Ross, Devon Island

Fort Ross, Devon Island

7) It’s still wild. Over the ten days we spent in the Canadian Arctic, covering over a thousand kilometres, we saw four vessels other than the Sea Adventurer: a navy ship, a Students on Ice sailboat, a private yacht, and a Coast Guard icebreaker. While there’s a lot going on in the Arctic, including resource development, tourism, art, research, and education, the activity is concentrated mostly in the relatively few small communities. Between them lies a whole lot of space to explore.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

8) It takes a village. The Inuit are an incredibly adaptive, resourceful people, among the most vital and successful of indigenous cultures active today. And while they developed many tools and technologies to survive on the meagre resources of the North, it’s clear that the central principle of their success was ‘together we stand.’ The family, the clan, and the community survive by collective effort. In the Arctic, no one can make it alone.

Arctic cotton, Sisimuit

Arctic cotton, Sisimiut

9) Small is the new big. The running joke is that if you’re lost in the woods in the Arctic, just stand up. Haha. True, you won’t find plants taller than, say, an Arctic poppy of about 15 cm in height, and most of what’s growing on the thin soil in the brief summer thaw is even smaller. But you really could get lost, fascinated by the incredible (and beautiful) array of plants, fungi, lichens and insects that have adapted to thrive on the tundra.

Woolly bear caterpillar, Dundas Harbour

Woolly bear caterpillar, Dundas Harbour

10) It’s alive! Despite desert-like conditions, permafrost, cold, long months of darkness, ice, wind, and just about every other challenge you can imagine, life thrives in the Arctic. Algae grows on the underside of ice pans, feeding phytoplankton that feed krill that feed fish that feed seals, walrus and whales that feed bears (and people.) Bird cliffs host tens of thousands of breeding pairs of kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, murres and other seabirds. There are jellyfish and snails and clams; spiders, caterpillars, even bees. It’s a forbidding environment and an unforgiving one, but the Arctic in its way is as alive as any place on Earth.

Spider Saxifrage, Port Leopold

Spider Saxifrage, Port Leopold

Arctic Fox, Beechey Island

Arctic Fox, Beechey Island

Lynda & Lamech, Radstock Bay

Lynda & Lamech, Radstock Bay

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Passengers and staff at Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Living Right: Be More like a Polar Bear

It’s not every day that a polar bear teaches you how to live a better life.

But Adventure Canada passengers enjoyed just such a day in the Canadian Arctic recently, as everyone aboard the Sea Adventurer was treated to great wildlife sightings, including eight of the iconic bears and fifteen walrus.

Polar Bear at Play

One juvenile Polar Bear in particular took time to pose for photos and play around on the ice. Perhaps some of us read too much into it, but it seemed as if he was trying to teach us a thing or two about enjoying the ‘bear necessities’ of life.

After all, the bear was obviously enjoying a great daily routine. He was well-rested, ate healthy and natural food, played outdoors in the fresh air when he wanted and got plenty of exercise.

Well-Rested Polar Bear

By contrast, thinking of returning home to our regular routines, human life seemed so dull. Most of us spend too much time working, instead of playing. We eat processed foods, instead of natural healthy foods. We sit at desks and in front of TVs, instead of enjoying the outdoors and exercising.

Exercising Polar Bear

So, with that, we encourage you all to be more like a polar bear! Be active, eat healthy and enjoy the outdoors.

Photos courtesy of Franz Wusits, Hotel Manager, M/V Sea Adventurer

A (bottlenose) whale of a tale

bottle nosed whales (1)

A unique wildlife encounter is the highlight of any Adventure Canada cruise, and on the recent Heart of the Arctic voyage, one curious – and rare – creature stood out from the rest.

Crossing the Davis Strait, we were approached by some northern bottlenose whales who obligingly “posed” for photos for more than 30 minutes.

These unusual whales are similar to bottlenose dolphins. We were all able to stare down at their big, bulbous melons and pointy beaks. These unique features help them dive to great depths while hunting their favourite food: squid.

bottle nosed whales (3)

The whales danced around the Sea Adventurer, sometimes swimming upside down right beside us, to get a better look at us strangers. The encounter, in the middle of the open sea, was a true highlight for all aboard, made even more special by the fact that so little is known about this species.

This northern bottlenose whale siting was a first for most people onboard, even those with years of Arctic expedition experience.

bottle nosed whales (2)

One very well-travelled guest, Mary Curry from Adventure Life, said this was “the single most incredible wildlife sighting I’ve ever seen!”

Which goes to show you never know what surprises await in the Arctic. You might say, this sighting was a fluke.

bottle nosed whales (5)

Photos courtesy Franz Wusitz, Hotel Manager, Sea Adventurer.

Canada Day considered

RelaxingAs Canada Day approaches, many people have plans to spend the holiday in traditional ways: camping, going to the beach or the park, vacationing with family or friends, or just taking it easy around home. Or even relaxing in the Arctic sun, like our passengers here.

These are all great ways to spend the day—and like many other activities people engage in while celebrating our nation’s founding, they have something important in common.

No, we don’t mean fireworks, barbecues, coolers of drinks or a bursting picnic basket. Or boating, which is one our favourite pursuits on a typical July 1.

Boating

The common thing almost every ‘great Canadian Canada Day’ has in common, from coast to coast, regardless of income, culture, age or background, is the great outdoors.

That’s where we all go to relax and enjoy. Blessed as we are with an abundance of open space, and a day to celebrate that falls at the warmest time of the year, it’s only natural for Canadians to get outside on July 1st to enjoy the best of what Canada offers. Even if that’s the micro-forest of the Arctic tundra.

ArcticPlants

These incredible blessings are not without their burden. Everywhere there are signs we cannot afford to take the environment for granted. No region of the nation is unaffected.

These challenges affect us all, regardless of belief system or political affiliation. Every sane person wishes to see nature’s grandeur undiminished, and own collective future ensured. At Adventure Canada, our own livelihood depends on the beauty of Canada’s wild spaces, and we must continually strive to respect and sustain that greatest of gifts.

So amid the celebrations on Canada Day, perhaps you’ll find time for a moment of consideration. Consider the beauty; consider the vitality, consider the threats—and consider your place in it all. We will, too. PolarBear

 

From us to you, a very happy Canada Day, considered.

Amazing Alianait

alianaitThe Alianait Arts Festival once again proves Iqaluit is anything but remote from the centre of the arts world, showcasing an incredible line-up of performers in this, its 9th year.

Among the artists featured are Greenland folk legends Rasmus Lyberth and Nive Nielsen & the Deer Children, Australian world indigenous performer Tjupurru, British Columbia’s hip-hop icon Kinnie Starr and the “quintessential Maritime musician”, Cape Breton’s JP Cormier.

The festival will also feature two encore performances from Circumpolar Landscape, a remarkable collaboration among Leela Gilday from the Northwest Territories, Sylvia Cloutier from Nunavut via Nunavik, Nive Nielson from Greenland and Diyet from Yukon. The quartet was featured at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, has toured Greenland and opened the National Arts Centre’s Northern Scene Festival.

Adventure Canada travellers will be delighted with this year’s theme: Enchanted Owl in celebration of the late Kenojuak Ashevak, who will be dearly missed by her many admirers around the world, including those who enjoyed her company and her talent on our Arctic trips.

Visit Alianait Arts Festival with Adventure Canada, June 27, 2013 – July 4, 2013.

Cedar Swan, Globe catalyst nominee

catalyst-swan00sr1We’re very proud of our V.P., Cedar Bradley-Swan: she’s been named one of ten nominees for the Globe and Mail‘s Catalyst series, searching for creative Canadians.

We’re delighted for Cedar. In a small, family run business like Adventure Canada, we can’t help but feel Cedar’s recognition shines a bright light on all our efforts.

Perhaps most importantly, we note that in the Globe ‘s recent profile and video of Cedar she reveals what motivates her: the beauty of the Arctic, and the incredible spirit of the people who call the North ‘home’. We share those feelings too.

Congratulations, Cedar, on your nomination! It is indeed an honour.

 

25th anniversary brochure!

Click to scroll through the brochure online!

Click to scroll through the brochure online!

For months now, the team at Adventure Canada has been working on something our guests look forward to year after year: our new brochure.

Adventure Canada travellers love to dream, and we know they often thumb the pages of our brochures time and again as they plan the perfect adventure.

This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first tour, to the Arctic in 1988. So we went to extra effort to celebrate the milestone.

The trips we’re featuring for 2013-2014 are chosen from among our very best – including a new trip to Sable Island, and a return to Antarctica in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Endurance expedition. We think the look and feel of this beautiful document reflects the craft and care that went into planning these amazing trips.

We hope you’ll enjoy the new brochure, Canada and the North. If you’d like a copy for your coffee table or night stand, just let us know.

To view in full screen mode, click on the expand icon (a small square inside a larger square.)

Fun at the museum

AC-Museum

Adventure Canada is delighted to be sponsoring the Extraordinary Arctic festival at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

This show, which runs through April, is an amazing opportunity to learn about and experience the Arctic in the sunny south.

Film screenings, talks, exhibits and interactive exhibits offer lots of engagement for grownups and kids alike.

Above, you can see Matthew Swan and Aaju Peter tending the Adventure Canada table on opening night.

Below, visitors enjoy building an igloo (minus the ice!)

AC-Museum2

Watch for more info about Extraordinary Arctic and if you’re anywhere near Ottawa, please drop by.

Cruise Nunavut

This gorgeous video from Canada’s North will look familiar to many AC guests: it was shot aboard our beloved ship, Sea Adventurer.

In fact you can see the AC flag flying from the mast!

If you’ve cruised Nunavut before, you’ll know the magic. If you haven’t, well, maybe this is your year.

Join us for one of these amazing Nunavut cruises:
Heart of the Arctic, June 24 – July 6, 2013
Into the Northwest Passage, Aug. 6 – Aug. 20, 2013
Out of the Northwest Passage, Aug. 20 – Sept. 5, 2013