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

Gros Morne Magic

This year marks a special milestone for Adventure Canada: twenty years of running expedition cruise trips in Newfoundland and Labrador. While we’re often associated with the Arctic (and we do love the North!), Canada’s Wild East Coast is a favourite destination.

The unique combination of nature, culture, history and geography that is Canada’s easternmost province inspires and amazes our passengers time and time again.

Newfoundland and Labrador is also home to some of the most spectacular geology in the world, perhaps most famously at Gros Morne National Park, where the Earth’s mantle—normally found far below the surface—is upthrust to form the spectacular Tablelands.

A highlight of many excursions, the hike up to the Tablelands provides a window into the formation of the planet itself, not to mention a decent workout, and an incredible view!

Visit Gros Morne on these amazing adventures:

Newfoundland Circumnavigation, June 2, 2014 – June 12, 2014

Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 29, 2014 – July 12, 2014

The Greenland revelation

Veteran Arctic photographer Martin Lipman travelled with us on our Heart of the Arctic expedition cruise this past summer, representing the Canadian Museum of Nature. He kindly agreed to share some of his spectacular photos along with his thoughts on his first visit to Greenland.

Greenland's stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland’s stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland was a revelation for me. As incredible as the Canadian Arctic is, Greenland is not to be missed. The scale of ice, the intense beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people are all stellar. From the moment you see the the coastline in Kangerlussuaq, you know it’s going to be good.

Leaving Kangerlussuaq Fjord I remained on deck until the light dipped below the horizon tracking the massive volcanic seams of the Kangaamiut dike swarm, one of a handful of such geological structures in the world.

DikeSwarm

This dike swarm is one of many extraordinary geological features along Greenland’s west coast.

Eternity Fiord is no less stunning—the power of the ice quickly becomes apparent. Sadly some the glaciers here have started to ground out due to global warming.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

Zodiac landings in Greenland are particularly special. The nature of the coastal landscape invites exploration. Its history, its surprising flora and its wild geology all draw you forward. Cresting the next ridge reveals an even more incredible view than the last – and sinking in that soft moss is not to be missed. People often ask where Greenland got it’s name, I suggest it is the subtle palette of the mosses and lichen and its restful effect on your eyes.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland's landings.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland’s landings.

As you sail north towards Ilulissat and Disko Bay, the quantity of ice increases and the days get even longer. Arctic veterans now say that the ice is smaller and broken up due to the speed at which the Jakobshavn Glacier is moving now – a staggering 60 to 100 feet everyday. That said, you still see massive bergs that dwarf the ship.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Cruising the ice by Zodiac reveals even more detail: incredible translucent blue seams, hidden caves and pools and endless straiations are a (frozen) feast for the eyes, but with the ice it’s the sound that gets you. Crisp bubbles rise to the surface and constant melting is heard as the water drips off the ice. If you are lucky, you’ll hear the thunderous crack of one of the bigger bergs as it releases pressure. You feel it instinctively on the water: the icebergs are not benign, they are unpredictable and incredibly powerful.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland's glaciers.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland’s glaciers.

Being able to weave through said icebergs or land at an ancient encampment at the shallow end of a fiord is part of the wondrous appeal of Arctic cruising. Having access to a fleet of Zodiacs transforms the trip into genuine exploration, accessing communities and shoreline that large ships can’t begin to approach. To access multiple sites in a day then pull up anchor and steam up the coast to do it all over again the next day that sets ship-based travel apart.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The communities of Western Greenland are remarkable in themselves. The warmth and artistry of the people and the colour of the villages stand in stark contrast the harsh environment that they occupy. As a Canadian, it was fascinating to see Adventure Canada’ Inuit staff land on shore and begin to speak Inuktituk with local Greenlanders. It gives you a very different sense of the neighbourhood and the distant the communal links the predate our two countries.

Greenland's villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Greenland’s villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Greenland's people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.

Greenland’s people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.

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.

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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