The Northwest Passage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bidding farewell to Bill Freedman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

LiarOrSaint

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.

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.

Dr. Bill speaks for nature

Ecologist Dr. Bill Freedman of Dalhousie University joined his first Adventure Canada excursion in 2007, and sailed again with us Into the Northwest Passage in the summer of 2013. His vast knowledge of the natural world and his fun-loving manner made Dr. Bill a hit among both passengers and staff.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Bill has found time to devote himself to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, with whom Adventure Canada proudly partners. Dr. Bill literally wrote the book on the Nature Conservancy’s fifty-year history.

Dr. Bill’s passion for nature and his clear-eyed, scientific approach are both equally evident in this Global News interview about the NCC’s effort to preserve Fishing Lake, Nova Scotia.

Dr_Bill_FreedmanJoin Dr. Bill on Adventure Canada’s trips to Sable Island (June 12-20 and June 20-28.)

Tamblyn takes up Residency

This just in from Ian Tamblyn, pioneering musician and AC expedition team member:

IanTambltnI have been appointed as artist in residence at Carleton University‘s Faculty of Music for the academic year 2014- 15. This appointment will include a songwriting course during the academic year as well as concerts, production and recording seminars and sessions on music for film and drama. The appointment begins July 1, 2014.

I am currently working on the last album of the four coast project, The Labrador. Many of the songs for this album have been written on Adventure Canada trips. The release date for this CD is set for April 6th with a CD release concert at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. Other concerts will follow.

Please look at the tour section of my website www.tamblyn.com. A four CD box set will be offered in May.

I will be artist in residence at Torngat Mountains National Park this summer from July 26 to August 3. I will be working with youth who are participating in the camp, conducting several creative writing and songwriting projects.

I have recently released a CD called Connected, a collection of Inuit student songs. These songs were written by the students while on the Students on Ice expedition last summer. You may hear some of these songs soon on CBC radio.

In late December I attended the premier of a wonderful film set on Cape Hope Island on the eastern shore of James Bay. The film is called Nunaaluk: A forgotten story, directed by Louise Abbott and produced by the Cree Outfitting and Tourist Association. I wrote the music for the film. For those who have seen People of the Feather, it is a wonderful companion piece.

(Fellow AC musician) Daniel Payne will be coming to Chelsea Quebec to work on my album. For those interested in seeing Daniel he will be doing a concert January 30th at Paddy Bolland’s in the Bytown Market, Ottawa, January 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Join Ian on the following adventures in 2014:
Northwest Passage, East to West Aug. 12, 2014 – Aug. 28, 2014
Antarctica Oct. 17, 2014 – Nov. 6, 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!

Picture-perfect Passage

The crow's nest was the perfect place to capture movement around ice.

Gregory Coyes’ perch was the perfect place to shoot icebergs.

Travelling aboard the Sea Adventurer to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic is a documentarian’s dream come true. Cameras are everywhere on our trips, of course, but other, less common methods of capturing the moment were in evidence too on our recent trip Into the Northwest Passage: an old fashioned sketch book, a hi-tech remote controlled video helicopter, and a newfangled audio recorder all played their parts.

Here are a few documents of documentarians in action, capturing aspects of their amazing Arctic experience—a picture-perfect Passage.

Staff archeologist Lisa Rankin in Sisimiut, Greenland

Staff archeologist Lisa Rankin in Sisimiut, Greenland

Bill Freedman had a scientist's love for the natural world.

Bill Freedman had a scientist’s love for the natural world.

Musician Charles Spearin gathers found sounds in Greenland

Musician Charles Spearin gathers found sounds in Greenland

Shooting for a Chinese reality show, near Uummannuuq, Greenland.

Shooting for a Chinese reality show, near Uummannuuq, Greenland.

The ice off Karrat Island, Greenland was a wonder.

The ice off Karrat Island, Greenland was a wonder.

A sketchbook captures impressions a camera may miss.

A sketchbook captures impressions a camera may miss.

Noah Richler with Resolute Bay bulletin board

Noah Richler wanted to remember the Resolute Bay bulletin board

Filmmaker John Houston is pretty handy with a camera, too.

Filmmaker John Houston is pretty handy with a camera, too.

How do you do justice to a 16km2 tabular ice floe in Baffin Bay?

How do you do justice to a 16km2 tabular ice floe in Baffin Bay?

The ill-fated remote controlled helicopter videocam was brilliant while it lasted.

The ill-fated remote controlled helicopter videocam was brilliant while it lasted.

Former HBC post, Dundas Harbour, Devon Island

Former Japanese governor Akiko Domoto at HBC post, Dundas Harbour, Devon Island

Supply cupboard, Dundas Harbour HBC post

Supply cupboard, Dundas Harbour HBC post

Barney Bentall gets creative with his camera

Barney Bentall gets creative with his camera

Searching for musk oxen, Croker Bay, Nunavut

Searching for musk oxen, Croker Bay, Nunavut

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

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

Ice off Greenland was endlessly fascinating.

Ice off Greenland was endlessly fascinating.

National Geographic's Bruce Bi documenting a drum dance

National Geographic’s Bruce Bi documents Lynda Brown & Lamech Kadloo’s drum dance

One of the great photogenic plants: Arctic cotton.

One of the great photogenic plants: Arctic cotton.

Icebergs are nature's own abstract sculptures.

Icebergs are nature’s own abstract sculptures.

Into the Northwest Passage—with ukuleles

David_Newland_Uke_crop_profileMeet David Newland: Adventure Canada’s ukulele-playing Creative Director.

David first came to our attention as co-founder of the Corktown Ukulele Jam. He’s helped fuel the ukulele revival by performing, hosting workshops, commandeering streetcars and generating loads of good press for the uke.

David’s music and writing have taken him across Canada by train, along the shore of Lake Superior by freighter canoe, and to festivals and venues from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But never to the Arctic—until now.

We’re delighted to announce that David will be boarding his first-ever Adventure Canada trip, Into the Northwest Passage, August 6 to 20, 2013.

And that’s not all.

David’s already been turning his fellow Adventure Canada staff members on to the power and beauty of the ukulele, with office concerts and instructional strum-alongs. He even convinced the Powers That Be to fork out for a set of ukuleles to take North with him.

That’s right: Adventure Canada is bringing ukuleles to the Northwest Passage! Among his other duties, David Newland will be instructing and entertaining our passengers while onboard, sailing from Greenland through the islands of the Canadian Arctic archipelago.

What's missing from this picture? Hint: goes with Hawaiian shirt and lei.

What’s missing from this picture? Hint: goes with Hawaiian shirt and lei.

Just picture it: birds swooping, whales breaching, ice gleaming, midnight sun shining. Ukuleles strumming. Sublime.

Among the many memorable moments of exploration and endeavour in the North, this one will surely hold a place all its own.

Care to join us? Category 4 and 5 berths now available! Call 1-800-363-7566 x252 to speak directly to David about the trip.

Incidentally, David is campaigning to have our industry-leading bagpiper’s rebate extended to ukulele players. Click to sign the petition!

What gives?!

What gives?!

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.)

Heart of the Arctic: for lovers (of adventure)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just like the guests in this beautiful video, we’re born romantics at Adventure Canada.

And nothing’s more romantic to us than the Heart of the Arctic.

Travelling in style on a journey from coastal Greenland, to Iqaluit, beneath a summer sun that never leaves the sky, makes an ideal getaway for lovers—of adventure.

Seabirds swirl, polar bears prowl, whales wallow in the water the water—and awestruck adventurers experience the trip of a lifetime among magnificent icebergs beneath and endless skies.

That’s our idea of a perfect Valentine.

Heart of the Arctic runs from June 24 – July 6, 2013.