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.

James Raffan: Circling the Midnight Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raffan

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

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

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

Circling the Midnight Sun:
An Evening with James Raffan

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Spring 2015 lecture
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
at 7:00pm EST
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
11 Aviation Parkway
Ottawa, ON
K1K 2X5

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”.

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.

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

Get to know Iqaluit with Google

Google Trekker in Iqaluit

In case you missed it, Google streetview was recently up in Iqaluit, trekking around town.

Now, Google has posted a great recap with a “behind the scenes” look at their time in Canada’s North. You can explore town on your own, or view their audio tours and Google Maps videos. You can view the page at www.google.com/intl/en/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/treks/canadian-arctic

We’re pretty excited that our travellers have the chance to get a glimpse of what they’ll experience during their town visits by checking out this Google page. We just so happen to visit Iqaluit on many of our Arctic cruises, including during the Alianait Arts Festival.

Check it out and have fun exploring Iqaluit on your own!

Photo taken from the Google Maps website link above.

Happy Nunavut Day!

Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Twenty years ago today, Parliament passed the Nunavut Act, setting the stage for the creation of Nunavut Territory, which formally came into being April 1, 1999.

Today we congratulate the people of Nunavut as we celebrate this landmark agreement between the Inuit of Nunavut and the Government of Canada.

Having worked in what is now Nunavut since before it became a territory, we value our relationships with the people and the communities of the North.

At Adventure Canada, we’re proud to provide our passengers opportunities to learn about the language, the wildlife, and the landscape of the region.

We’re grateful to work with the Nunavummiut: to learn from their traditions, appreciate their contemporary culture, and to share their hopes for the future.

Please join us in wishing continued success to Canada’s newest territory!

Celebrate Nunavut’s milestone with a voyage Into the Northwest Passage, from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Kugluktuk, Nunavut. August 6-20, 2013.

Labrador’s Torngats: did you know?

2014-Greenland-&-Wild-Labrador-2

Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador is a favourite destination for our staff. But to the world at large, the park is still a bit of a mystery. Small wonder: the Torngats are pretty far from the hustle and bustle of most people’s ordinary lives.

But for those who have visited, the Torngats rank among the world’s great places to visit. Why? Well, here’s a quick primer on this incredible Canadian wilderness destination:

1. It’s BIG. Torngat Mountains National Park comprises 9,600 km2 of area, basically forming the whole northern tip of Labarador.

2. A natural high: The Torngat range includes the tallest peaks in eastern Canada. Mount Caubvick (also known as Mont D’Iberville) tops out at 1,652 metres.

3. No car camping. This is not a weekend getaway, but a true wilderness. There are no roads to the park, and no roads or campsites in the park, either. You camp the way people have done for thousands of years: by choosing a likely-looking spot and pitching a tent.

4. You can see for miles. The park lies above the treeline, so the terrain you’ll see among the spectacular mountains is tundra. Which means the views are always spectacular!

5. You stay high and dry. Although the North Atlantic Ocean forms the eastern perimeter of the park, there is very little precipitation in the Torngats; desert-like conditions prevail.

6. It’s old! The precambrian rock that forms the Torngat mountains is part of the Canadian Shield, and is thought to have been formed several billion years ago.

7. Glaciers abound. There are more than forty active glaciers in the Torngats. Snowy peaks, crystal-clear streams and waterfalls are the inevitable, gorgeous result.

8. Grin and bear it: coastal Labrador is polar bear country. Fans of the mighty mammal stand a good chance of seeing them here along the coast. Not to mention caribou, peregrine falcons, whales, seals, and more Arctic char than you could ever eat, protected within park boundaries.

9. Aurora Borealis. The splendour of the northern lights, dancing across a crystal-clear northern night sky, is one of the Torngats’ many heavenly attractions.

10. It’s an ancient homeland. Torngat means ‘place of spirits’ and the land has been home to the Inuit and their ancestors for thousands of years. The Inuit of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut play a key role as partners in the management of Torngat Mountains National Park.

Visit Torngat Mountains National Park on these amazing trips:

Torngat Mountains Heli-Hiking, July 26, 2013 – Aug. 3, 2013
Torngat Safari Base Camp, Aug. 2, 2013 – Aug. 10, 2013
Greenland and Wild Labrador, Sept. 5, 2013 – Sept. 18, 2013
Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 19, 2014 – July 2, 2014

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.

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

Ice music charms Iqaluit

How do you keep spirits high in Iqaluit in the depths of winter?

Holding a concert using instruments made of ice is one way to drive the doldrums away.

Thanks to an outpouring of community support, Norwegian artist Terje Isungset and his group were able to create, then play instruments made entirely of local ice for Iqaluit’s Alianait concert series this past week.

The concert was a big hit (see video, above). But it wasn’t without a few anxious moments.

Here’s a video taken after a blizzard nearly destroyed all the work that went into making the instruments before they’d been played.

The Alianait concert series continues into the springtime.

Join us this summer for the 9th annual Alianait Arts Festival. June 27, 2013 – July 4, 2013