Courtesy Reuters

Canada's Northern Horizon

IN May of this year the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. St. Laurent, visited his friend, the President of the United States. As Canadian Prime Ministers and American Presidents have done over the years, they talked together with the frankness, mutual respect and community of aim which distinguishes the relations between our two peoples. They talked of many things--and among them of our common security. As they looked round the globe across the Atlantic and Pacific, they did not ignore the problems of continental defense, and of our northern borderlands in which we share a joint concern. In the far-off but not forgotten days of 1940, their predecessors, Prime Minister King and President Roosevelt, had also talked of these things.

In a world at war, Canada and the United States, locked in a single continent, and sharing Arctic frontiers, had been impelled by the vulnerability of North America to recognize the permanency of their joint interest in the defense of North America from the Rio Grande to the Pole. Wartime coöperation was close, and valuable lessons were learned. Both countries were determined that it should continue in time of peace. It has; and the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, since 1940, has become both the chief symbol and principal architect of such coöperation.

Continental defense is, of course, more than continental. North America cannot be made secure solely by mighty sea and air armadas above and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts; or by air bases, radar networks and Maginot lines on the Arctic ice. It involves, we now know, the sending of forces from both countries to Korea and across the Atlantic for protection through prevention. The lines of defense today go far beyond any geographical limitation. They run, indeed, through the minds and hearts of men.

While all this is true, it is also true that our northern continental frontier, the Canadian Arctic, is now a vital area of both defense and development. Canadians have abandoned the indifference which they once displayed towards their Arctic regions. The reason is partly economic, but, more significantly, strategic. The advance of the air age has taught them that across their northern frontier, only a few hours away, is a new neighbor, the U.S.S.R. They realize, with something of a shock, that they stand between that neighbor, who has not been a friendly one, and their good neighbor to the south. They know that the cold war which has been raging has not overlooked the frozen north.

In some quarters this realization of danger from the north has conjured up visions of imaginary battles waged in the polar ice; of invading aerial fleets raining atomic destruction on the defenseless cities and towns of our continent. These gloomy speculations have sometimes entered the realm of the fantastic, though there may be a valid foundation for some of them. The revolution in technology, communications and in the development of new weapons poses problems for North America, where Canada and the United States are strategically inseparable parts of the same shrunken world.

Both governments, therefore, have recognized that the common defense demanded a greater knowledge of our northern frontiers, and a greater awareness of the possibilities which exist there for both conflict and coöperation.

Postwar principles of defense coöperation between the two countries were enunciated in Ottawa and Washington in a joint statement issued on February 12, 1947. This statement, which set forth the direction that military collaboration should take, provided that as an underlying principle, all coöperative arrangements should be without impairment of the control of either country over all activities in its territory. The statement concluded with a joint affirmation on the part of the two governments that "the close security relationship between Canada and the United States in North America will in no way impair, but on the contrary will strengthen the coöperation of each country within the broader framework of the United Nations."

In implementing these principles of defense coöperation, Canada has taken the position that the granting of permanent or long-term rights in connection with United States defense installations on Canadian soil is undesirable. Apart from the special arrangements prevailing at the leased bases in Newfoundland which we inherited from the United Kingdom, Canada continues to accept and intends to discharge her proper responsibility for the defense of her own territory, and feels, consequently, that all arrangements within Canadian territory should remain under her control. Our Prime Minister, Mr. St. Laurent, in referring to this statement of principles in New York in February 1947 put it this way:

If, on the one hand, the joint statement indicates that we in Canada and the United States intend to maintain our independence of action, it says equally that we are prepared to enter on a basis of honorable partnership into plans for security which must of necessity involve the action of more than one state. We realize that no nation can live unto itself. We realize that the destiny of our country is bound closely with that of the United States. We are therefore prepared to consider with you on the basis of the joint responsibilities and our joint interests whatever combined action either one of us may think desirable. This does not commit either one of us to agree to all the plans which the other may put forward. It does, however, establish the fact that we shall discuss the question of defense freely with one another, and that where joint action commends itself to us both, we shall be prepared to take it.

In attempting to apply these principles of joint defense to the Arctic frontier, we did not make the mistake of committing all-- or too much--of our resources to the northern zone. Instead, the American and Canadian authorities worked out their policies or their estimation of the threat of aggression according to the best information obtainable, the common interests of the two countries, and the lessons of history. In doing so, they neither ignored the north, nor became obsessed by it. This is not the place to discuss defense plans. But it is obvious that the threat in the Arctic must be evaluated in the light of the threat in other directions; and that forces and resources must be concentrated where the threat is greatest and where they can be most effective. Through NATO action in the West, and through United Nations action in the East, we participate in collective defense measures with other like-minded states. Similarly we envisage the defense problems of the far north as a joint responsibility.

II

Canadian, and American, northern defense plans include the application of scientific techniques to the problem of detecting movements of aircraft, and the development of systems of early warning. The joint Canadian-United States network of radar stations to provide early warning, and communications facilities to direct squadrons of fighter aircraft, have made considerable progress in the last year. To the temporary mobile facilities which have been in use since the Second World War, new radar installations of the most modern and powerful types are steadily being added. Furthermore, the first units of a Canadian Ground Observer Corps have been formed to supplement the radar net. This Corps will be largely civilian and its object is to identify and report on low-flying aircraft. Regular and reserve fighter squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force are being built up as a backbone for the air defense network. The first regular squadron equipped with Canadian built CF-100 all-weather twin-engine jet fighters was recently formed and others are in the process of formation.

Defense research continues to press forward into the field of Arctic problems. Air navigation in northern areas presents unique difficulties and continuing investigations are now being undertaken, adding to our store of knowledge of flying under Arctic conditions.

These developments show that we realize that it would be wrong to ignore the dangers of attack from the north in the event of a total war and disastrous to fail to take adequate defensive measures to meet it. It would be even more dangerous, however, and we would be inviting the very catastrophe we seek to avert, were we to exchange the collective defense strategy which we share with our friends and allies in NATO, and the commitments we have assumed as members of the United Nations, for a narrow continentalism. The problem for Canada is to maintain a balance in committing her limited manpower and defense resources; to weigh carefully the alternative risks of the overrunning of Western Europe by a potential enemy, and the risks of attack by the polar route; and to formulate plans and priorities accordingly.

We do not live today in a period such as the last war, when the Arctic was a valued route for equipment and supplies from North America on delivery to an ally fighting for its national survival. Nor do we live in the state of the relative unpreparedness of the late 1940's, for we have learned that the price of survival is a strong collective defense. Today we must prepare both to defend ourselves and to live at peace at the same time. We have to envisage the prospect of continued arms expenditures and the application of much of our resources to defense. But we sense also the prospect of the kind of world this could be if we were able to put aside our arms and devote our energies and resources to the vast enterprises of peaceful development. In Canadian minds the Arctic is looming ever larger in such development, much of which will be coöperative with the United States as it has been in the past.

If the northern frontier is being slowly but steadily rolled back, this arises not only from our concern for defense, but also from our determination to deepen and extend our knowledge of its economic and scientific secrets. The weather is one example. Over the years the Canadian weather service had done a pioneering job of collecting valuable northern weather data. But it was natural and sensible that the weather station program should become a coöperative venture. Meteorologists of Canada and the United States shared the desire to get better observations from the far north which is the source of so much of our weather.

So plans were carefully laid by officials of the two countries through the winter of 1946-47 for a five-year joint weather program. The United States Navy provided ships on which Canadian and United States officials penetrated as far as navigation would allow in search of sites for the new stations. The choice of sites was enormously difficult. The meteorologists knew where they wanted them from the point of view of weather observations. The mariners had their problems of supply by sea. The airmen had in mind their conditions for the eventual construction of safe and reliable landing facilities. The operators who were to man the stations had yet other considerations related to efficiency and convenience of operation, radio transmission, water supply and shelter. The main station was placed at Resolute on Cornwallis Island. When it was established on the last day of August 1947, time was running short; a delay of a few days in departure of the ships might have meant the difference between return to the south and an ice-locked winter in the Arctic.

Resolute, although the main station, was preceded by Eureka far to the north on the western coast of Ellesmere Island. The history of Eureka goes back to Easter 1947, when it was established in the remarkable space of five days--all by aircraft based on Thule in Greenland. For the rest of that year there were only those two stations. The next spring, the two easternmost stations were put in at Isachsen on Ellef Ringnes Island and Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island. The final link in the five-station chain was Alert, northernmost of all the weather stations, almost at the tip of Ellesmere Island. It was started in the spring of 1950 by a small group landed by air. Their main supplies had been cached on the beach by an icebreaker two years before.

Under the joint arrangements for Arctic weather stations, Canada provides all the permanent buildings and installations, and much of the equipment is supplied by the United States. The commanding officer at each station is a Canadian, with a U.S. executive officer under him. About half the staff in each station is Canadian, half from the United States. The R.C.A.F. supplies more than half of the airlift, but the U. S. Navy and Coast Guard will be responsible for much of the sea supply until Canada has sufficient equipment for the entire operation.

The five new stations established in the northern Arctic since 1947 have also had great significance for scientists who have no connection with their primary function. The stations are laboratories for experts of every kind who come up for a week, a month or a season for field work and then return to their offices and laboratories in the south. Before the stations were established, this field work in the Arctic was enormously more difficult because of the lack of bases and the lack of transportation. Now the large aircraft which fly up on the spring resupply mission are filled with a varied assortment of men and equipment. A scientist from the Dominion Observatory travels from place to place with a little box which tells him much about the shape of the earth; a geodesist bearing cases of fragile and complicated equipment establishes fixed points astronomically in order to make navigational charts and maps more accurate. A scientist from the Department of Agriculture spends a summer looking for insects; another, from the National Museum of Canada, is concerned with Arctic plants. Men in these fields of study return year after year to increase the knowledge of Arctic phenomena. But there are also special projects, such as research into the aurora borealis and the characteristics of permafrost, which have now become practicable with the establishment of the new permanent communities.

III

These northern defense activities and scientific projects have given Canada a "new look." This new look was for the first time reflected last year when the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys of the Canadian Government published a new map of Canada for use by the general public. Although it is an ordinary political and administrative map on the scale of 100 miles to the inch, its publication was something of an event, because it was the first time, in a publication for general distribution, that all of Canada has been shown.

It may seem curious that only after a country has passed its 85th birthday have its people begun fully to recognize its size. Canada is an awkward shape for a book page, and it was customary to lop off a few thousand square miles from the top for the sake of convenience and symmetry. No one minded much, for to most people the farther reaches of the Arctic were just empty wasteland, useless to anyone except a few curious explorers who, in the heyday of flag-planting, found purpose and pleasure in claiming for their King great undefined areas of ice and barren rock. Within very recent years, however, the Canadian Arctic is being transformed from a vacuum to a frontier, and although it would be a bold man who would forecast the nature of its future development, of one thing we can be sure: if Horace Greeley were alive today, and if he were a Canadian, he would say, "Go north, young man!"

It takes more than a map, however, to give a picture of Canada's size. It takes the story of men with imagination, vision and devotion who have gone far, far "down north" to explore the mysteries of another world which, curiously enough, shares many problems with our own. Some of the men are explorers, who painstakingly map, not just the coastlines and mountain ranges which the aerial camera has already registered, but the nature of the rocks, the glaciers, the structure of the ice, the salinity of the sea, the minerals under the earth. Some are policemen, young constables of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who alone or in pairs have responsibility for the administration of law and order in areas far broader than many European countries. Some are prospectors, traders, missionaries and doctors. Some are air strip mechanics who, 2,000 miles back of beyond, have built airfields out of the gravel left by glaciers. Some are meteorological observers and radio operators who explore the weather from ground to upper atmosphere and send reports which will be recorded on every weather map in North America. Some are botanists, zoologists, seismologists; some cooks. They work in bitter cold under skies darkened half a year and on top of permafrost whose thickness man has just begun to measure. And some are members of our armed forces, learning to operate in this far northland. They have made camps to live and work in, aerial masts, roads and landing strips. Together they are opening a new land. In size, in problems, in ultimate rewards, it is one of the most challenging frontiers men have faced. It is important for Americans, as well as Canadians, to know more about it.

Canada is about as broad as it is long. Churchill, at the northern tip of Manitoba on Hudson Bay, was long considered a northern outpost--which it is. But when you have travelled from the United States border to Churchill, you have gone only about a third of the way up Canada. Although there is some difference of opinion on how to define the Arctic, by common consent Churchill is regarded as lying at its southern edge. The tree line which curves from the mouth of the Mackenzie southward to Churchill and continues across the Labrador-Ungava peninsula south of Ungava Bay is a convenient boundary. South of the tree line there are fuel, shelter, soft snow, Indians, snowshoes and toboggans. North there is no shelter from the wind which packs the snow into hard drifts. Eskimos take the place of Indians and the sledge replaces the toboggan. About 1,000,000 square miles, or a third of Canada, lie north of the tree line, and in that area there are now only about 10,000 Canadians--one person to 100 square miles.

Only slowly do we shed the misconceptions about endless flat Arctic plains of ice and heavy snow. On the east, through a high mountainous fringe, peaks rise two miles high and spectacular fiords slash the whole coast line from Labrador to North Ellesmere Island. In the center are some of the oldest rocks in the world--the relatively flat Canadian shield dotted with lakes, like the lower Laurentians but without any trees. Finally, there are the Arctic islands: flat rocks, large plateaus--cut by deep canyons.

Although the winter is long and cold in the Archipelago, the Arctic residents think of it as merely invigorating. The thermometer can remain under 40 degrees below zero for days or weeks on end, but the humidity is low. The winds are only occasionally severe, but are responsible for much of the physical discomfort suffered in the cold. In September the freeze-up begins, and by October the bays are covered by ice. The snowfall is generally light, and in the long spring days the snow runs quickly off the land. By early June most of the snow has gone but the sea ice does not melt away until late July or August. As in the south, ice and snow on land are permanent only on the icecaps and glaciers of the mountains.

In the short summer the Arctic comes to life. Flowers blossom as soon as the snow disappears and clouds of birds arrive to breed, accompanied by Arctic mosquitoes whose ferocity is legendary, though they are fortunately short-lived. Despite the color of the Arctic summer and the moderate temperatures, most of the residents prefer the crispness of winter to the dust and grime of the warmer months.

IV

The key problem in Arctic development is communications. Hundreds of years ago, natives of the Arctic solved the questions of food, shelter and clothing. But only when the problem of communications was solved could the Arctic develop from a little-known hinterland, the preserve of explorers and hunters and a few thousand Eskimos and white settlers. In summer, travel by boat is possible; in winter, the sledge is the family Ford. There is an in-between time from freeze-up till December when all travel is difficult, for the bays are frozen and there is little snow for sledging. The best time for land travel is from mid-February. By the end of June the season for sledging is past, and the rivers, lakes and salt water are in use.

Sea transport is still the most important means of supply for bulk cargo; but in the lower part of Canada's northland the airplane has been equally important. Without it not only would developments like Port Radium and Yellowknife be years behind, but a tremendous amount of the recent prospecting in the whole of the Northwest Territories and Yukon just could not have been done. The plane is still a costly method of transportation for bulk supplies, and no enterprise in the far north will be commercially possible if it is totally dependent upon air. Fortunately, however, the north is well served by rivers and all forms of water transport from small rafts to large boats.

Further west, the Northwest Highway System which links Alberta with the Yukon is serving the development of a most important area. The system was built during the war as a military highway but since being turned over to the Canadian Government in 1946 it has been developed substantially. Much of the road has been resurfaced, permanent bridges have been built, and the most difficult parts of the roads have been improved. Although it is no superhighway, it is good enough to attract an increasing number of tourists each year, and commercial tourist facilities are gradually developing along the way. Perhaps more importantly the highway, along with the air facilities which were built about the same time in the Yukon, has opened the way to many enterprises which otherwise would have been impossible.

With the improvement in communications, there have been significant new developments in the Canadian north, both political and economic. Port Radium, on the shores of Great Bear Lake, has long been one of the world's important sources of radium and uranium. Now, at Beaver Lodge Lake in northern Saskatchewan, the government has opened two uranium mines and a plant capable of dealing with 500 tons of ore a day. Yellowknife is a well-established gold-mining area; production there in 1951 was worth $7,750,000. Although radium and gold have been extracted since before the war, there is now promise of important new developments in lead, copper and tungsten. Pine Point, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, has large lead zinc deposits which raise hopes for an important new industry and new community in that area. Ore has been proved at shallow depths in blocks over an area about 40 miles long and five miles wide; in some places it is 100 feet thick. The development of Pine Point would require the construction of a 400-mile railway from Grim-shaw, Alberta. Large nickel deposits are being investigated at Ferguson Lake, nearly 300 miles north-northwest of the railhead at Churchill, Manitoba. Nickel has been found on the Saskatchewan border north of Black Lake, and copper deposits are being investigated at Dismal Lakes north of Port Radium just south of the Arctic shore. The Yukon, scene of the great gold rush at the end of the last century, is still producing minerals in commercial quantities. The beds of the streams which eager miners panned more than half a century ago are now being torn up by great dredges. In the Mayo district of the Yukon there are large deposits of galena and sphalterite which give hope for important sources of silver, lead and zinc in the future.

Overshadowing all developments in public interest is the search for oil. The great boom in Alberta has turned eyes north again. Oil has been extracted in commercial quantities at Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River since 1920, but the market has been relatively slow. Recently 35,000,000 acres of land have been staked for oil in the Mackenzie basin. In the Yukon, government officials and private companies are looking with new interest at the tremendous potential of hydroelectric power; in the southern Yukon it could reach 5,000,000 horsepower. The Eastern Arctic mainland is in the early stages of a tremendous new iron ore development. The whole country is stirring.

V

There is much talk of underdeveloped areas these days, and it is right that there should be. The fight against poverty, ill health and low living standards is a global struggle which the nations of the free world long to undertake on a greater scale. Let us not forget, however, that our northern lands--the lands around the periphery of the Arctic Circle--are also underdeveloped areas. With coöperative effort, with the sharing of scientific experience and information, with the joint use of our resources and energies, we could achieve things that would transform them.

No one can judge what the Canadian north will be like in another 50 years. The pessimist may say that most of the developments at the top of the map are the product of a boom--or a fear--which will not last. More realistic, however, are the hope and expectation of continuous development of which the present is only a modest beginning. This is a new kind of hinterland. There is no pressure of population to fill it, and indeed one of our most serious problems may be the shortage of men to develop its potential. The movement north will come, as it has come, because of the immense attractions of the area despite the obvious drawbacks of distance and climate. Except in the transportation of heavy material to southern markets, distance no longer matters so much, and most of the north is served remarkably well by navigable waters. Climate is, and always will be, difficult at first for the southerner, but a lot of myths are being exploded, and the weather is one of them.

We know that there is much to be gained from the Arctic. It may come in the form of power, oil, gas, minerals and general economic development providing the basis of new and growing communities. It may also come in the form of greater protection against aggression, for the north is a watching place for what may come from beyond the Pole. Canadians have every reason to look to the north. We are now aware of its possibilities. Whatever the direction and emphasis of our activity, the Arctic is coming into its own; and, with it, new opportunities and new responsibilities for Canada.

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