From Mexico to Canada: My experience travelling in Canada’s North
I am a Canadian resident originally born in Monterrey, one of the warmest major cities in Mexico in the northeast state of Nuevo Leon. With a semi-arid climate, summers in Monterrey can sometimes reach temperatures above 40°C.
When I immigrated to Canada seven years ago with the goal of learning about entrepreneurship and expanding my views on business and international matters, I never thought that my life journey would offer me the opportunity to go from one of the warmest climates to one of the coldest and most remote places on Earth.
I was very fortunate to be selected to join Action Canada, a national fellowship program for promising young Canadians who have demonstrated leadership and a passion for this country. This year the program focuses on applying lessons from Canadian history to the development of public policy for Northern Canada, and that’s how my journey started.
On August 24 I began my journey in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, “where the gold is paved with streets.” Here are some things to keep in mind when you visit Yellowknife.
- The Aboriginal Peoples have strong historical ties to the area. We are strangers in their land.
- The friendliness of the citizens is remarkable. Bring a positive attitude.
- Do not wear a big goose-down jacket unless it’s really cold. Otherwise, you will be made fun of.
I cannot decide what impressed me most about Yellowknife: the dazzling northern lights, the beauty of Cameron Falls, the history told by rocks that are billions of years old, the gorgeous sunsets on Great Slave Lake or the hypnotic music produced by the drums of the Dene First Nation. While Yellowknife is a young city, immersing yourself into its nature, landscapes and ancient geological formations will take your imagination back to the beginning of the creation of the Earth.
Interesting fact: These geological formations are the reason why NASA named a region of Mars “Yellowknife.”
In the city, things are different. Homelessness and the effects of substance abuse are visible there, with unemployment and the high cost of housing among some of the main causes. There has been some progress as a result of the efforts of the Canadian and territorial governments; however, economic growth opportunities such as mining and exploration are still challenged by the lack of clarity in regulatory processes and the lack of trained resources. Meanwhile, Aboriginal groups continue to advocate for their rights to participate in economic opportunities, to maximize their social benefits, to exercise their ownership and use of land and resources, and to protect the natural environment they grew up in.
Devolution, where the federal government transfers the administration and control of the Northwest Territory’s public lands, resources and rights in respect of waters to the territorial government, is currently a hot topic in the Legislative Assembly. Canada’s North is living a historical moment where the negotiations that are currently taking place will shape the future of the territory, its environment, its economy and the well-being of its residents. Devolution is expected to come into force on April 1, 2014.
After spending a week in Yellowknife, I flew to the hamlet of Kugluktuk in the region of Nunavut in the company of Action Canada fellows and advisors. (Wearing a goose-down jacket makes a bit more sense here.)
In Kugluktuk, we boarded (via helicopter!) the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent, Canada’s largest and most powerful icebreaker, which would sail us through the Northwest Passage toward Resolute Bay.
We spent four days on the ship, and we heard from the captain and various Arctic experts about some of the pressing issues facing Canada’s North. Some of these issues include global warming and its impact, increasing exploration activity in the North, indigenous rights, country claims over sovereign rights of the polar regions of North America and even technological challenges, such as overcoming oil spills that happen under frozen water.
After four days of sailing through the majesty of the Canadian Artic Archipelago, we arrived at Resolute Bay, where we were welcomed by the staff of the Polar Continental Shelf Program. They told us about the program and its mission to provide safe, efficient and cost-effective logistics services in support of science and government priorities. The staff also spoke to us about issues including severe weather, the remoteness of transportation and the energy challenges suffered by the community.
Every community in Nunavut depends entirely on imported fossil fuels for transportation, heating and electricity generation, and Resolute Bay is no exception. Given my background in alternative energy, I couldn’t stop thinking about just how much innovation is required there and how great it would be if we could support the development of more demonstration projects specific to the energy needs of Canada’s North.
Interesting fact: Locking doors is prohibited in Resolute Bay, as you never know when you will be chased by a polar bear!
Our final stop was at Resolute Bay’s school gym, where we heard stories from the local elders about the Canadian government’s Inuit relocation project in the 1950s and how the federal government apologized for its broken promises five decades later. In 1996, the government also agreed to pay $10 million into a trust fund to help compensate the families of the relocated people. Being able to connect with the people of the area made a huge impression on me.
I left the North wondering how to protect the fragile Arctic environment from irreparable damage.
I am determined to continue my efforts to support innovation that makes sense in Arctic climates and that can help reduce the dependency on diesel fuels, thereby reducing their impact on the Northern environment and communities. I’m also inspired to spread the word to Canadians and to other immigrants like me, so they too can feel proud of the vast beauty of Canada’s North and become aware of both the opportunities and the challenges that the people there face. The North is nothing like the South, yet we are all one single country.
Jesika BrionesJesika is the International Program Manager for the Advanced Energy Centre. She works with MaRS cleantech advisors and experts from academia, industry and government to support the development and adoption of clean energy technologies in local and international markets. See more…