A new focus

Few would dispute that Canada’s neglect of the North has been shameful. Aside from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Vision of the North in the 1950s, the subject has been ignored. Latterly, however, Canada has started to focus on our sovereignty there, but other aspects of northern development still do not command sufficient attention.

Under Prime Minister Mackenzie King, the only noteworthy activity in the north was a modest program of installing weather stations. Later, the north was opened by bush pilots flying planes equipped with pontoons for summer’s unblocked water and skis for the level ice of winter. That led to the surveyor and the prospector investigating the commercial possibilities of year-round traffic in the north, hoping to bring that area into Canadian life with some new-found intensity.

With the building of a great number of frontier towns, mineral exploration began, albeit very slowly. The establishment of the Distant Early Warning Line (to monitor the Soviet Union’s incursions in North America) accelerated progress. Aklavik was rebuilt and Inuvik was created, with sewers and other services in northern corridors above the permafrost. Places like Coppermine and Frobisher Bay were surveyed: "visions" of Arctic cities under domes with glass towers and urban gardens were contemplated, but the planned towns never were fully realized.

The Diefenbaker plans were blocked because of intra-party squabbling and his eventual replacement by the Liberals under Prime Minister Pearson. Nevertheless, the former’s Roads to Resources plans were implemented and were a great success.

Recently, the Toronto Star reported on new interest in the Arctic as the north became much more accessible. The status of the Northwest Passage and the dispute with the United States over sovereignty there has brought renewed attention to that region. That article stated that Prime Minister Harper has agreed to construct a deepwater dock on northern Baffin Island and ice-strengthened patrol vessels for the Canadian Navy.  Those moves are overdue and certainly should be commended.

Of great significance should be the development of the north’s tremendous resources. There is an immense raw material boom underway that, from the evidence, should be long-lived. Gold, base metals of every kind, particularly copper, all are to be found and exploited in the north.

The promises of the north are mind-boggling, but so far have not received adequate notice. It should be noted that 40 million people live and work in Russia’s north, compared to only a fraction of that number in Canada’s north, both with the same climate conditions.

Perhaps the current emphasis of the Harper administration on Arctic sovereignty will spill over at long last to more interest in the expansion of work in Canada’s north. Our storehouse of raw materials there should make us the envy of the world and greatly enhance the well-being of all Canadians.


Bruce Whitestone