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For Canada And Norway, The Arctic Will Always Be Common Ground

The Arctic continues to be a key issue for both Norway and Canada, and an area of extensive cooperation.

08/29/2017 12:32 EDT | Updated 08/29/2017 12:33 EDT
Norwegian Embassy
Ambassador Ovind visiting Resolute Bay in 2016.

Last year I had the opportunity to walk on sea ice off the shore of Resolute Bay in the Canadian Arctic. For me, this was an overwhelming experience. Not only because the Northwest Passage has a special place in the Norwegian national imagination, but also because it forms part of Canada and Norway's shared polar history. As I appreciated the vast polar landscape, its light and its silence, the story of the Norwegian polar explorer, Roald Amundsen, and his exploits through this ice-covered land came to mind.

Fram Museum
Inuit by Amundsen's ship the Gjøa.

From an early age, Roald Amundsen was drawn to the polar regions. At the turn of the 20th century, he set his eyes on the coveted Northwest Passage that Western explorers had tried to navigate for over 400 years. In the summer of 1903, Amundsen together with six companions set sail from Oslo with the ship Gjøa.The crew were on the lookout for a suitable wintering refuge from massive pack ice and storms at sea when they discovered a nearly closed and completely sheltered little bay close to King William Island. Today, this very bay is named Gjoa Haven.

During two years, Amundsen studied the magnetic north while his crew wintered in the harbor. Amundsen developed a very close and respectful relationship with the Inuit in the area, who taught him many techniques for living comfortably in the Canadian Arctic. In his diaries, Amundsen included day-to-day descriptions of his interaction with the Inuit, from their first encounter, their cooperation and detailed information on the Inuit way of life. Years later, when Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole, he highlighted his friendship with the Inuit in Gjoa Haven as particularly valuable to his success as a polar explorer.

Fram Museum
Roald Amundsen's route through the Northwest Passage.

More than a hundred years after Amundsen's journey, the Arctic continues to be a key issue for both Norway and Canada, and an area of extensive cooperation. Knowledge sharing is still essential, both to understand the past, but also to prepare ourselves for the future.

The Arctic is undergoing immense change due to the warming climate. Scientists predict that the Northwest Passage will be largely ice free in the summer by 2050 if current levels of warming continue. To understand these developments, to avail of the opportunities and to meet new challenges, we need to facilitate knowledge transfer.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, second from left, listens as elder Eva Otokiak, second from right, delivers a prayer during a ground breaking for the Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, on August 23, 2014.

The signing of a new research cooperation agreement by the Arctic States earlier this year is an example of such sharing in a circumpolar context. The development of new knowledge continues to be central in the Norwegian and Canadian approach to the Arctic. An example is the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), due to open this year, which represents an opportunity for strengthening already existing polar research collaboration. Furthermore, both Norway and Canada focus on engaging representatives of local and regional authorities and indigenous peoples in the development of our Arctic policies. This is necessary to ensure sustainable economic development for the people of the north.

Today we understand the importance of being open to different sources of knowledge and of an inclusionary approach. It was not always this way, but Roald Amundsen was, more than 100 years ago, a living example of this attitude. The embassy has therefore decided to make a special edition of his diaries available to the Canadian public, as a fitting symbol to mark both our 75 years of diplomatic relations and the 150th Anniversary of Confederation. Moreover, this is the first time Amundsen's personal diaries are presented in English version. In June, a copy of the diaries were given a place in the Library of Parliament, in a special ceremony presided over by the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate. The diaries were also launched at an event co-organized with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Bernard Thibodeau/Norwegian Embassy in Ottawa
Ambassador Ovind with the Commissioner of Nunavut, the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate.

In addition, the embassy is partnering with the Canada 150 Signature expedition, Canada C3, in bringing copies of the special edition to school libraries in northern communities. On August 24, the embassy cooperated with Canada C3 in organizing a Ship t'Shore event in Gjoa Haven. Here a copy of the special edition was presented to the community that all those years ago provided Amundsen and his men with safe shelter during their arduous journey. It is quite symbolic that this event is taking place around the same time that another of Amundsen's polar vessels, the Maud, will be making its way home to Norway from its long-term shelter in Cambridge Bay.

Canada C3
Canada C3 founder and expedition leader Geoff Green, centre, and Canada C3 participants delivering a copy of the diaries to local youth in Nain, Labrador.

The story of Amundsen's journey through the Northwest Passage is a shared history. And the quest for knowledge from different sources is a joint concern. A hundred years later, Roald Amundsen's approach to the Arctic is still relevant. The Arctic continues to connect us. I look forward to the next chapter in this rich area of our bilateral relations.

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