Commemorating the Canadian Arctic Expedition in North Dakota

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Original artifacts from the Canadian Arctic Expedition.
Live Twitter feed during symposium.
Consul General Merchant was interviewed by local station WDAZ-tv.

From the 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition to the 2013 Arctic Council Chairmanship

Canada has significant scientific ties to the Arctic, dating back to 1913 when the Canada launched the Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE): the first multinational, multidisciplinary, systematic study of the Arctic.

The CAE was a significant turning point in Canada's Arctic territorial history, helping to define Canada's northern boundaries and providing scientific and cultural knowledge of the Arctic and of Northern peoples.

Together with the University of North Dakota, Canada hosted a public symposium to invite the public to investigate the connections between science, people, and sustainability in the Canadian Arctic and to celebrate Canada’s legacy in Arctic exploration and environmental leadership.

Inspiration for this symposium was CAE’s former leader, Vilhjalmur Stefansson of North Dakota, an Icelandic-Canadian who enrolled at the University of North Dakota in 1898.

The Friendly Arctic: A Land of Potential

A common thread throughout each presenter’s talks was Stefansson’s concept of the “Friendly Arctic”.

Stefansson was among the first explorers and anthropologists to promote the concept that the Arctic not a vast wasteland but as an area full of life.

Where most explorers of the time carried heavy supply cargoes, Stefansson took his cues from the traditional knowledge of Northern inhabitants, living off the ice and the land. 
Speakers described the ongoing scientific, territorial, and cultural significance of the CAE; Canada's present-day Northern Strategy and Arctic Council priorities; and U.S.-Canada Arctic cooperation in areas including science and technology, environmental protection, and search and rescue.

Consul General Merchant discussed the theme of Canada’s Arctic Council Chairmanship, “Development for the People of the North,” and stressed Canada’s commitment to include the value of traditional and local knowledge, much as Vilhjalmur Stefansson did.

This knowledge has enabled Arctic residents to survive in the harsh Arctic environment for millennia. Merchant went on to outline Canada’s ongoing focus on responsible Arctic resource development, safe Arctic shipping and a sustainable and economically vibrant future for Northern communities.

The event also featured Will Steger, a Minnesota-based explorer and environmentalist whose 50 years of polar exploration have been highly influenced by Stefansson’s approach; Dr. David Gray, a Canadian researcher, scientist, and historian who recently retraced part of the CAE’s path; Jamshed Merchant, Canada’s Consul General in the Upper Midwest U.S; and Dr. Timothy Pasch, Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of North Dakota, whose cutting-edge research on digital preservation of indigenous cultures and languages is based in Arviat, Nunavut.
Because the conference was streamed online in real time, and a concurrent conversation took place on Twitter, people were able to participate from across the globe.

One attendee wrote: “Many, many thanks for the superb conference today at the University of North Dakota. I am always interested in the understanding of Canadian culture here in the U.S.”

To learn more, read the interactive online story at