My colleague Fred Weir and I take you to a changing Arctic this week – the Northwest Passage of Canada and the Northern Sea Route of Russia. Fred visited Murmansk, a city of 300,000, and was struck by how much “Arctic Russia is like the rest of the country – urbanized, populated by Russians who have the same sorts of jobs, watch the same TV channels, and live in the same huge apartment blocs.”
His flight was an easy two hours from Moscow, and he is eager to return in wintertime to see the northern lights. I was farther north in Resolute Bay – too far north to see the northern lights, in fact – and I got there with the help of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130.
When I’m in a new place, the first thing I do is lace up and run to get my bearings. But the first thing we were told was not to leave our lodgings because of polar bears. Instead, we drove through. And I was struck by how much this Arctic town is nothing like the rest of Canada.
Resolute Bay was quiet on a recent dusk. Gorgeous chunks of ice decorated the coastline. There’s a skating rink – kids were playing shinny – and a post office, co-op for groceries (which only arrive in an annual resupply shipment), a wildlife bureau, and a nursing station. In front yards were snowmobiles and dog sleds. A polar bear skin hung outside one home; an Arctic fox scurried across the landscape. It has an edge-of-world feel.
This is Canada’s second-most northern community. It only exists because the government relocated Inuit families in 1953 to exert Arctic sovereignty – for which Canada apologized in 2010. Leaving town, a powerful statue by the late carver Simeonie Amagoalik stands as a monument to the “High Arctic exiles” of Resolute. Seventy years ago this community was forced into an unforgiving landscape. Now they stand at the frontlines of climate change. While a warming Arctic shifts geopolitical and commercial calculations – the subject of the Monitor’s two-parter – it will have the greatest bearing on the people who call the Arctic home.