In­sights on Canada’s Far North from the coun­try’s most fa­mous space­man, Chris Had­field

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Alexan­dra Pope with pho­tog­ra­phy by Paul Colan­gelo

In­sights on Canada’s Far North from the coun­try’s most-fa­mous space­man, Chris Had­field


power of ideas. Since re­tir­ing from the Cana­dian Space Agency, the Cana­dian as­tro­naut — who rock­eted to global fame in 2013 thanks to his mul­ti­me­dia dis­patches from or­bit as com­man­der of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion — has ded­i­cated his seem­ingly bound­less en­ergy to the pro­mo­tion of ideas that chal­lenge and ex­cite. Two years ago, at the urg­ing of his son Evan, Had­field or­ga­nized the first in­stal­ment of what has come to be known as Gen­er­a­tor, a sort of 21st-cen­tury sa­lon bring­ing to­gether artists, mu­si­cians, in­ven­tors and thinkers for a cel­e­bra­tion of cre­ativ­ity. The first show sold out Toronto’s Massey Hall and set in mo­tion dis­cus­sions that would ul­ti­mately see Had­field bring the Gen­er­a­tor con­cept to the Arc­tic. For 18 days in Au­gust and Septem­ber 2016, the as­tro­naut and a team of 10 mul­ti­me­dia sto­ry­tellers from around the world, in­clud­ing Cana­dian photograph­er Paul Colan­gelo, tra­versed the Arc­tic Ocean, from south­ern Greenland to Res­o­lute, Nu­navut, aboard a cruise ship. Their goal? To cre­ate art that por­trays the Arc­tic not as a sym­bol of cli­mate catas­tro­phe or a prize to be claimed, but sim­ply as it is: a re­gion of sur­pris­ing beauty with a unique cul­ture, wor­thy of ex­plo­ration and un­der­stand­ing. Here, Colan­gelo shares his pho­tog­ra­phy from the trip for the first time in print, while Had­field dis­cusses his ex­pe­ri­ence with Gen­er­a­tor Arc­tic and why Cana­di­ans should strive to know their North.

On the im­pact of Gen­er­a­tor Arc­tic

It’s gone bet­ter than I ever hoped it would. We put on a show at the Art Gallery of On­tario. Danny Michel re­leased an al­bum that he wrote and recorded on board. Elmo Keep is still writ­ing about it. Si­mone Bra­mante in Italy is do­ing a trav­el­ling show based on it. And all sorts of peo­ple saw the Arc­tic through this work and re­al­ized that to visit it is an op­tion.

On what sur­prised Had­field about the Arc­tic

The lush­ness of it, and the rich­ness and suc­cess of the life there. It was amaz­ing, at 80 de­grees north, to be walk­ing across a meadow that was ab­so­lutely teem­ing

with life. It was like walk­ing across a barn­yard — there was so much an­i­mal ma­nure in this big, mossy field, with muskox and rab­bits and wolves and smaller dogs. At sea, we saw all sorts of wildlife as well, po­lar bears, whales, seals and nar­whals and al­most all the dif­fer­ent breeds of birds that live up there. I was amazed at the preva­lence of life ev­ery­where and the an­cient na­ture and bal­ance of it. It’s not as broad or deep as life in the south, but it’s ex­tremely evolved and much more in­tense. The Arc­tic doesn’t feel bar­ren at all. It feels in­cred­i­bly rich and beloved, and that wasn’t some­thing I was ex­pect­ing.

On the shared ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­plor­ing

You get a chance to get to know peo­ple and look into their lives. One of the ladies on the cruise was lovely, in her 70s; her hus­band had re­cently died, and she was kind of gath­er­ing her­self and won­der­ing what to do with the rest of her life. She swam in each place we stopped, in the su­per-cold wa­ter, and treated it al­most like a pil­grim­age. As part of the evening lec­tures, each mem­ber of my Gen­er­a­tor crew would get up and talk about their own ex­pe­ri­ences, what they’d seen so far and also where else they had been. To have all those dif­fer­ent mir­ror re­flec­tions of the whole thing I think deep­ened it for every­body.

On con­nect­ing with the past

We vis­ited Beechey Is­land and stood at the graves of the three men who died early in the Franklin ex­pe­di­tion. There are not many places on Earth that give you the sense of eter­nity, of pa­tience, of im­pla­ca­ble ge­ol­ogy and of beau­ti­ful time that you feel there. We get so fran­ti­cally wor­ried about the hur­ried na­ture of each of our in­di­vid­ual ex­is­tences that it’s lovely to be in a place that re­minds you of eter­nity. The Arc­tic helped put that back into my soul. I long to go back.

On why Cana­di­ans should care about the North

Many Cana­di­ans are the lucky ben­e­fi­cia­ries of an ex­tremely suc­cess­ful civ­i­liza­tion: we are raised with an ex­pec­ta­tion of sta­bil­ity, we have one of the top ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in the world, we have a great so­cial wel­fare sys­tem. With that level of priv­i­lege also comes re­spon­si­bil­ity, and I think our num­ber-one

re­spon­si­bil­ity is not to just un­der­stand the neigh­bour­hood that each of us lives in, but to ac­tu­ally get to know the coun­try and see how it all fits to­gether. We’re the sec­ond big­gest coun­try on Earth, and it’s be­cause of the enor­mous amount of Canada that is the Arc­tic. As the cli­mate con­tin­ues to change and sea ice be­comes less preva­lent, those waters are go­ing to be­come more and more im­por­tant. There is enor­mous un­tapped po­ten­tial in the North — min­eral and petro­chem­i­cal wealth, tourism wealth and nav­i­ga­tional wealth. We need to know it ex­ists and see it in as mul­ti­fac­eted and com­plete a way as we can. Then we can start think­ing about how it’s go­ing to be­come part of the fu­ture of all of us as Cana­di­ans over the next gen­er­a­tions.

On striv­ing for ob­jec­tiv­ity with Gen­er­a­tor Arc­tic

What we did with the Gen­er­a­tor con­cept in the Arc­tic is by no means unique or com­plete, but we did our ab­so­lute best to try to let peo­ple see the Arc­tic as it is, not through a fil­ter. Much as I did with the pho­tos I shared from the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, I want peo­ple just to see it and draw their own con­clu­sions based on what they see, not on some­one feed­ing them what they’re sup­posed to be think­ing about this part of the world. I think the more of that we can do, the health­ier we’ll be and the bet­ter we’ll treat the Arc­tic.

Clock­wise from op­po­site bot­tom: An old build­ing at Eureka Weather Sta­tion on Ellesmere Is­land; Qi­laqit­soq, in west Green­land, a former Inuit set­tle­ment where 500-year-old mum­mies were found in the 1970s; Chris Hadfield and mu­si­cian Danny Michel jam on...

Clock­wise from top left: Uum­man­naq, a com­mu­nity of 1,500 in north­west Green­land; Mckin­ley Bay, on north­ern Ellesmere Is­land off Tan­quary Fiord; ice floes in Jones Sound, north of Devon Is­land.

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