It was cold, colder than usual for the time of year. Some 45 kilometres to the northeast, the Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay) airport would tally the low of minus 31.8 C as the coldest April 18 of the last 20 years. But the sun was shining, a clear indication that the darkness and true chill of winter had been washed away by the embrace of an early High Arctic spring.
Here, at the frozen mouth of the Iqalulik river on the northwestern corner of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island), a small camp began to take shape. Not so slowly, a mix of well-worn white canvas tents seemed to pop out of the equally white sea ice, joined by others of bright orange and yellow.
As the tents went up, organized activity flurried around them. Plywood, blankets, sleeping bags and stoves were pulled from their resting places deep inside the qamutiit (traditional Inuit sleds) and placed inside the tents. A small number of saw-or shovel-wielding campers ventured out to where the sea of snow drifts was undisturbed, seeking the best snow and ice for drinking and cooking water. Another group, also gripping saws and axes, chopped whole frozen Arctic char and seals into small, manageable portions for dogs. Those too young to help out kicked a soccer ball through the snow.
While John Franklin was lauded and falsely credited with the discovery of the legendary Northwest Passage, Orcadian John Rae was actually the man who first mapped out a navigable shipping route through the Arctic.
However, his reputation was trashed because he was brave enough to reveal that some of Franklin’s men had been driven to cannibalism in a doomed attempt to survive.
As a result, Rae, the greatest Arctic explorer of the era, was denied the status and glory he deserved, with author Charles Dickens a chief instigator of his vilification.
China has been steadily increasing its presence in the Arctic since it defined the far north as a “new strategic frontier” in 2015 and began promoting a “Polar Silk Road” three years later. Moreover, in 2018, Beijing declared itself a “Near Arctic State,” a move that primarily served to underscore the interests of its Arctic claim.
The government in Beijing has its eye on lucrative minerals and other raw materials in addition to the Arctic transport link. There is particular interest in interests in the Canadian Arctic and in mining rights in Greenland. This is because the Arctic is rich in natural resources such as fish, precious metals and fossil fuels.
Reuters is reporting that China has unveiled its ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming. The Chinese are calling it the Polar Silk Road.
“China hopes to work with all parties to build a ‘Polar Silk Road’ through developing the Arctic shipping routes,” the paper, issued by the State Council Information Office, said.
China, despite being a non-Arctic state, is increasingly active in the polar region and became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013.
Among its increasing interests in the region is its major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project which is expected to supply China with four million tonnes of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.
Shipping through the Northern Sea Route would shave almost 20 days off the regular time using the traditional route through the Suez Canal, the newspaper reported last month. COSCO Shipping has also previously sailed vessels through the Arctic’s northeast passage.
Please tread lightly, pack out your trash, and treat every person and location with respect.
Please do not bury waste or wipes – even those that are biodegradable. Always pack out bags, sanitary wipes, and feminine hygiene products to minimize impact on the environment and the spread of disease.
If you find any errors, have any tips, or see anything that might need improving, please let me know.