The Honourable Peter Adams
This book brings to life both the adventure and the rigour of Arctic research during the “golden age” of Canadian federal research, in the 1960s. Its focus is the series of field seasons when scientists from the Geographical Branch of the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources, Canada, tackled the glacial geomorphology and glaciology of Baffin Island. As far as the North was concerned, this golden age of federal research reflected both changing attitudes and increased resources in Ottawa and changes in science and communications in the region itself. For example, completion of the air photo coverage of Canada provided a wealth of information about Canada’s highest latitudes. At the same time, the improved transportation and communication provided by the Cold War–era Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) stations and the High Arctic Weather Stations enhanced the safety and organization of Northern Canadian field research.
The Geographical Branch seized on opportunities such as these for a large-scale, long-term study of the landscape of Baffin Island. This work particularly benefited from preliminary air photo analysis by Jack Ives and his colleagues in the Quebec–Labrador Peninsula (described in the author’s memoir The Land Beyond [University of Alaska Press, 2010]). Great interest in deciphering the pattern of retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet led to a research strategy modelled on similar work describing the radial retreat of the equivalent ice sheet in Scandinavia. For Baffin Island, the model was tested through an elaborate, multi-season field exercise that involved footslogging but also innovative use of light aircraft, helicopters, and ships. However, even with a DEW Line station as anchor, air travel in the North still involved a good deal of trial and error. The field research, in various disciplines, covered much of the island.
The adventure and rigour of government-sponsored research was not confined to the work on Baffin Island. The author documents aspects of the evolution of science within the federal government in Ottawa, recounting, among other things, the rise and eventual fall of the Geographical Branch itself and the institutionalization of glaciology in the federal research system.
On Baffin Island, glaciology was well represented in the field program, through studies of the mass balance, volume, and snow stratigraphy of the Barnes Ice Cap. While earlier groups had worked on the ice caps of Baffin Island, this was the first large-scale attempt at understanding the Barnes, which was widely believed to represent a relic of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. This glacier work was undertaken at a time when, farther north, university-based expeditions began studying High Arctic glaciers on Axel Heiberg and Devon islands. All of this work was important in better understanding the nature and nourishment of high-latitude glaciers in general.
In the 1960s, the expanding universities of Canada were beginning to produce graduates trained for polar research. Ives had helped lay the groundwork for this at Schefferville’s McGill Sub-Arctic Research Laboratory in the 1950s. The sixties were also a time when the concept of gender balance in field research was in its infancy. The Geographical Branch research on Baffin Island represented both a career opportunity and a training ground for male and female students, many of whom subsequently contributed greatly to polar science.
Jack Ives himself, through a lifetime of Arctic and mountain research, is uniquely qualified to weave together the threads in this book. Through early work in Scandinavia, including Iceland, and later at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, he links the Scandinavian, American, and Canadian views of Pleistocene science. From his graduate student and faculty days at McGill to his work as assistant director and director of the Geographical Branch, his involvement spanned the period when Canada was striving to produce homegrown Arctic researchers while also developing a federal capacity for Arctic science.
Ives’s relish for Arctic fieldwork and his delight in scientific debate come alive in this gripping and informative memoir.
Professor Emeritus, Trent University, Peterborough