Cold, flat, and barren: three words to describe the Arctic that will be challenged this year by the Canadian Museum of Nature.
The McLeod Street museum is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Canada’s first scientific expedition to the Arctic by contrasting the historical journey with recent expeditions, research and stories.
The series of events, called Extraordinary Arctic, began Feb. 1 in Confederation Park with an outdoor photo display for Winterlude.
One photographer with work featured is Michelle Valberg, who has visited the Arctic 26 times in the past five years.
“I stood there on the edge of the ice,” she says, “and my whole world changed. I could not believe I was in my own country.”
But just barely. Valberg was standing on a “floe-edge” – where, in the small town of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on the North coast of Baffin Island, the ice ends and the open waters begin.
On this cusp of Canadian land she realized how little she knew about the Arctic.
Now, having written a children’s book, received photography awards, and founded a charity sending sports equipment to Arctic youth, Valberg says she is thrilled to share her passion with visitors to Winterlude.
“I’ve always wanted to show the North through my eyes,” she says.
The photo exhibit, called This is Canada’s Arctic, will be on display at the downtown park until Feb. 18.
The Canadian Arctic Expedition, describes David Gray in Northern People, Northern Knowledge, did not have an entirely Canadian beginning.
Despite being initiated by Canadian ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the expedition was originally under the control of the American Museum of Natural History.
Not until Prime Minister Robert Borden became aware that new land might be discovered did it come under Canadian authority, through funding.
And, as Stefansson’s primary objective was discovering new land, it was only after involvement from the Geological Survey of Canada, who then controlled the Museum of Nature, that the expedition included scientific study.
In the end, scientific and territorial interests were satisfied, with the expedition finding Canada three islands, four thousand photographs, nine thousand feet of movie film, and quantities of animal, fossil, and rock specimens.
Over one thousand botanical specimens alone were added to the Museum of Nature’s collection.
Later this year, some of these 100-year-old plant specimens will escape the museum’s archives to be displayed next to recent samples collected by the museum’s botany team.
The exhibit, called Flora of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, will run from April to November.
Eight plants from the historical expedition and eight from a 2012 to Soper River on Baffin Island, Nunavut, will have their pictures blown up to five feet tall for display, says DNA lab co-ordinator Roger Bull, who is working on the exhibit.
The trip to Soper River marked the first serious scientific exploration of the area since Dewey Soper’s in 1931, says botany research assistant Paul Sokoloff.
Both Bull and Sokoloff participated, helping to add 900 specimens to the museum’s herbarium, including, among other rarities, a northern bog orchid never before recorded in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Sokoloff says that while sovereignty and resources get a lot of attention, there is also a strong research presence in the Arctic.
“The museum has a focus on Arctic research right now because it is a place of immense change, but also immense potential,” he says.
Botanists will tag Arctic plants using GPS and record their invasiveness so, in the future, says Sokoloff, researchers can see what has changed.
“People have gone into herbaria for invasive plants species, and by using the date it was collected they can pinpoint when invasive plants were introduced,” he says.
Senior media relations officer Dan Smythe says the museum has 16 researchers, and in areas such as botany, paleontology, zoology, and mineralogy, 10 of those are working on Arctic-based projects.