ARCHIVED - Governor General Johnston visits the world’s most northern outpost

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News Article / February 4, 2015

By Ross Lees

Canadian Armed Forces and civilian personnel spending the long winter night at Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, Nunavut, welcomed Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada David Johnston to the most northerly, permanently inhabited place in the world on January 19 and 20, 2015.

“I am especially pleased to be here during the total darkness of winter,” said Governor General Johnston. “That may sound surprising, but I mean it!

“It is difficult to know Canada without visiting the Arctic, and it is difficult to truly know the Arctic without visiting in winter.”

The Governor General was a special guest at Alert for the station’s semi-annual change of command during which Major Brian Tang took command from Major Scott Marshall. Colonel David Lowthian, the commander of 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, presided over the ceremony as CFS Alert is part of 8 Wing.

During his visit, Governor General Johnston met the personnel at the station, toured the facility, and presented Special Service Medals. He also laid wreaths at the Boxtop 22 Memorial, commemorating the crash a CC-130 Hercules that was participating in Operation Boxtop 22 on October 30, 1991, and at the Lancaster Memorial, commemorating the crash of a Lancaster aircraft from 405 Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron during a supply mission on July 31, 1950.  Five died in the crash of the Hercules; nine died in the Lancaster crash and are interred at Alert as it was impossible at the time to airlift the bodies out.

In his speech during the change of command ceremony, the Governor General told the men and women working at CFS Alert that they know the North in a way that few others can or will ever know it.

“Together, you are making truly unique and important contributions to Canada’s and to the world’s understanding of this region. You are enhancing our knowledge of climate, the atmosphere and the natural environment. You are reinforcing our sovereignty and standing guard for our national security. You are at the ready for search and rescue operations. In the last 24 hours, I have witnessed how these matters are far from theoretical, and that the challenges of working in the Arctic are real,” he said.

He also said that laying wreaths at the two memorial sites held special significance.

“Some of you may know that my wife, Sharon, and I were in the community of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, on August 20, 2011, the day of the terrible plane crash in which 12 people tragically died. I will never forget the scenes of sadness and devastation I witnessed that day. Nor will I forget the remarkable response by Canadian Armed Forces members who were present.”

And, as have others in the past, he also noted the special atmosphere at CFS Alert.

“The sense of community, camaraderie and professionalism at CFS Alert is palpable, and something of which Canadians can be very proud. Thank you all for your remarkable dedication and service to our country,” he said to all of the personnel in this northernmost military establishment.

Ross Lees is the editor of The Contact, 8 Wing Trenton’s base newspaper.

Full text of the Governor General’s speech

I am delighted to visit Alert, the world’s northernmost, permanently-inhabited settlement.

Canada is of course a northern country, but this station really is ‘true north’. Consider your motto: INUIT NUNANGATA UNGATA, which in Inuktitut means “Beyond the Inuit land".

Now that’s what I call the Far North!

I am pleased to be here to show my support and gratitude for your important work, performed in such a challenging physical environment.

And I am especially pleased to be here during the total darkness of winter.

That may sound surprising, but I mean it! Writing about Canada, Samuel de Champlain once remarked: “It’s difficult to know this country without wintering there,” and I think the same can be said of the Arctic.

It is difficult to know Canada without visiting the Arctic, and it is difficult to truly know the Arctic without visiting in winter.

Canada is a northern nation, and the Canadian Arctic is integral to our identity and our sovereignty. Indeed, a significant portion of the Arctic goes by the name of Nunavut, meaning “our land” in Inuktitut.

Inuit, a founding people of Canada, have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years, and continue to do so today alongside other Canadians and northerners of diverse backgrounds. This history of human settlement reminds us that, while the world is increasingly aware of the environmental, economic and strategic importance of the Arctic, it is above all home for thousands of people.

Besides comprising a significant part of our geography and being home to many Canadians, the Arctic is an important element of our history and shared identity.

Canadians from across the country have mounted expeditions to the Arctic – explorers such as Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who along with R.M. Anderson led the Canadian Arctic Expedition a century ago. More recently, individuals such as Bernard Voyer and Students on Ice founder Geoff Green have continued to educate and enlighten Canadians on the wonders and importance of the Arctic.

Even if not all of us have visited the Far North, there is something deeply familiar to Canadians about this harsh climate. Voyer speaks of the “friendship with winter” he developed as a child growing up in Rimouski, a passion he has pursued throughout his life as a polar explorer. In a similar way, communities have thrived in all parts of Canada thanks to the innovations and adaptations we have made to the freezing temperatures of winter.

Of course, no Canadian town or city experiences winter quite like Alert does. I have only been here a short time, but it doesn’t take long to get a sense of how different life is up here in the High Arctic.

Here at CFS Alert, you know the North in a way that few others do. Together, you are making truly unique and important contributions to Canada’s and to the world’s understanding of this region.

You are enhancing our knowledge of climate, the atmosphere and the natural environment. You are reinforcing our sovereignty and standing guard for our national security. You are at the ready for search and rescue operations.

In the last 24 hours, I have witnessed how these matters are far from theoretical, and that the challenges of working in the Arctic are real.

It was an honour to lay a wreath at the 405 Squadron Lancaster No. 965 Memorial and Boxtop 22 Memorial yesterday, and to solemnly remember those who were lost in service at CFS Alert.

Some of you may know that my wife, Sharon, and I were in the community of Resolute Bay, Nunavut on August 20, 2011, the day of the terrible plane crash in which 12 people tragically died.

I will never forget the scenes of sadness and devastation I witnessed that day. Nor will I forget the remarkable response by Canadian Armed Forces members who were present.

Working and living in the Arctic is a wonderful experience, but I know it is not without challenges and risks. That is why I am so grateful for your contributions to strengthening Canada’s understanding of and connection to the North.

I am also pleased to be here for this change of command ceremony, and to recognize the efforts of outgoing commander Major Scott Marshall, who has done such outstanding work during his time at CFS Alert.

Thank you, Major Marshall, for all you have done for Canada.

It is also a privilege to welcome incoming commander Major Brian Tang. I wish you the very best with your important work here.

The sense of community, camaraderie and professionalism at CFS Alert is palpable, and something of which Canadians can be very proud.

Thank you all for your remarkable dedication and service to our country.

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