ARTICLES

What we are really doing in the north

PETER C. NEWMAN REPORTS November 7 1959
ARTICLES

What we are really doing in the north

PETER C. NEWMAN REPORTS November 7 1959

What we are really doing in the north

Russia is twenty-five years ahead of us in her north Government spending merely opens the north; it's up to private enterprise to exploit it So far, private enterprise has shown little interest because of the enormous expense and difficulty of exploiting northern resources And we're still treating the northern native—the Eskimo—as a second-class citizen

ARTICLES

PETER C. NEWMAN REPORTS

Two senior Maclean’s editors have just taken a close look at Canada’s north from two intriguingly different viewpoints. Blair Fraser, whose story begins overleaf, covered four hundred miles the hard way — every foot of it either paddling or carrying a canoe. Peter C. Newman, as the companion of a federal cabinet minister, flew ten thousand miles across the million and a half square miles of our Arctic and then spent weeks asking questions about the reality behind the Conservatives’ northern vision. Now,

EVER SINCE John Diefenbaker first conjured up his vision of northern development during the 1958 election campaign, the average Canadian who ventures no farther "north" than his summer cottage, has vaguely felt that the upper regions of this country may be undergoing an unprecedented boom, with weekly mineral and oil strikes, feverish construction activity, and the early prospect of lavish skyscraper settlements in the Arctic. Such impressions have been strengthened by the frequent speeches of Conservative politicians both in and out of parliament. These politicians have been repeating variations of Diefenbaker’s election boast: "We are fulfilling the vision and the dream of Canada’s first prime minister—Sir John A. Macdonald. But Macdonald saw Canada from East to West. I see a new Canada. A Canada of the northl"

Are we indeed implementing a dynamic policy that is unlocking our northern potential, or has the Diefenbaker vision remained largely a political mirage? How do our accomplishments in the Arctic match those of the Russians? What’s the significance behind the recent discovery of oil in the north? Have the Eskimos been caught up in the vision? And what’s the attitude of the Americans who have spent a billion dollars integrating into their defense system a region which has suddenly become politically valuable to Canada?

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WHAT WE ARE REALLY DOING IN THE NORTH

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In an attempt to answer these and other questions 1 recently accompanied George Hees, the minister of transport, on his annual Arctic inspection tour. We flew ten thousand miles, visiting nearly every sector of the million and a half square miles of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. I then spent several weeks discussing northern economics with this country’s leading government and private Arctic experts.

My main conclusions are these:

♦ There is a great deal more activity in the Yukon and Northwest Territories today than at any time during this century. But with some important exceptions—such as the “roads to resources” program — Diefenbaker has merely accelerated the development policies of his predecessors. Northern Affairs Minister Alvin Hamilton told me: “About all I've done is to take the Liberal program and bring it from twenty-five years down to five.”

♦ Within the context of an economy that is among the world's most primitive, the Conservative achievement is impressive, especially in the way it is attempting to make the region more accessible. At the same time, the Canadian north remains desperately remote, exorbitantly costly to reach and exploit. It is a virgin land. An area as large as Ontario and the four western provinces combined is occupied by a scattering of pioneers, who. if assembled in Montreal, would scarcely suffice to fill Molson Stadium.

♦ The opening up of the Canadian north is only in a limited sense a function of the government. The role of government is merely to provide basic facilities which business firms must then utilize to exploit the land's resources. Except for the petroleum prospecting boomlet, private enterprise has so far shown remarkably little interest.

♦ The only event of economic significance in the north today is the oil exploration of the Mackenzie River delta, the Yukon and the Arctic islands. Spread over a slab ot wilderness larger than France and Germany, it is, in terms of the land surface involved, the world's largest petroleum hunt. With today's marketing and technological conditions, there is little immediate chance that any of the oil will get to market. But the companies participating in the search already have pledged that they will spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars for northern petroleum prospecting during the next decade.

♦ The Diefenbaker vision has prompted a costly buildup of Canada’s northern civil service. but the Eskimos who might have been expected to be among its first beneficiaries are only slightly better off. According to a United Nations survey we now' spend an estimated twenty-three hundred dollars a year per Eskimo in health and welfare payments — an amount equivalent to the theoretical cost of wintering Canada’s entire Eskimo population at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa—yet most Eskimos still live in unimaginable squalor. Dr. Edmund Carpenter, former University of Toronto anthropologist who is one of the leading experts on the Canadian Eskimo, told me: “The civil service has used the vision as an opportunity to multiply itself, and businessmen have used it to make a profit. But it has not yet gone north.”

♦ Although disembarking U. S. air force colonels at Frobisher Bay continue to express genuine astonishment that they're on Canadian soil, there appears to be little serious sovereignty conflict w'ith the Americans. Since 1940, the U. S. has spent more than a billion dollars fortifying our north, but the Americans recognize Canadian ownership of the region. The downgrading of the Distant Early Warning Line’s strategic importance has reduced the formerly rigid clearance arrangements to a simple reporting procedure.

♦ Canadian and American efforts in the Arctic lag at least twenty-five years behind those of the U.S.S.R. For every Canadian working in the Arctic, there are five hundred Russians. This imbalance will be increased by the Kremlin's current seven-year plan which includes a hundred-billion-dollar budget for Arctic development.

The north is so poor and backward that half the revenue collected by the Northwest Territories Council comes from liquor taxes. The government hopes economic development will boost revenue. But, apart from that, Diefenbaker talked so much about helping the north

grow that thousands of people expect that he will deliver.

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What we are really doing in the north

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“Even with the pace doubled, mapping of northern waters is 100 years behind southern standards.”

"We went to the people with a certain kind of mandate. Now we've got to implement it,” one of the Tories top Ottawa strategists told me. “Ours was a development mandate and we could rise

or fall on how well we carry it out.” The vision's main financial expression has been the doubling by the Tories of the expenditures alloted to the federal Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources. The Conservatives

have also tripled expenditures on northern airport construction, harbor development and ship building. The Department of Transport is gradually assuming responsibility for handling DEW line supplies and operating most of the

seventy airfields built by the Americans. The pace of northern mapping has been doubled, but even at the accelerated rate it will take more than a hundred years to bring the charts of northern Canadian waters up to southern standards.

Despite these attempts to open the north, the vision can succeed only if Canadians become more willing to settle on the inhospitable land above the treeline, or if their rewards for doing so are large enough to offset discomforts. Even the Department of Northern Affairs has found that it cannot staff its Arctic outposts without paying the men and women it transfers north bonuses of up to two thousand dollars a year. The number of permanent residents of the Yukon and Northw-est Territories has doubled since 1941, but at 32,721—almost equally divided into whites, Eskimos and Indians—it remains less than a fifth of one percent of Canada’s population. "It is useless to fool oneself,” Most Rev. Marc Lacroix, O.M.I., the apostolic vicar of Hudson Bay, said recently. “The Canadian of European origin inhabits and will inhabit no more than a few isolated places in the north . . . artificial oases which cost millions for imitation comfort.”

$200,000 for northern roads

Including pay and supplies, it now costs a hundred dollars a day to maintain one semi-skilled laborer in the north. He requires sixteen tons of supplies—most of it fuel—for one season. Providing him with a place to live can be incredibly expensive. It is as costly to transport the building materials for a small house from Edmonton to lnuvik, near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, as it is to purchase the completed house in Edmonton. The Department of Northern Affairs recently paid $48,000 to put up a small, roughly finished threebedroom house at Cape Dorset, on Baffin Island.

Transportation, not climate, is the limiting factor of the vision. The massive lead-zinc orebody near Pine Point, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, provides a good example. The deposit was discovered by the sourdoughs tramping toward the Klondike in 1898. Exploration by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company later confirmed it was one of the world's great base metal formations. Yet Pine Point production can't proceed until a railroad connects the find with the company's smelter at Trail, B.C. The nearest railheads are at Waterways and Grimshaw, Alta., four hundred miles to the south. The government has promised to subsidize a joint CPR-CNR extension of steel into Pine Point, and a royal commission has been appointed to recommend the railway’s route. Once the railway is built, Pine Point could become the largest community in the Canadian north.

Diefenbaker ranks this rail venture as a major expression of his vision, but he emphasizes much more frequently the "roads to resources” program—a major plank of his 1958 election platform. The Tories will spend approximately two hundred million dollars in the next sevento-ten years for six thousand miles of new highways in the Yukon and the Territories, and through cost-sharing arrangements, in the northern sectors of all the provinces except Quebec which refuses to sign the agreement. Two hundred miles of northern development roads were completed this summer, with most of the work done around the west end of Great Slave Lake and on a highway from Flat Creek in the Yukon into the Eagle Plain oil drilling area. Location surveys for another four hundred and twenty-five miles of road have been finished.

Behind this construction lies simply the hope that if roads are provided, private firms will use them to discover and exploit new resources. “It’s an act of faith that if you build a road, you'll find wealth,” Northern Affairs Minister Hamilton told me. “If one of those roads produces another Porcupine or a Sudbury, it will pay for them all. And I predict there won’t be one find. There'll be a dozen.”

Despite such optimism and the political fanfare that surrounds the "roads to resources” program, many of the northern experts I interviewed seriously questioned its economic justification. "Tve studied the routes of the twelve proposed northern roads,” says one highly placed Canadian geologist, "and there’s no guarantee in my mind that any sizable development will take place along any of them, except the Eagle Plain highway. The oil there, if it can be sold, will move out by pipeline."

J. J. Byrne, the board chairman of Consolidated Discovery Yellow'knife, a gold mine fifty miles north of Yellowknife which has been developed and is supplied almost entirely by aircraft, has urged that instead of spending vast sums on road building, the government should plant small landing fields at strategic points selected by geological survey. “This is the air age,” he says. "Our company does not yet have a road; all the freight is delivered at the mine by Bristol aircraft at competitive rates. This could be accomplished anywhere in the Territories.”

While they debate the usefulness of roads, nearly all economists who have studied the north agree that highways or any other methods used to open up the country will fail, unless searchers strike inordinately rich mineral or petroleum deposits. No other northern resource is worth developing.

Ottawa agricultural experts have estimated that the arable land of the Yukon and Northwest Territories totals nearly four million acres, but the short growing season plus the fact that most of the north gets as little annual rainfall as the Sahara Desert, rules out agriculture as a major industry. The forest resources are valuable chiefly as a habitat for fur-bearing animals. Only three small sawmills and one plyw'ood plant are operating in the entire Northwest Territories.

Although the north was initially opened up by the fur trade, and white fox still provides the chief cash income of the Indians and Eskimos, changes in women’s styles and the rise of synthetic furs has depressed the industry to a minor and declining role. Commercial fishing in the Yukon and the Territories is limited to a small whitefish and lake trout operation on Great Slave Lake and the arctic char caught for the Montreal gourmet market around Frobisher Bay. No one seriously suggests that the Canadian north w'ill ever be able to attract a significant flow of tourists, but to capitalize on the summer arctic char fishing season, a small lodge was opened this year at Cape Dorset, in southwestern Baffin Island. Rex Clibbery, the former

bush pilot who runs the establishment, charges $1,500 a week, including the flight from Montreal. Guests are housed in plastic igloos, served Baked Alaska and a choice of wines and liqueurs for dinner.

The unpalatable facts about the lack of agricultural, forest, tourist and game resources are often included even in some of the most glowing speeches about the anatomy of the vision, but offset by references to “the vast mineral storehouse of the north.” Flying over the Arctic I was continually reminded of

the area's mineral potential by the innumerable lakes that glow with the green of copper and the rust of iron ore.

But Dr. A. H. Lang, the chief of the Mineral Deposits Division for the Geological Survey of Canada, estimates that the chances of a northern mineral discovery becoming a producing mine arc as low as one in a thousand. "In general.” he says, “the known deposits are of a kind that can be matched in more accessible and better serviced parts of the country.”

William Wonders, a University of Al-

berta geography professor, has calculated that climate and distance from markets make the extraction of a northern gold orebody economical only if it assays at least .45 ounces per ton. Ontario mines can turn a profit by working deposits that contain .15 ounces of gold per ton of ore.

The “mineral storehouse” of the political speeches certainly exists, but transportation problems make it a rocky larder with a stubbornly small yield. Over the entire Yukon and Territories nine mines scratch out ore worth $40,-

“We cultívate a thousand acres in the Arctic; Russia works one million“

000,000 a year—a bare two percent of the value annually recovered by the Canadian mining industry. The area's two uranium mines—Eldorado on Great Bear Lake and Rayrock in the Marian River area—are both due to be closed next year.

Nearly two thousand mineral claims in the Yukon and Territories have been recorded with the federal government so far this year, but only two small gold fields near Yellowknife are being opened up by newshafts. Currently the big thing is oil exploration.

That there is oil in the Canadian north has been suspected since 1789. w'hen Alexander Mackenzie discovered pieces of yellow waxy material he called "petrolium" along the banks of the river that bears his name. More than sixty exploratory wells have been drilled in the Mackenzie River delta since 1919, but aside from the Norman Wells field found In 1920, the only significant strike was made this summer a hundred and fifty miles northeast of Whitehorse by Western Minerals’ Chance No. 1 which found light gravity oil 5,500 feet down. Sixty aircraft and five hundred men representing many of the world’s largest petroleum corporations have spent the past few months in the northern oil hunt. Exploration permits which hind the firms to spend three dollars per acre on development activities during the next nine years have been taken out over more than 90,000.000 acres on the northern mainland, and as much land again is under survey in the Arctic islands. The total area being prospected is two-anda-half times as large as the oil-producing region under disposition in Alberta.

W. B. Dingle, a western division manager of Imperial Oil Limited, has estimated the theoretical potential of the area being explored at thirty-three billion barrels of oil—nearly ten times Canada's established reserves. But even if this proves correct, there is no guarantee that the oil will be worth moving to market. The free world is glutted with unsaleable oil. Spare well capacity now totals five million barrels a day; Canadian wells are turning out less than half their potential.

Why have the petroleum firms rushed into northern Canada when even now they can sell only half of their output? Dingle says they want to protect reserves for the future. “This action is typical of the industry," he points out. “You can't afford to be blocked out of an oil play."

"The companies are not applying for exploration permits for their amusement." says Gordon Robertson, the deputy minister of northern affairs. "They're doing so because the indications are strong that oil is there and because, if it is. they believe it can he developed, marketed and used." To encourage the exploitation of the northern petroleum. Robertson's department is currently drawing up a radically new set of drilling and production laws.

Under Alberta petroleum legislation, designed to assure a large investment in the province, oil companies must drill at least one well every forty acres. At Leduc, for instance, there are 1,230 oilproducing wells, although petroleum engineers estimate that only 300 are needed to drain the field adequately. To justify its drilling law. the Alberta government insists that every field's production he equally divided among all its wells. If. for example, eighty wells are sunk into a pool whose production and sales po-

tential is eight thousand barrels a day, no well is allowed to turn out more than a hundred daily barrels, irrespective of its actual capacity.

Northern Affairs Minister Hamilton’s new laws, expected to he proclaimed later this year, will grant oil companies almost unrestricted freedom to drill and use only the wells required to drain the northern oil pools. "In this way," Hamilton insists, “northern oil will be made cheap enough to compete in world markets with crude from the Middle East.”

Petroleum experts agree that under the revised regulations oil at the wellhead will he less expensive, but many are skeptical that under today's surplus supply conditions it will he cheap enough to absorb the huge cost of bringing it to market. Mainland petroleum, if it is proved, would require a six-hundredmile pipeline from the Eagle Plain area of the Yukon to tidewater at Skagw-ay, Alaska, in order to reach potential sales areas such as Japan. The Arctic islands, where geologists predict that the most significant oil pools will eventually be discovered, are closer to the huge European petroleum market than the fields of the Middle East, but there is no known way to transport the oil there cheaply. Hamilton mentions the possibility of the oil being pumped through plastic pipelines into the holds of atomic cargo submarines lying offshore, under the ice-cap. They'd emerge again at the terminal of another pipeline off Europe. The engineering drawings for such a vessel have already been completed by the Mitchell Group, in England. But the ship is expected to cost fifty-four million dollars, not an economic price for an oil tanker.

The only nuclear ship currently operating in the Arctic is the new Russian icebreaker Lenin, a 16,000-ton mammoth able to punch her way through ice six feet thick at two knots. Canada’s fleet of six small icebreakers will be strengthened next summer by the 3,380-ton. diesel-powered Sir John A. Macdonald, able to travel within five hundred miles

of the North Pole. The ship will accelerate Canada’s Arctic research, but not nearly fast enough to catch up with the Russians. ‘The U.S.S.R.," says Dr. A. H. Zimmerman, the chairman of the Defence Research Board, "is twenty-five years ahead of Canada in developing and exploring the Polar basin.” The Russians now spend on northern development four percent of their total government budget. Less than one percent of the Canadian government's 1959 budget was earmarked for the north.

"The U.S.S.R. has hydrographically charted and scientifically investigated over two million square miles of icecovered ocean and plotted minor detail within thirty miles of Canada’s Arctic islands," says Michael Marsden, Montreal director of The Arctic Institute of North America. "Canadian hydrographic charts are. by comparison, almost completely blank within and without these islands."

Frobisher Bay and Inuvik are the only Canadian communities north of the Arctic Circle with more than two hundred permanent settlers; Russia has a dozen cities of fifty thousand inhabitants in the same latitudes. The only railway in the Canadian north is the 110-mile narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon built fifty years ago to link Whitehorse with Skagway; as well as the TransSiberian Railway four smaller railroads traverse parts of the Russian north. Canada has about a thousand acres under cultivation north of the sixtieth parallel; the Soviet Union has a million acres under cultivation.

The major communist Arctic achievement has been turning the Northeast Passage into a regular transportation artery. Last winter two million tons of freight passed through the five-thousand-mile route between Murmansk, near Finland, to Vladivostok, on the Pacific. Glavsevmorput ( Russia's northern sea route administration) has 35,000 employees operating a hundred weather stations, a hundred and fifty ice reconnaissance aircraft and a hundred and fifty ocean-

going freighters. Canada's Northwest Passage has not yet been used commercially.

Much of Siberia's population is still believed to be slave labor, but the Russians encourage volunteers to go north by offering skilled laborers three times the normal wages. Each year that a Russian works in the Arctic counts as two, in computing his pension; ten years counts as twenty-five toward retirement. These inducements aside, the extensive development of the Soviet north is linked to the fact that the influence of the Gulf Stream keeps much of Russia’s eastern Arctic free of permafrost. In most of Canada the climate keeps the treeline well south of the Arctic Circle; the Russian treeline is north of the Circle everywhere but in the limited area of the Kolyma Mountains. The Russians also possess the geographic advantage of having three rivers the size but not the shallowness of the Mackenzie, crossing their north. They were settled and used by 1600 — nearly two hundred years before the Mackenzie was discovered.

The Russians appear even to have licked the problem of integrating their Eskimo population. The thirteen hundred Eskimos of the Russian Arctic live on the extreme northeast coast of Siberia, lodged in houses eighty percent paid for by the government. They work beside Russian miners and fishermen, and while they have managed to cling to some of their ancestral habits, they are completely literate in Russian. In contrast, sixty-four percent of Eskimo children in Canada still have no access to schools. Except in the Mackenzie River delta, where they have advanced a little farther, less than five percent of Canadian Eskimos can read or write. Only sixteen out of the current Eskimo teenager population of twenty-five hundred are enrolled in high school.

The United Nations World Health Organization estimates that Canada spends twenty-three million dollars a year for health and welfare services to the Eskimos, yet a quarter of all Eskimo babies born alive die within the first year, and the average life expectancy of the Canadian Eskimo is only twenty-nine. These figures compare with an infant death rate of three percent for southern Canada and a male life expectancy of 66.33 years.

Of the four thousand federal employees concerned with the Canadian north, a quarter are occupied in some way with the Eskimos — that’s a ratio of one civil servant for every ten Eskimos. “Perhaps no other group of people has had lavished on it so much thought, so much attention, so much money,” says R. A. J. Phillips, assistant director of the government’s northern administration branch. "But the effort has to be large to catch up with the mistakes and neglect of generations.”

Our increasing health and welfare measures are expected to double the Eskimo population by the end of the century. This will greatly multiply the pressure to fit the Eskimo into suitable jobs. Only 450 of the North’s 10,000 Eskimos currently support themselves and their families in wage employments. B. G. Sivertz, director of Ottawa’s northern administration branch, warns that the Eskimo must be fitted into the highest possible level of the white man’s culture before he drifts low on the social scale in the eyes of his employer and of himself.

Government efforts are now aimed at drastically altering the Eskimo's way of life from his former dependence on nature to competition with the white man.

Eskimo experts like Dr. Carpenter, the anthropologist, support this goal. “All across Canada.” he says, “there are little old ladies determined to keep the Eskimos in igloos, to keep them in a deep freeze as reassuring proof that minorities can survive a mass culture. It's doubtful how eager they themselves would be to spend a night in an igloo. But I have, and it's the worst habitat known to me. No Eskimo wants to live in one after experiencing even shack life. Bad as it may be. the new life is better.” Carpenter and other students of the

Eskimo acknowledge that government action has saved the race from extinction, but they condemn the fact that so little effort is being made to record the Eskimo heritage. “We have walked through their culture the way a man walks through a cobweb — without even noticing it,” Carpenter charges.

The most vivid impression I have brought back from my own northern tour is that at a time when the government in Ottawa has proclaimed a costly new vision for the north, most Eskimos and their families are facing life with the

gnawing insecurity of a hungry wolf pack. This is the ironic condition of a remarkable people who for thousands of years before we came managed to live with only primitive instruments in a land where the white man, with all his technical skills, can scarcely exist.

I am convinced that the Diefenbaker vision will produce some patches of economic significance within the merciless environment of our north. But I am equally convinced that nearly all of that endless land will be left as always, to stare in futile emptiness at the stars.