The focus of this creative policy recommendation is to highlight only one aspect within the broader policy recommendation entitled, A Policy Brief Ensuring Continued Canadian Sovereignty Over the Arctic Region. This focus has chosen to observe the voyage of Captain Henry Larsen and to formulate a recommendation, using his learnt knowledge gained from his experience traversing the arctic, which would ensure continued Canadian sovereignty over the the arctic region.
In 1940 Henry Larsen set out on an expedition which would see him become the first Canadian to travel through the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to Halifax. It is by focusing on Henry Larsen – his background as an immigrant, as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and his respect and admiration for the Inuit encountered during his voyage – that might best demonstrate a way for Canada to move forward into the future in which it ensures its continued sovereignty over the arctic.
Within the current Canadian Arctic Foreign Policy, it states “the Arctic is fundamental to Canada’s national identity. It is home to many Canadian’s, including indigenous peoples across the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the northern parts of many Canadian provinces. Exercising sovereignty over Canada’s north, as over the rest of Canada, is our number one Arctic foreign policy priority.” (Government of Canada, 2017)
Henry Larsen was a Canadian who found his home within the arctic during his many months spent traversing the Northwest Passage aboard his vessel the St. Roch. Like many Canadian’s Larsen immigrated to Canada from Norway during the early twentieth century. Once a citizen he joined the proud and storied ranks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It was while he was stationed in Vancouver that he was given the arduous task of completing a voyage none had yet achieved – to travel the Northwest Passage from Vancouver to Halifax and back again.
Reflecting a similarity between the current statement from the Canadian government regarding its Arctic Foreign Policy, were the orders Henry Larsen was given by his superiors which read his mission as, “to uphold and enforce Canadian sovereignty of her arctic islands.” (Larsen, 1969)
It was during his time on this voyage that Henry Larsen developed a deep trust and respect for the Inuit peoples and their cultural traditions as he encountered them on this expedition. Larsen states that, “they need one another in order to hunt, live and exist. Some of their customs perhaps do not agree with our ways of thinking, but they are no worse than many among civilized people.” (Larsen, 1969) Larsen’s critique of what it means to be civilized, exemplifies his critical stance against negative social preconceptions towards the Inuit during the 1940s.
At the close of Henry Larsen’s first-hand accounting of his time spent as the Captain of the St. Roch traveling through the Northwest Passage, he takes a moment to recognize the history behind exploration within the Northwest Passage. As well as the men who had partaken in the failed past expeditions. Henry Larsen finds a kindred spirit with these men speaking to those, “few more intrepid who set out to explore and chart the country and claim it for the Empire. This is the spirit we must not let die in Canada.” (Larsen, 1969) While the British Empire is no longer in existence, Canada remains a proud member of the British Commonwealth – with Queen Elizabeth II acting as Canada’s current head of state.
In conclusion, it is the existence of the intrepid spirit that will ensure Canada’s continued sovereignty over the arctic. It is that same intrepid spirit, to venture into unknown that signifies what it means to be Canadian – and by continuing to build relationships between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, cultural and mutual respect between all intrepid Canadians can be ensured. As Nancy Lindell, the first indigenous MP of Nunavut serving from 1997-2008 states, “the red and white flag is, for me, a symbol of freedom and represents my country as the best one to live in.” (Lindell, 20)
Therefore, a line of intrepid Canadian’s can be seen to exist – from Henry Larsen to Nancy Lindell, both who were explorers into new and uncharted territories, both optimizing what it means to be a Canadian.
- Lindell, Nancy. “Inuit Perspectives on Security, Patriotism and Sovereignty.” Published 2013. Accessed March 29th 2019. http://www.inuitknowledge.ca/sites/ikc/files/attachments/20130125-en-nilliajut-inuitperspectivessecuritysovereigntypatriotism_0.pdf.
- Larsen, Henry. The North-West Passage. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1969.
Hayden McKee-Godry is a Masters Political Science student