Canada requests proposals for High Arctic research station

Last week, John Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, announced that the government would begin requesting design proposals for the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). The station is a key part of Canada’s Northern Strategy.

In the press release, John Duncan stated, “This is a major milestone for construction of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. This facility will advance Arctic scientific research, support positive economic development in Canada’s North and contribute to strong and healthy communities in the North.”

When Ottawa considers all of the bids, it will lower the price proposals from firms that help to represent Nunavut, whether by employing and training Inuit or by having offices in Nunavut, in order to give them a leg up on the competition. Assisting Inuit firms is mandated by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which CHARS is respecting. Three articles in the Agreement related to increasing Inuit involvement, providing job training, and undertaking an impact assessment on the Inuit community, affect CHARS.

Once built, this new northern research hub is supposed to “create a welcoming environment that acknowledges Aboriginal peoples’ knowledge and experience in the North” and will attempt to foster collaboration between scientific and indigenous knowledge. Furthermore, socioeconomic benefits are planned. The feasibility study said, “Through linkages with territorial colleges, communities and local governments, CHARS could provide an important platform of outreach to communities, as well as an opportunity for engagement and the development of a stronger Aboriginal scientific capacity.”

A little over one year ago, it was announced that Cambridge Bay, Nunavut had won out over Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay as the location for CHARS. The selection of the location sparked some controversy, particularly within the scientific community. Nature magazine reported that ecologists like David Hik, form the University of Alberta in Edmonton, were pleased, as there are eight ecoregions within 300 kilometers of the site. Caribou, musk ox, and a variety of birds live nearby. Hik said at the time of the selection, “It’s a very smart location. It will open up access to the central part of the Northwest Passage and the surrounding areas that we know very little about.” His comment that it will grant Canada access to a previously hard-to-reach part of the Northwest Passage is also telling, as the site was chosen with a view towards bolstering Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. CHARS will not be as ideal a location for glaciologists, who might have preferred Pond Inlet with its nearby glaciers, ice floe, and ice caves.

The feasibility study for CHARS is available online here, in English, Inuktitut, and Inuinnaqtun. CHARS is supposed to include laboratories, workshops, offices, dining facilities, and accommodations. With an estimated budget of $81 million, this will be a significant investment in the North and in improving Canada’s scientific research infrastructure in the Arctic. Yet more money than that will have to be spent, as it is estimated that the tiny hamlet of Cambridge Bay will need $100 million in infrastructure upgrades, from paved roads to firefighters. This money will likely have to come from the federal government. The mayor, Syd Glawson, is also working hard to make sure some amenities are in place for scientists, like a bowling alley and restaurant. After all, the food at the cafeteria might get a little old after a while.

The design will be selected next summer, while the project is slated for completion in 2017.

Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and School of Modern Languages & Cultures (China Studies Programme) at the University of Hong Kong. Through fieldwork and remote sensing, she researches the politics of infrastructure development in frontier spaces, namely the Arctic and areas included within China's Belt and Road Initiative. Read Mia Bennett's articles

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