A most unique experience: life at Canada’s northernmost military base

CFS Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in Canada. A series of signs outside the base show the distance to various places around the world. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)
At any given moment, roughly 75 personnel of the Canadian Forces and some civilian contractors live at Canadian Forces Station Alert.

Located on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, in Canada’s high Arctic, CFS Alert is the most northerly continuously occupied place in Canada.

We asked Major Nathan Burgess, the station’s current commander, what life is like at this remote installation.


The current commanding officer of CFS Alert, Major Nathan Burgess (Department of National Defence)

During their tour, which lasts between three to six months on average, the troops are almost cut off from the world. “It’s probably the closest thing to what it would be like to be deployed on another planet”, Burgess says.

CFS Alert is more than a simple military base. It also acts as a monitoring centre, a science station and a military training centre.

Apart from the polar bears – which can usually be scared off without incident – the location itself isn’t too dangerous. However, over the decades, at least two deadly air crashes occurred while attempting to resupply the station.

Polar bears are a common sight on the ice outside CFS Alert, Canada’s northernmost military facility. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

While the troops at CFS Alert rarely make the headlines, Major Burgess insists their work is vital to Canada’s security and sovereignty. “We’re keeping an eye on what’s going on, not only within Canadian territory but around the world from this very unique vantage point.”

“It is the most unique experience of my life.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: From Scotland to Alert: One man’s journey to rediscover his grandfather buried in Canada’s Arctic, CBC News

Norway: NATO’s Arctic dilemma, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Russia giving major upgrade to airstrip in High Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to buy U.S.-made Patriot air defence systems, Radio Sweden

United States: Climate change a threat to bases across the U.S., Defense Dept. says, Alaska Public Media

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

For more news from around the world visit Radio Canada International.

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