Resolute Bay: A Place With No Dawn
Resolute Bay is the second most Northern community in Canada, and is home to several ATCO operations.
Located on Cornwallis Island, near the southern tip of Ellesmere Island, Resolute Bay is the starting point for any journey to the North Pole and a necessary stop for all travel to the Eureka research base and the Canadian Forces Station Alert.
Resolute Bay, named after the ship HMS Resolute that participated in the search for English explorer Sir John Franklin, is the second most Northern community in Canada. The Inuit name for the town is Qausuittuq, meaning “the place with no dawn.” Other names for the community have included Qarnartakuj, meaning “the place of the ruins”.
One look at Resolute Bay made my experience in Iqaluit seem as challenging as sledding down the stairs and camping in the back yard. Instead of balking at the Arctic like an amazed tourist and running off to pose for photographs, I stuck to the ATCO Structures & Logistics truck that came to collect us.
The community of Resolute Bay was established in 1953 by northern Quebec’s exiled Inuit. Promised wealth and riches, men and women were sent to establish Canada’s sovereignty in the High Arctic. Today, there are two distinct reminders of this day in Resolute: a Canadian flag and an Arctic exile memorial.
Polar Bear Alert
Our plane load of twenty passengers must have increased the population of Resolute Bay by ten per cent. The hamlet has a population that hovers around 200, one school, a nursing station and, remarkably, three hotels. On Friday, October 11th, school was cancelled due to polar bears, when a group of eight roamed the streets in a storm. This is when whiteout gets really dangerous.
The three hotels in Resolute, which could house just about the entire population, are operated by ATCO. South Camp Inn, Airport Hotel and the legacy Narwhal Inn have seen every expedition to the North Pole in their rooms. Lit windows are a welcome sight for scientists, the Canadian military and civilian crews that staff the two remaining destinations before the world’s end: Eureka and Alert. We had the pleasure of being snowed in with both those groups.
I was suddenly able to appreciate the stagnation that sets in when visibility drops. One never knows when they are leaving. The locals refer to that as “getting out”. Soldiers longed after their families before Thanksgiving and both kitchens tried to make something a little more special.
The Hercules, which carried the DND crew, stood on the apron in Resolute Bay for two days. The CC-130J military mainstay is a four-engine, fixed-wing turboprop aircraft that can carry up to 92 combat troops or 128 non-combat passengers. It is used by the Canadian Forces for a wide range of missions, including troop transport, tactical airlift and has an acclaimed ability to make do with short landing and take-off fields. Part of ATCO’s work in the settlement is to tend those sturdy military work horses, ensuring fuel supply and loads palletized cargo.
In addition to the three hotels, a majority of the transport and construction equipment in the community is maintained by ATCO. The company has had a presence in Resolute since the purchase of the Narwhal Inn in 1989, and now operates the 30 million litre fuel storage facility, the 345 cubic meter/day water treatment plant and the Resolute Incoherent Scatter Radar. It is used by SRI International for basic research in solar wind and observations of polar cap phenomena in Canada.
ATCO is deeply proud of its Northerners. Hailing from all over Canada, men and women of incredible strength work in an environment that can be imagined by very few. The team of 22 full-time employees rotate on a schedule of eight weeks on and four off, braving average winter temperatures of -35°C (-72°C with wind chill) and 24 hour darkness replaced by 24 hour sunlight, which can sound like a prison sentence to anyone, especially when winter lasts ten months.
Our newest employee, 19-year-old hotel administrator Whitney Landry from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, whose first ever plane ride was to Resolute Bay, wasn’t deterred by these conditions. Not only is she strong and confident, she’s also in great hands under old time Northerners, Bob Mitchell and Rick Gaulton, who manage the entire Resolute operation. Having rotated for a total of 29 years, they have seen it all. As said by Robert William Service in “The Cremation of Sam Magee”, they have ‘tales to make your blood run cold.’
ATCO was there for the Nanook Arctic exercises in 2010 and 2011, was one of the companies that responded to the First Air plane crash that took twelve lives in 2011, and it is ATCO that may be called upon to assist the rescue of those who don’t make it to the North Pole.
Highest-latitude circus in the world
For one month in late winter, Resolute Bay becomes a base camp for adventurers from around the world. The locals call this the “silly season” and treat the wild-eyed glory seekers in an indulgently supportive manner. For those few weeks in March, what takes place here is, without doubt, the highest-latitude circus in the world.
Recently, there has been a tremendous improvement in the preparation, training and kit of Pole seekers. Kenn Borek’s $140,000 North Pole pick-up fee gives everyone an adult moment. This approach proved to be almost an instant cure for those trying to reach the North Pole with horses, vans, clown suits and other Guinness World Record-worthy paraphernalia.
The chefs and cooks working at the hotels can give any Michelin-starred establishment a new perspective. Their creativity and resourcefulness knows no end. Forget Jamie Oliver’s balanced super kitchen, ATCO’s Earl and Claudette Clarke, Jeff Church, and Alexandra Boisvert have to cook up 4,000-6,000 calorie meals in a place that has permafrost agriculture. I honestly expected raw seal during our stay in October, but what we were treated to were steak, sautéed mushrooms and fresh cheesecake.
We photographed our buildings, equipment, and the community. Barry Gaulton, ATCO’s general manager of Northern Operations, watched our every step. “Arms reach from the truck,” he warned. “You are just bait.”
Barry Gaulton is on the brink of a quarter of a century with ATCO, his whole career spent north of 60ºN. If that doesn’t build character, nothing else will. In his time with ATCO, he has managed countless sub-zero operations. Even so, this was a first for him: taking a laptop-clad communications professional to Resolute Bay.
The Canadian Arctic is on the rise once more. An increase in mining activity and defense training will fill the streets of Resolute Bay again. And when those footsteps crunch in the snow, ATCO will be here to greet our guests, the yellow flag flying full mast.
Told by an employee on her first journey to the Arctic, this personal account is an introduction to the kind of work done by ATCO employees in the most remote corners of Canada.