From coast to coast to coast, a voyage of joy and pain

The vessel reached Victoria on Saturday. Full story here: Ice breaker reaches Victoria, ends coast-to-coast-to-coast voyage around Canada

Tours of the ship are being offered only on Sunday, Oct. 29, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. There are no tours on Saturday. For more information, see the C3 Facebook event

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Northwest Passage journey, a voyage of joy and pain

Coast to coast to coast. When Geoff Green was still in the visioning stage of an epic 150-day journey through Canada’s Northwest Passage to mark the federation’s 150th birthday, he imagined a joyous celebration of a unique nation bounded by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

And yes, the Canada C3 expedition has been all of that. When Green and the entourage wrap up their travels next weekend in Victoria, they will arrive with a thousand stories to tell of their ocean adventure.

But the voyage on the retired Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker enlisted for the expedition was barely underway when Green realized that the journey would be less of a celebration, and more of a moving and deeply unsettling reflection on what the past 150 years had meant to the Indigenous people whose territories the ship passed through.

“The trip became a voyage of reconciliation, much more emotional than I had thought,” says Green, C3 expedition leader and the Gatineau, Que., founder and president of the non-profit Students on Ice Foundation, which put together the journey.

“The pain. The relocation of communities. The horrible government policies that affected not just the generation experiencing them, but all the ones that came after. The last 50 or 60 years of stories need to be told. And hearing the stories from Inuit people around climate change was so impactful — new insects, thunderstorms and lightning when they’ve never had that before.”

Canada C3 was conceived by Green three years ago as the largest multi-disciplinary science expedition through the Arctic — one that would bring national attention to the North, and to Canada’s unique status as a three-coast ocean nation. “Even our national anthem gets that wrong,” he notes with a laugh.

Green had been leading educational tours for young people to the Arctic and Antarctic since 2000, when he founded the Ottawa-based Students on Ice. For C3, he envisaged assembling a rotating team of scientists, cultural figures and ordinary Canadians for a voyage from Toronto to Victoria that would not only mark 150 years of federation, but the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-18.

With a live video feed from the ship, museum hubs across Canada and a strong social-media presence (the C3 Facebook page has 43,000 followers, and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shared some of its posts), the goal was to reach 20 million Canadians. Green said that with one week to go, Canada C3 had reached at least 15 million people, and he was confident they would achieve if not surpass their goal by the time all the stories were told.

The ship set sail June 1 from Toronto with a crew of 15 and an expedition staff of 23. But there was room for 25 more on the research vessel at any given time, and those berths will have been filled in turn by more than 400 Canadians from diverse walks of life by the time the ship docks in Victoria.

Nearly 5,000 people applied for the chance to be part of C3. Scientists, musicians, Indigenous elders, students, politicians, heads of state, regular folk — all were represented on board for one or more of the 15 legs as the ship travelled the 12,000 nautical miles between Toronto and Victoria.

Twenty-year-old Victoria inventor Ann Makosinski was one of a fortunate few who received a special invitation to take part.

“I got asked in April or May,” says Makosinski, who gained fame while in high school after inventing a flashlight that converts radiant body heat into electricity to power the light without batteries. “I do inventing — that’s kind of my thing — and they’d heard of me through the internet. I knew I’d never get another opportunity like this to see the Arctic.”

Makosinski was on Leg 9, sailing from Pond Inlet to Cambridge Bay, Northwest Territories. She was delighted to discover that one of the scientists on board shared her interest in “dead things,” and spent many happy hours beachcombing for bits of bone when the ship tied up. But what really got her attention was a massive garbage dump in one community, blackened by many failed attempts to burn it.

It was the first time in her life that she’d seen the waste that accumulates when there’s no place to hide it, or dispose of it.

“I’d seen giant garbage patches in photos before, but never in real life. It was very moving,” recalls Makosinski. “It got me thinking about technologies, and how people dispose of their garbage when there are no real options.”

The four themes for the journey were diversity and inclusion, reconciliation, youth engagement and the environment. Science research related to that last theme was a major component of the expedition. Fifteen science partners, including the University of Victoria, seized the rare opportunity to conduct 23 research projects in Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems.

UVic biology and earth and ocean sciences professor Diana Varela was one of those researchers. She studies phytoplankton, the minuscule but mighty ocean organisms that produce half of the world’s oxygen and are major players in using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Varela didn’t go on the expedition, but provided explicit instructions to the onboard science team on how to sample the waters they were passing through.

When the ship arrives in Victoria, Varela will receive 60 samples taken from 12 of the expedition’s 15 legs. She will be researching both the level of dissolved and particulate nutrients in Arctic waters and the presence of a particular type of phytoplankton, diatoms.

“Phytoplankton are the first step in the food web, and crucial to understanding carbon cycling,” says Varela. “They play a huge role in climate because they use atmospheric carbon dioxide. They pack it up into organic carbon, which is then available for the food web or settles to the ocean floor, which contributes to carbon capture.

“In particular, diatoms are very important because they are heavy. If they escape grazing by zooplankton, they sink into the deep ocean quite rapidly, and are better at getting to the bottom sooner. That makes them important as exporters of carbon. We have such patchy information from Arctic waters that being able to have a pan-Canadian Arctic perspective is outstanding. C3 has provided us with this incredible opportunity.”

The science done during the expedition will not only benefit the work of individual researchers, but be used collaboratively for national research projects into the Arctic environment and climate change. Varela is one of 200 faculty members at UVic whose work focuses on ocean, coastal and climate research.

“These researchers are providing fundamental knowledge and pathways to protecting our coasts and adapting to the impact of climate change,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president, research. “C3 draws attention to Canada’s unique position in the world as the country with the largest and most diverse coastline. That relationship to the ocean and coast is part of Canada’s heritage, and future.”

Seeing the impact of climate change in the Arctic disturbed Victoria participants Mike Irvine and Maeva Gauthier, UVic alumnae whose Fish Eye Project conducted a live dive via social media when the ship was in Cambridge Bay. Footage of the dive — the first live Arctic dive to be broadcast across the country — has been viewed 200,000 times.

“They’re now missing two months of sea ice a year in the Arctic communities we went through. The ice melts a month earlier than it used to and forms a month late,” says Gauthier. “It’s affecting their hunting, and their safety.”

Like expedition leader Geoff Green, Irvine was profoundly moved by the stories he heard from Indigenous people. The experience has inspired him and Gauthier to want to build Indigenous voices into their efforts to connect people to the world’s ocean through interactive live dives.

“We passed through these breathtaking spaces, but we also heard the stories of youth suicide, residential schools, communities forced to relocate,” says Irvine. “We do this live work for nature literacy, but it’s the people who live in a place who connect us to these environments. The way the Indigenous people in the North connect to the land is remarkable. Could we have them doing the broadcasts? It got us really thinking about how we could re-lens our shows.”

With the expedition wrapping up, the legacy work begins, says Green. Research, documentaries and public presentations are all in the works, with C3’s 400 participants now the ambassadors of that collective effort.

“A lot of people who took part in the expedition were high-profile Canadians — the Governor General, well-known musicians, leading scientists. But it’s all of our participants who are going to make the difference,” says Green. “Whether it’s conservation, changing the school system to reflect Indigenous experience, trying to get Canada where it wants to go with marine protected areas — it’s all important.

The voyage was ultimately one of “learning, hope, love and friendship,” says Green.

“I have a much bigger understanding of the mistakes we’ve made, but it certainly made me an even prouder Canadian. Every little nook and cranny of this country is extraordinary.”

Events on Saturday, Oct. 28

The Canada C3 expedition through the Northwest Passage has arrived in Vancouver Island waters, and will pull into Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Saturday, Oct. 28, for a full day of presentations and live music performances from Canadian musicians. Here’s what you need to know to get in on the action.
Oct. 23 — C3 in Vancouver, with a Ship to Shore Show at Vancouver Aquarium
Oct 25 — Arrival at Saturna Island
Oct. 26 — Arrival at Salt Spring Island
Oct. 26 — Arrival at Brentwood Bay
Oct. 28 — Grand entrance into Victoria’s Inner Harbour and public celebration at the Wharf Street floats at the foot of Fort Street
• 11 a.m. — C3 and accompanying flotilla arrive in the harbour.
• Noon — Presentations and speeches
• 1:30 p.m. — Live musical performances featuring Alex Cuba, Rose Cousins, Hannah Georgas, Heather Rankin, Aaron Pritchett and Tim Crabtree

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