National Geographic : 1968 Jul
The Canadian North: Emerging Giant in the Middle East or in Europe, I felt I was working in the past. But in Canada, I am working in the future. "I have seen nothing of Canada but this cold North. There are no olive trees here, and no signorine on the beaches in bikinis. But even so, this wild land, I take as mine." Nerses interrupted. "I came straight to the North for three rea sons," he said. "First, I wanted to study the real Canada. Every Canadian knows that the North is what most of his country is. Then, when the time comes that I can teach geogra phy and social science in high school, I will understand my new land. Second, I think every immigrant must do something for Can ada, must work for it, help build it. Canada will do something for me later on. The third reason, I admit, is the job and the money." We were sitting beside a little train of cars loaded with uranium ore, waiting for the cage and the dripping-wet ride back up the mine shaft to daylight. Giampaolo went on trying to put into words his curious love for the inhospitable North. "This is no easy life, you know. Nine months of cold in winter. Mosquitoes and black flies in summer. Working underground, winter or summer. But never mind. My bam bini will go to college and play hockey, ski and fish and hunt. They'll inherit the whole Canadian way of life." Giampaolo flourished his geologist's Geiger counter in a sweeping gesture. "My kids will have money, too. Uranium is booming again. And for peace this time, not bombs. The world is wanting atomic power for its homes and its industry. This Geiger counter and me, we are here. What you call it, in on the underground floor?" Change Sweeps the Land of the Mounties Nerses, who is working to finance a mas ter's degree in education, interrupted again, figuratively waving his new Canadian flag. "Even if we could get better jobs or more money somewhere else, the Canadian North is the country with the exciting future. It is un developed, unexplored, almost unpopulated. It is on its way up, and we will go with it." I saw the North on its way up, and met hundreds of Canadians going with it-New Canadians and old, immigrants and old timers, Indians and Eskimos. Summer and winter, I crisscrossed the land. Everywhere the North was coming alive, from the Alaskan border to Hudson Bay, from the northern parts of the four western provinces-Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia - to the Arctic islands (map, following pages). Once the North was a distant, unknown wilderness, a land where fact was lost in fic tion, a white and boundless nowhere presum ably peopled by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Hudson's Bay Company men, and Eskimos in igloos. The North was a stage for the epic drama of the Northwest Passage; of the white man's slaughter of arctic whales; of his lust for Yukon gold and his passion for the furs of forest and tundra. Today the North is becoming truly a part of Canada, and all Canadians know it.* They realize that they own the largest unexploited land frontier in the Western Hemisphere, and that it is vital to their future. Oil Sands Finally Yield Their Bonanza When I was there, they were not only busy exploiting the North; they were incorporating it into their national life and expanding their national concepts to include it-its Eskimos and Indians, its virgin vacationlands, its in estimable water and water power, and its fab ulous, almost untouched mineral resources. Everywhere, New Canadians were part of the scene-men who had left tired lands else where to face the chill and challenge of the North and to pursue its riches and its rough satisfactions. At Cassiar Asbestos Mine in northern Brit ish Columbia, they are chopping away the top of a 6,600-foot mountain (pages 28-9). Per sonnel Director Cam Church told me, "Our payroll reads like a United Nations roll call." At the Great Canadian Oil Sands devel opment in Alberta, engineers have succeeded for the first time in extracting petroleum in significant quantities from oil-soaked sand. Bill Dunlop, to whom new construction workers report, leaned back in his swivel chair and declared: "Our northern labor supply is so short we get 'em hot off the boat. A lot of these lads arrive here without even seeing civilized Canada. They think it's a country of one seaport, a couple of airports, about a mil lion miles of uninhabited ice and snow, and this lost place in the middle of it where mad Canadians are open-pit mining for ruddy oil!" I watched, a bit awed, as an electric bucket wheel excavator ten stories tall scooped up *See "Canada, My Country," by Alan Phillips, NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1961.