Change of Command Parade
Alert, Nunavut, Tuesday, January 20, 2015
I am delighted to visit Alert, the world’s northernmost permanently-inhabited settlement.
Canada is of course a northern country, but this station really is ‘true north.’ Consider your motto: INUIT NUNANGATA UNGATA, which in Inuktitut means “Beyond the Inuit land.”
Now that’s what I call the Far North!
I am pleased to be here to show my support and gratitude for your important work, performed in such a challenging physical environment.
And I am especially pleased to be here during the total darkness of winter.
That may sound surprising, but I mean it! Writing about Canada, Samuel de Champlain once remarked: “It’s difficult to know this country without wintering there,” and I think the same can be said of the Arctic.
It is difficult to know Canada without visiting the Arctic, and it is difficult to truly know the Arctic without visiting in winter.
Canada is a northern nation, and the Canadian Arctic is integral to our identity and our sovereignty. Indeed, a significant portion of the Arctic goes by the name of Nunavut, meaning “our land” in Inuktitut.
Inuit, a founding people of Canada, have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years, and continue to do so today alongside other Canadians and northerners of diverse backgrounds. This history of human settlement reminds us that, while the world is increasingly aware of the environmental, economic and strategic importance of the Arctic, it is above all home for thousands of people.
Besides comprising a significant part of our geography and being home to many Canadians, the Arctic is an important element of our history and shared identity.
Canadians from across the country have mounted expeditions to the Arctic—explorers such as Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who along with R.M. Anderson led the Canadian Arctic Expedition a century ago. More recently, individuals such as Bernard Voyer and Students On Ice founder Geoff Green have continued to educate and enlighten Canadians on the wonders and importance of the Arctic.
Even if not all of us have visited the Far North, there is something deeply familiar to Canadians about this harsh climate. Voyer speaks of the “friendship with winter” he developed as a child growing up in Rimouski, a passion he has pursued throughout his life as a polar explorer. In a similar way, communities have thrived in all parts of Canada thanks to the innovations and adaptations we have made to the freezing temperatures of winter.
Of course, no Canadian town or city experiences winter quite like Alert does. I have only been here a short time, but it doesn’t take long to get a sense of how different life is up here in the High Arctic.
Here at CFS Alert, you know the North in a way that few others do. Together, you are making truly unique and important contributions to Canada’s and to the world’s understanding of this region.
You are enhancing our knowledge of climate, the atmosphere and the natural environment. You are reinforcing our sovereignty and standing guard for our national security. You are at the ready for search and rescue operations.
In the last 24 hours, I have witnessed how these matters are far from theoretical, and that the challenges of working in the Arctic are real.
It was an honour to lay a wreath at 405 Squadron Lancaster #965 Memorial and Boxtop 22 Memorial yesterday, and to solemnly remember those who were lost in service at CFS Alert.
Some of you may know that my wife, Sharon, and I were in the community of Resolute Bay, Nunavut on August 20, 2011, the day of the terrible plane crash in which 12 people tragically died.
I will never forget the scenes of sadness and devastation I witnessed that day. Nor will I forget the remarkable response by Canadian Armed Forces members who were present.
Working and living in the Arctic is a wonderful experience, but I know it is not without challenges and risks. That is why I am so grateful for your contributions to strengthening Canada’s understanding of and connection to the North.
I am also pleased to be here for this Change of Command ceremony, and to recognize the efforts of outgoing Commander Major Scott Marshall, who has done such outstanding work during his time at CFS Alert.
Thank you, Major Marshall, for all you have done for Canada.
It is also a privilege to welcome incoming Commander Major Brian Tang. I wish you the very best with your important work here.
The sense of community, camaraderie and professionalism at CFS Alert is palpable, and something of which Canadians can be very proud.
Thank you all for your remarkable dedication and service to our country.