Arnaud Maldague made this epic bicycle journey along the tracks of the Hudson Bay Line from Churchill to Gillam to bring awareness to the plight of Churchill, Nunavut and communities affected by the loss of rail service. For over a year the tracks have been unusable and no train is able to reach the northern terminus of Churchill. With a new deal for a local group and financial investor to buy the port in place, hopes are high that the isolation will end soon. Below is Arnaud’s account of the situation:
“After skiing the Arctic for 100 days, I arrived in Churchill, Canada, only to discover the city had no more functioning railroad. The rails were flooded on 23 may 2017 after a huge winter storm hit the region earlier this winter. The damaged rails suffered some washouts, which cut the city only ground supply and communication mean. Private owner Omnitrax, whom is legally bind to maintain the tracks, refused to repair the line, pretexting exaggerated costs and financial failure. The government refused to funnel money to the company, resulting in a political drama and no repairs. Churchill’s citizen are stuck with high prices, jobs cuts and a bitter feeling of being abandoned. The situation also impacted the whole Kivalliq region, Nunavut, which relied on Churchill rail supply line. One year later, nothing had changed… Since the rails were part of my itinerary and “The Manneken Trip” expedition, I decided to shoot this video while cycling the rails down towards Gillam and later Winnipeg. The idea was to generate some awareness and report on the state of the rails. As expected, the damages aren’t that bad, and could easily be repaired. It was a horrible ride with its lot of nice surprises! Nature was super beautiful however : the taiga, the boreal forest and lots of birds. Three days after finishing the trip, 41 communities joined together with private company Fairfax and AGT in order to buy the Hudson Bay Railroad and port. It’s an historic move from these community which retransfer ownership into local hands! However, no date has been set for the repairs yet… Due to intensive and long winters, repairs can only take place during the few summer months. If repairs don’t start soon, Churchill might have to face another winter without train.”
Based on a quota of 12 polar bears from licenses granted this year by the Nunatsiavut government, wildlife manager Jim Goudie reported that the Inuit quota was filled within the initial seven days of the season.
“There are lots of signs of bears,” he told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning. “Lots of bears and a continuation of what we’ve seen over the last three or four years.”
According to Goudie, a 2007 survey showed there were around 880 polar bears in the northern Quebec and Labrador regions while the revised numbers recorded show 2,152. This increase is a dramatic rise in the population. Researchers are involved in a two – year study that is indicating even more positive numbers.
“You can go wherever you want to within Nunatsiavut or the Labrador Inuit settlement area to harvest your polar bear,” he said. “Anywhere outside of Nunatsiavut boundaries, the harvest would be illegal.”
To keep track of polar bear pelts that are often sold to wealthy suitors from Asia to Canada, the furs are embedded with a computer chip validating when and where it was taken as well as proof it was acquired through a legal hunt and not poached. Any meat that is not used by the hunters must be donated.
When one thinks Arctic landscape, one usually visualizes serene endless tundra or boreal forest with snow covered trees! There’s a section of that austere boreal forest in Inuvik that has five dormant satellite receivers that look alien to the habitat and have been ready for use since 2016.
The satellite receivers were built by Norway’s Kongsberg Satellite Services and American satellite company Planet Lab. Over 18 months ago the application process for federal licensing commenced and since has been caught up in government red tape. The anticipated turnaround was six months.
Going into the application process, both companies expected a turnaround of about 180 days. Word surfaced last week that the licenses were finally approved though no formal announcement has been made. Global Affairs Canada, needs to approve an auxiliary license under Canada’s Remote Sensing Space Systems Act. Until this happens the dishes cannot be activated. Since these installations are integral to a remote sensing space system they need approval from the two agencies.
Inoperable Invuk Satellite receivers constructed two years ago are unused due to one federal license still needing approval. Rolf Skatteboe photo.
President and CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services, Rolf Skatteboe, stated the license delays are costing his business money since he is unable to fulfill a contract with the European Space Agency.
“I’ve got the message … hey you’ve gotten the approvals now you can get started, which unfortunately isn’t true,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada apparently has cleared the department to “proceed in evaluating our application” according to Skatteboe.
“We still don’t know … when we will potentially get a license or not,” Skatteboe said. “That’s the most frustrating part.”
Planet Lab and Kongsberg have spent millions to build the installations at Inuvik Skatteboe values the single large antenna installation at around $6 million, and four of the smaller Planet Lab installations at roughly $8 million. The sixth antenna has received the licensing it needs since its use under the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act did not require review.
Kongsberg constructed its satellite installations in Inuvik prior to being issued a license since the building season in the North is so short and doesn’t allow for flexibility. The company didn’t anticipate delays of the magnitude that has occurred.
Skatteboe added Kongsberg contracted with the European Space Agency to utilize the Inuvik ground station in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) environmental Earth monitoring project named the Copernicus program.
A Kongsberg Satellite Services satellite station in Svalbard, Norway is one of 21 stations around the world and had very little resistance for permitting unlike what he has encountered in Canada according to company president and CEO Rolf Skatteboe. Rolf Skatteboe photo.
“[Kongsberg Satellite] has 21 ground stations around the world and they have all been licensed without any problems,” he said.
“So [Kongsberg] did not expect any problems related to approval to receive … data from an ESA satellite, an organization where Canada also is an associated member.”
“[Kongsberg Satellite] applied more than a year before the system was planned to be operational,” said Skatteboe.
The uncertainty surrounding when, or if, Kongsberg’s installations will ever be approved for use is the main concern.
“If Canada decided what we’re doing is a threat to national security, fine, I accept that,” he said.
“The frustrating part is that we haven’t gotten any feedback on the timescale for them to rule on this one.”
Global Affairs Canada, department spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher said in an email statement that, “Global Affairs Canada continues to work closely” with Kongsberg and Planet Labs to finalize and hopefully approve their licensing application.