By Eric Solomon, Vancouver Aquarium’s director of Arctic programs
If you’ve been following along in our blog post series about the Canadian Rangers Ocean Watch program (CROW), you are aware that I, along with the Aquarium’s videographer Neil Fisher, had the opportunity this month to accompany scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Canadian Rangers to the Arctic on a unique data-gathering collaboration. By now, you may have heard about the tragic accident that befell Corporal Donald Anguyoak, a Canadian Ranger, father, grandfather, hockey coach, leader and inspiration for many in the small Arctic community of Gjoa Haven. Donald was part of the five-person sovereignty patrol that we were accompanying during the ten-day Exercise Polar Passage. On our first day out, Donald had a snowmobile accident resulting in injuries from which he did not recover.
All of us at the Vancouver Aquarium send our deepest condolences to Donald’s wife Lydia, his family and friends, the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, and the community of Gjoa Haven.
I cannot say I knew Donald well – we had only spent less than a week together – but in a tight-knit and welcoming community such as Gjoa Haven, the grief and sense of loss touches everyone, including the three “kabloonas” (southerners) that were with Donald at the time of the accident. Exercise Polar Passage out of Gjoa Haven was cancelled but we stayed with the community for the following week to grieve together and provide whatever support we could.
Gjoa Haven is a strong community that, like other communities in the Far North, deals with much more than their fair share of loss and grief. As a southerner, it was a tremendously sad and difficult time, but it was also inspiring to see an entire community come together in support of one another the way the people of Gjoa Haven did. And at a time when the feelings of three southern visitors should be the least of the community’s concerns, the people of Gjoa Haven went out of their way ensure that we were doing OK, too. In times like this, being an outsider in a small community could easily become uncomfortable. Instead, even while deeply stricken by shock and grief, people opened their arms to us and welcomed us in.
That we left Gjoa Haven with heavy hearts is not a surprise after such a tragedy; I could not have anticipated, however, that our hearts would be carrying such warmth for the truly remarkable people in whose lives we shared for such a short time.
Despite the abrupt and tragic end to the exercise, we were still able to achieve some of the important goals of our project. Over the next few weeks, in Donald’s honour, we’ll talk about what we did accomplish and why it matters. The science is highly relevant to our lives in the South and in the North; the combination of local Inuit knowledge and western scientific monitoring techniques is powerful and promising; the lessons we learned in just a few short weeks as guests of the people of Gjoa Haven have been inspiring and invaluable. I hope you’ll join us.