Given the low standard of contact between environmental and military historians, it is unsurprising, if regrettable, that the relationship between military activity and natural landscapes in Canada has received minimal scholarly attention. This paper seeks to open space for such an environmental history of militarism and militarization. Focusing on the Cold War and its aftermath, the essay documents the history of military activity on Canadian soil, with an emphasis on the North, specifically examining a set of crucial projects and operations that redefined not only physical terrain but associated imaginative understandings of nature. The history of Cold War Canada is littered with suitable examples, from early military exercises and the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar line to more recent missile tests and low-level training flights. While it is crucial that these are understood in environmental terms, a genealogy of military activity in the Canadian North reveals changing and at times contrasting approaches to the military-environment relationship. Equally, however, as northern nature was viewed through a series of shifting strategic perspectives, it remained a target of state-driven modernization linked consistently to military objectives.

It had not been any failure of weapons in the cold that had prevented winter warfare. It had been the inability to move, to supply and to live away from main roads and railways. These have always been the problems of civilian frontiers. Wartime progress in winter techniques in Canada has thus, by good fortune, had to be directed not to weapons but to logistics, so that the answers obtained can now, after the war, be directly applied to opening up the North. Winter training would, therefore, seem to be a natural and useful role for Canadian services in peacetime.
J. Tuzo Wilson
Canadian Geographical Journal, 1946[1]

ON FEBRUARY 15, 1946, the “Moving Force” of Exercise Musk-Ox left Fort Churchill, Manitoba, and over almost three months traced a 5,000 kilometer-long northern arc via Victoria Island and Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories to Edmonton, Alberta. Fort Churchill, later home to Canada’s Defence Research Northern Laboratory, was by the end of the Second World War a site of significant research on military bodies, units, and technologies under adverse environmental conditions.[2] Musk-Ox was an extraordinary extension of these research interests. It was less a routine test of endurance than a public spectacle held within a territory of new strategic interest, a demonstration of the Canadian military’s ability to travel across, and thus command, a challenging landscape. Staged at the outset of the Cold War, Musk-Ox offered no significant human enemies for its participants, or for the audiences digesting reportage of the event. Rather, the chief opponent was nature itself.[3]

The Cold War’s first decade featured numerous northern exercises similar to Musk-Ox, part of a broader militarization of the North American Arctic capped by the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar project.[4] With the end of the dominant historical narrative of the twentieth century’s second half, scholars have begun to examine the geographic legacy of the Cold War—the ways in which it defined and transformed specific sites, from proxy conflicts in client states to the suburban streets of a superpower.[5] This legacy is not just one of impact upon landscapes; it also reflects the broader Cold War interest—on the part of the United States, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, their allies—in military environments on a global scale. The result of such interest, as signalled by the early example of Musk-Ox, was the systematic consolidation of nature as a military entity, but also an extension of the scope and terms of militarization to reflect the cautious longevity of the Cold War.

In North America and beyond, the continued prominence of military actors, technologies, institutions, and, more crucially, perspectives (many with definite Cold War roots) has inspired a small but growing literature on what Rachel Woodward has called “militarism’s geographies.” If militarism is understood as pervasive, “its effects on spaces, places, environments, and landscapes” require attention from historical geographers and environmental historians. War, the central subject for traditional “terrain and tactics” approaches to military geography, constitutes only “the endpoint of a range of processes, practices, ideas and arguments which make it possible.” A more critical vantage, Woodward concludes, would reveal a wider set of relationships between militarism and geography, whether in cultural, economic, or environmental terms.[6]

The global history of the American armed forces indicates increased attention during and after the Second World War to the world’s hostile environments, terrain types which might, it was believed, be scenes of conflict under the umbrella of planetary struggles with fascism and then communism. This essay addresses one such environment: the Canadian North. Frequently combined with Alaska and Greenland to form a vaguely defined region, the Canadian North was a site of keen military concern throughout the Cold War. While northern landscapes have of late been wrapped into altered strategic representations flush with the terminology of human and environmental security, these discourses are, as we will show, not entirely products of the post-Cold War era. More importantly, contemporary claims to geopolitical novelty are overshadowed by the persistent treatment of the Canadian North as a military object, along with the startling fact that at least some of the recent revisions of northern nature are direct, reflexive responses to the risk-laden legacy of Cold War militarization.[7] This essay is thus first and foremost concerned with shifting military understandings of the Canadian North as a natural space, since an accounting of exercises, installations, and impacts is incomplete without a parallel sensitivity to the currents of representation.

An environmental history of Cold War Canada is additionally important because historians have been slow to move beyond diplomatic or social analyses of the period, which often remain unnecessarily national, in step with political rhetoric.[8] As a bastion between an apparently aggressive Soviet Union and the North American industrial heartland, northern Canada was a key component of Cold War strategic maps. During the 1950s, in particular, recognition of these cartographic conditions led to intense military and associated activity in the Arctic, a region that had, until the Second World War, been largely ignored by defense officials. The first decade of the Cold War witnessed a variety of attempts, some relatively minor, others extraordinarily ambitious, to overcome what was perceived to be an antagonistic environment. Military exercises, conducted in scores of Canadian locations from the Yukon to Labrador, were not only tests of individual and unit readiness for northern warfare against an invading force, but state-driven campaigns to document and respond to natural challenges. Meanwhile, the construction of radar lines and associated settlements undermined the perception of Canadian wilderness as inhospitable.

During this early wave of interest, “neither the United States nor Canada looked on the North as a place to be protected because of some intrinsic value,” Kenneth Eyre observes. “Rather it was seen as a direction, as an exposed flank.”[9] Until the late 1960s few proponents of northern militarization were concerned with what this process entailed beyond the outlines of perceived Cold War pressures. This limited vision was challenged, for a number of reasons, and from a number of perspectives, as the Cold War entered its third and fourth decades. But the seemingly unremarkable and yet singular perception of the North as a natural space readily subject to military forms of geographical vision did not diminish.

Several bodies of scholarship inform this essay, which seeks to link Canadian environmental history with military and diplomatic history, while furthering more familiar affiliations with historical geography and opening avenues for future research on similar themes and cases. First, the modest literature on the military in the Canadian North, which effectively begins with the Second World War, provides important context. “The Americans changed the landscape wherever they went, with new roads, airfields, pipelines, military bases, and new communication and other services,” observed Kenneth Coates and William Morrison in a landmark study of the Alaska Highway. “Regions once largely isolated, like Greenland, Northern Queensland in Australia, and the Canadian Northwest were showered with new facilities.”[10] But while they touch on environmental issues, historians have not tracked the environmental consequences of militarization in a sustained manner.[11]

Second, we draw from a broader literature on militarization and the environment, particularly that which analyzes the deleterious (and occasionally protective) effects of military activity on domestic territory. Much of this literature has focused on the American West, and is, in its more nuanced varieties, not limited to a nonhuman nature, but rather views militarization through the trope of sacrifice areas in which human lifeworlds as well as those of innumerable other species are damaged or displaced.[12] It is possible, and tempting, to historicize the Canadian North as an equivalent sacrifice area, essentially given over to military activity with little consideration granted the region’s diversity. But whereas portions of the American West such as the Nevada Test Site were effectively treated as empty space suited to dramatic experiments on formidable Cold War weaponry, the Canadian North was at once more strategic—a more likely site for actual war than the Nevada desert—and subject to a more holistic form of governmental intervention, driven by military demands and dollars but incorporating scientific and economic curiosity as well. That said, these additional interests were also characteristic of an earlier American West, and it is equally important to acknowledge the lingering force of a frontier ideal in the twentieth-century North, and the influence this has had on representations of both nature and culture.[13]

The environmental history of the Cold War Canadian North is best understood through the lens of military modernization, a particular version of a familiar narrative: that of a state (or, in this case, often two) working to make a landscape legible so as to enroll it more effectively into such classic political responsibilities, according to James C. Scott, as “taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.”[14] These did not drive the militarization of the Cold War North; geopolitics did. But put into practice, militarism in the North was similar to the nonmilitary projects Scott documents in his compelling study Seeing Like a State (Yale, 1998), projects backed by the authority of reason and the latest technologies, designed at a distance and implemented without sufficient attention to local conditions. As the Cold War proceeded, this dynamic changed. Nevertheless, the fact that environmental assessment and remediation directly related to military activity initiated in the early Cold War period is still ongoing suggests that this activity was not only significant, but also that the power of the military’s instrumental, oppositional approach to northern nature has not entirely diminished.


IF THE FIRST WORLD WAR heralded the dawn of the air age, air power still posed no serious threat to North American security. With this awareness, the Canadian government focused on domestic unity. The fledgling Royal Canadian Air Force spent much of its time mapping and charting in the North, but did not build permanent infrastructure in the region and never ventured into the high Arctic. The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals opened the first stations of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System in 1923, installations that soon dotted the landscape and revealed how the military could be used as a tool to support national development programs in the North. Apart from this wireless communication infrastructure, the military’s presence was insubstantial, and even if the region’s environmental challenges were well known, it was not considered holistically in the language of strategy.[15]

The Second World War was a watershed in the militarization of the Canadian North. At the behest of American military planners interested in securing reliable access to Alaska, Canadian officials agreed to support the construction of northern airfields. The Northwest Airway, built from 1939–1941 to link Edmonton to Fairbanks, established airfields and radio sites at one hundred mile intervals. The subsequent Northwest Staging Route produced a larger series of airfields in the Yukon and provincial norths, as did highway and oil projects. In the eastern Arctic, the Crimson Route consisted of airbases built to ferry aircraft and supplies to Europe. These were constructed in Goose Bay, Fort Chimo, and Frobisher Bay in 1941, and at The Pas, Churchill, and Southampton Island the following year. Even when these facilities were not used as planned, they opened up new transportation routes to—and through—the north.[16] None were large or paved, with the exception of Goose Bay, Labrador, which boasted the world’s largest airport by 1943. Besieged by a “friendly invasion” of Canadian and American soldiers, airmen and seamen, Newfoundland and Labrador was particularly affected by the reach of World War II; the social and environmental traces of this are still discernable today, from Argentia to Gander and beyond.[17] In Goose Bay, the presence of an airport was a boon, at least for non-Aboriginal residents. Its creation displaced a settlement of about thirty Native families, however, and provided few jobs for Native peoples once construction finished.[18]

Disruptions were more profound in the western sub-Arctic, home to the Northwest Defence Projects. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and civilian contractors carried out most of the construction, with a view to short-term military goals. “This was a peaceful army of occupation,” Coates and Morrison observed. “The main weapons were the shovel, not the rifle, and the bulldozer, not the tank. But such a force—more than 40,000 soldiers and construction workers—could not help but recast the sparsely populated and undeveloped Northwest.”[19] The Alaska Highway soon linked an isolated American possession to the southern road network through the Yukon, northern British Columbia, and Alberta, while the Canol Pipeline extended from the oil fields at Norman Wells to a refinery in Whitehorse. These military mega-projects radically transformed the human and physical geography of the North. Bulldozers tore permafrost off the ground, disrupting ecosystems and creating impassable quagmires. Forest fires, logging, over-hunting, and over-fishing depleted resources in the region. Arriving workers brought diseases, from measles to VD, which devastated indigenous populations. Scientific and geographic surveys, telephone systems linking Edmonton to Fairbanks and Norman Wells, shortwave communication systems, small generating plants, and wage employment all furthered connections to distant centers of calculation.[20] But as with Cold War endeavors further north, engineering marvels did not master a distinct natural environment: unanticipated conditions and minimal understanding of the local terrain meant that the infrastructure was not up to proper standards. “Pioneer” roads had treacherous grades and disintegrated during spring thaws.[21]

Philip Godsell’s The Romance of the Alaska Highway (Ryerson Press, 1944) rests heavily on the imagery of the military sweeping north to conquer an unforgiving and exotic land barely touched by humans. The highway was a “modern miracle which has bridged 1,600 miles of bottomless muskegs, roaring mountain streams and untamed wilderness,” Godsell boasted. “Faced with the threat of Asiatic invasion Uncle Sam’s parka-clad engineers and doughboys swung into action, to engrave on the scroll of Time a saga of ingenuity and engineering skill which has few counterparts in history.” The achievement was a vindication of the “frontier tradition,” and trumpeted the masculine prowess of the construction crews who toiled in “a harsh, stern land where none but the strong could survive.” They may not have battled Japanese soldiers, but they fought a formidable foe: “Bridging unpredictable glacial streams, scaling white-capped peaks, wrestling with quaking bog and muskeg; fighting mosquitoes and bullflies in summer, and stinging, searing winter cold that froze the very marrow in their bones—through tropic heat and Arctic cold they ploughed ahead.” Indeed, nature was cast as a military enemy: “As they hacked through black-massed battalions of spruce and serrated rows of colonnaded pines still others rose in a seemingly impenetrable sage-green barrier ahead, parading in mass formation like an inanimate army determined by the very weight of numbers to resist and wear down the threatening forces of invasion. … Night and day, with relentless activity, the primeval battle went on unceasingly.”[22]

Godsell also constructed the northern environment through the lens of race. His book positioned Native peoples, described as “the first invaders from the continent of Asia,” as a part of nature, overcome with wonder and awe at the modern machinery and with “Negroes who became helplessly lost if they strayed far from road or camp [and] soon became a major occupation for Indian guides and scouts.” White men, it seemed, never lost their bearings. The kuskitayweasuk, or “black meats,” as the Natives referred to African-American soldiers, joined with “red-men, half-breeds and trappers in tripping the light fantastic” to the sounds of fiddles in the camps, all carefully observed by the “scarlet-coated Mountie.” Despite the wildness of the landscape, readers could rest assured that the “constituted authority” maintained order and control. Indeed, the entire project, for Godsell, entailed mobilizing a “virgin forest” in the service of war. Time would tell, Godsell wrote, whether “the majestic highway, rushed to completion with such a tremendous expenditure of money and labour, [would] be left to languish and return to nature when the excitement of this war is over and peace again throws her mantle over the world?”[23]


THE ANSWER was no. The military presence in the North did not cease with declarations of Allied victory in 1945. In part this was because of the Cold War’s sudden emergence, but the justifications for northern militarization, and related scientific inquiry, were dependent not only on particular geopolitical circumstances. Although the subjects of sovereignty and, more vaguely, continental defense were discussed in wartime Ottawa and Washington, the North was additionally becoming part of a more generic geography, a view which treated the region as both important and unknown. Institutions such as the American Air Force’s Arctic, Desert, and Tropic Information Center (ADTIC), briefly discontinued at the end of the war, sprang into action once again to continue research on problems of survival and combat in nontemperate climates.

The Canadian North was a crucial component of this inquiry; it was proximate, strategically significant, but also mysterious. As the Director of the Arctic Institute of North America, Lincoln Washburn, argued in 1948, “in general the fundamental aims of Arctic exploration are purely scientific—to learn more about the North, to solve the many problems that confront us there and which must be solved before we are in a position to describe the North accurately and completely. From this point of view the North differs from no other region; where it does differ is in the fact that we know so little about it compared with most other parts of the world.”[24]

Washburn did not mention that postwar scientific expeditions in the North were being funded overwhelmingly by military sources. It therefore made sense that journalistic articles about the Arctic during the early Cold War were filled with terms such as “assault” and “invasion.”[25] But the “polar regions,” a U.S. Air Force researcher wrote in the preface to a 1953 ADTIC study of survival experiences in the north, “are not to be entered casually or in an unprepared state. The environment presents unique problems not met elsewhere in the world. Constant study and experimentation are needed to adapt machines, materiel, and men to its demands.” The examples documented in the text did not result from contact with a human enemy; the “adversary in these episodes was the environment.”[26]

Military activity in the Cold War North was thus not just a physical engagement with soil, muskeg, permafrost, water, and ice; it was critical to the formation of a new imaginative geography of the Arctic. Clear evidence of the transition is found in the numerous military exercises of the 1940s and 1950s, varying in duration, scale, and premise, which traced a series of scars across the region. The natural nordicity of these operations was apparent in their names: Musk-Ox, Lemming, Eskimo, Polar Bear, Sun Dog, and Sweetbriar. Although their cumulative imprint was still nowhere near as significant as that of concurrent radar construction, their sheer volume is testament to the direct interest of the Canadian and American armed forces in winter warfare. Indeed, the importance of these forays into the North is collective.

For Major Patrick Baird, a participant or observer on several winter warfare exercises in the 1940s, such repeated tests of equipment and endurance demonstrated that with appropriate technology and provisions military “operations in the barren grounds which represent one third of Canada’s area can be as unhindered as operations on the Libyan desert.”[27] This was the premise which lay behind agencies such as ADTIC: to show that while the Arctic required specific study, it was, ultimately, only part of a set of hostile Cold War environments which spanned the globe, environments where the American armed forces might find themselves stationed. While Baird’s adventures might have been motivated by the desires of Canadian officials to secure military experience on their own terrain, national defense was constantly overshadowed in the first decade of the Cold War by significant American pressure to share results and space. The United States had Alaska, of course, which effectively became a Cold War laboratory. But military exercises such as 1950’s Sweetbriar, which crossed the Alaska-Yukon border and was deliberately designed as a binational event, demonstrated that political borders were far less important than a common natural environment.[28] This shared landscape would automatically unite Canada and the United States in the event of northern warfare, and thus in the planning for this potential combat.

While military exercises were planned and executed, more ambitious plans for Arctic defense were also developed. Although it would take a decade to be implemented, the vision of a radar line stretching across the northern edge of the continent was discussed as early as 1946, when U.S. Army Air Force planners proposed a string of northern radar sites that could track waves of incoming Soviet planes.[29] When finally constructed in the late 1950s, this system, dubbed the Distant Early Warning Line, was an extraordinary intervention that likely did more to alter the lives of northern inhabitants than any other Cold War initiative.[30]

The DEW Line was made possible by a comprehensive exercise in military geography: exhaustive terrain, climatic, and coastal surveys undertaken with the aid of the Canadian Joint Intelligence Bureau and arms of both national militaries. This was, in effect, a vast catalog of environmental data designed to aid “all those who may be involved in the work of planning and installing the Distant Early Warning Line.”[31] But like the sponsors and designers of ambitious high modernist projects considered by James C. Scott, the Line’s creators were forced to grapple with the nuances of the northern environment.[32]

Articles in engineering journals tracing the progress of “Project 572″—as the DEW Line construction effort was initially known—are prefaced with the language of adventure, “the heights to which determination can aspire, in the face of frustrating odds … despite an uncooperative Nature.” But these reports also testify to the limitations of “data” on northern landscapes, despite significant attempts at collection and consultation, in the early stages of the project. These gaps, it was believed, could be filled by field reconnaissance. Even then, when construction began, “no member of the 572 Project had set foot on any of the proposed locations, except the experimental sites in Alaska and a few native settlements in Canada.”[33] “Hazardous aircraft flights over trackless wastes,” landings on “unprepared and unmarked snowfields,” encounters with “the Eskimo and his primitive life” in an “unmapped country,” and surveying successes in “sub-zero temperatures” were all common components of the “fantastic” tale of the DEW Line, an “unparalleled” “full-scale attack on the Arctic” narrated within and beyond scientific communities.[34] Such colorful descriptions certainly tested the dispassionate terms of high modernism. More importantly, while these engineering stories began with drama and concluded with success, it was difficult to maintain a consistent tone: “many mistakes were made in the early stages of planning. Early issues of drawings incomplete or containing architectural-engineer conflicts resulted in erroneous material and tool procurement and shortages. Unavailability of information on site topography, layout and soils led to inadequate heavy equipment being furnished. … The errors resulting from the inability to complete plans caused delays in some components of the schedules which were costly and serious in relation to completion.”[35]

Overcoming an arduous environment also became a typical narrative for media stories on the DEW Line, stories that similarly highlighted the successful application of modern solutions to treacherous terrain. The Western Electric Corporation, contracted to build and operate the radar line, noted in its short history of this construction that
As you follow the DEW Line across Canada, the farther east you go the more forbidding the country becomes. It starts out being rugged and treacherous and ends up on the east coast of Baffin Island, a nightmare of precipitous mountains and rocky gorges. … But it isn’t only the cold and never-ending darkness that make winter on the DEW Line such a cruel, uncompromising foe. Combine these with howling 100-mile-an-hour winds and snow constantly on the move in the teeth of the king-sized blizzards that are commonplace, and you have a force to be reckoned with. Men on the DEW Line learned quickly that you can’t fight the Arctic. You’ve got to learn to respect it, to live with it, to rock with its punches. That’s the way the DEW Line was built.[36]

Journalists who visited DEW sites under construction faced censorship, but their directives suggested that “difficulties due to terrain, weather, distance, [and] wild animals may be mentioned together with human interest stories on construction personnel.” News writers were provided with stock anecdotes of nasty weather conditions, polar bear encounters, and the benefits of “Eskimo” clothing, which limited perspiration but kept workers warm—when it could be found in sufficiently large sizes.[37] Similarly, readers of their newspapers and magazines learned that the actual radar installations comfortably housed southern workers who enjoyed all the amenities of modern living while serving on the remote front lines of Cold War surveillance and detection.[38]

To prepare for a potential Soviet invasion, it was not enough to detect aircraft. Northern landscapes, low in population and sufficiently far from Soviet eyes, were seen as particularly suitable for Air Force training.[39] The development of jets, rockets, and missiles, as well as high-level bombing and fighter interceptor training, required a new Canadian air weapons center, and in April 1951 Defence Minister Brooke Claxton informed Parliament that a bombing and gunnery range centered on Primrose Lake would encompass 4,490 square miles.[40] This expanse of “unoccupied” Crown lands straddled the Alberta-Saskatchewan border along the fifty-fifth parallel, and the dense boreal forest and muskeg suitably resembled a potential battlespace over Europe and Siberia. Negotiations over the range focused on human geographies and little else. It would affect resource exploitation, commercial fishing, and trap lines, but would not encroach on any settlements. Hunters, fishermen, and trappers were compensated for their interests in the land, and some Aboriginal communities received additional money to offset partially the disruption of their traditional subsistence economies.[41]

For the first time, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) expressed a direct interest in the “preservation of national wildlife values in connection with projects for defence training schemes.” Dr. Harrison Lewis was concerned that the bombing range plans had not been referred to the CWS so that “national interests in wildlife may receive consideration before action is taken.” He pointed to the U.S. military’s consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to recent atomic tests and explosions in the Nevada desert as a model practice. Given provincial jurisdiction over natural resources, the issue was more complicated in Canada, but the federal Minister of Resources and Development reminded his Defence counterpart that military development and control of “large tracts of land for use as bombing ranges, training areas, or other defence purposes … may have important effects on the widely distributed wildlife resources of Canada.” The CWS duly appointed a wildlife officer “of extensive military experience and appropriate military rank” to deal with National Defence on these matters. As negotiations for the air weapons range neared completion, Saskatchewan officials raised the possibility that an epidemic could break out amongst wild animals, should overcrowding occur when trapping and harvesting ceased on the property. “A large population, particularly natives, in this region of the north, depend almost entirely on trapping for their livelihood,” one document noted, “and we are naturally anxious to avoid damage to the industry.” The Department of Defence was unwilling to change its development plans to accommodate trapping because this would interfere with its training program. “The airport is nearing completion, buildings, including hangars, are under construction and public utilities are under way,” the deputy minister reported. If the range were unavailable, the base would be of little use. Environmental concerns were quantified as financial compensation to trappers and the provinces for opportunity costs in resource development.[42]

Beginning in 1952, Alberta’s Cold Lake air station became a major Cold War facility for pilot training and weapons testing. Two runways, each over a mile in length, “stretched across the muskeg, while massive hangars and buildings, showpieces of modern technology, rose [over what had once been] the haunts of coyotes. A large and modern community had thrust out the wild forests of jackpine and spruce.” The station housed more than five thousand people, and featured many of the amenities of modern life: a hospital, tennis courts, a school, even a shopping center.[43] Bombing practice, noisy overflights, and air-to-ground training on the 106 target complexes eventually established on the range produced intermittent “startle effects” in wildlife, and practice bombs, rockets, strafe, explosive ordnance, flares, marker marines, chaff, aerial targets, and tow wire resulted in terrain damage and vegetation impacts. “Academic range training” at Jimmy Lake posed the greatest disturbances: more than two hundred low-altitude sorties were flown over this location during a busy month, each typically involving six bombing passes, four rocket passes, four strafing passes, and two “dry passes.” In addition to aircraft noise, firing rockets and cannons produced sonic shock waves that exceeded decibel levels associated with “startle effects.” At the same time, the military’s occupation served to limit outside resource exploitation and development. In subsequent decades, when oil and gas infrastructure and agricultural expansion engulfed neighboring lands, the weapons range remained a heavily controlled yet protected boreal mixedwood habitat for species like moose, caribou, bison, and river otter. Indeed, the abundance of woodland caribou on the range suggested that they successfully habituated to training exercises.[44] The example of Cold Lake suggests that the study of military-environment relations requires a contextual interpretation that does not begin with assumptions of automatic degradation.

It does little good to confer present-day expectations on fifty-year-old policies and their designers, as though they should have systematically contemplated the environment in current scientific and cultural terms. Equally, however, it is a mistake to conclude that rudimentary ecological principles—often unintentional byproducts of the nuclear arms race—were absent from political and military circles during the early Cold War.[45] The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) relinquished its control over a high explosive weapons testing area near Watson Lake, Yukon, in 1954, and while it did not find any unexploded ordnance during its surface clean-up, it acknowledged the missiles or bomb fragments could still be present. The military ensured that the Department of Resources and Development did not anticipate major impacts on wildlife prior to establishing a danger area for surface-to-air guided missile testing in Hudson Bay, or a practice gunnery and bombing range at Grey Goose Island in James Bay. Given that the latter was a major migration route for Canada geese and snow geese, and “an important part of the food supply of the Indians who reside near the southern end of James Bay,” the National Parks Branch requested that the air force curtail its activities during the summer and autumn migration periods.[46]

At the 1958 meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, Robert Legget (Director of the Division of Building Research at the National Research Council) proudly explained that the technological developments of the previous decade had changed the face of the North, and that engineers had “direct[ed] the great sources of power in Nature for the use and convenience of man.”[47] This was the language of environmental modernization, which enrolled an increasingly definite region in national and continental maps even as its geopolitical limitations were becoming clear. Within the global purview of the Cold War, the colonial curiosity of military science in the North was shifting to other landscapes. New technologies, particularly intercontinental ballistic missiles, also redirected attention away from the region in the late 1950s. Canadian military activities in the region declined sharply. The DEW Line continued its vigil along the coast, but half of the radar stations were decommissioned in 1964 and DND transferred the infrastructure (and liability) to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s election rhetoric about a new northern national policy proved fleeting, and his tenure (1957–1963) was plagued by indecision and inaction. The Canadian Forces vacated Churchill, the Department of Transport took over many northern airfields, and the Northwest Highway System was transferred to civilian control. Apart from the annual maritime resupply of the DEW Line, this “new Mediterranean”—as the geographer Trevor Lloyd dubbed the Arctic Ocean in an era of jets and nuclear submarines—was a relatively quiet military space.[48]

Nevertheless, military actors remained prominent in new settlements established around bases and radar stations, with a host of cultural and environmental implications. Off-road vehicles damaged vegetation and organic matter, resulting in the melting of permafrost, in turn affecting hydrological systems. So too did the discharge of sewage onto the tundra, never mind the presence of new physical barriers (such as roads, airstrips, and landfills) on the landscape. Disruption of the local social order, whereby Aboriginal hunters did not procure food in a seasonal cycle as they had previously, and denser clusters of people around military sites meant more competition for resources. The DEW Line personnel were not allowed to hunt: their rifles were sealed unless polar bears, attracted to the site’s garbage or food caches, needed to be shot for safety. There is no doubt, however, that the transient workers also violated hunting and fishing regulations, depleting local animal and fish stocks, not to mention visitors who “appear[ed] to believe game laws only apply to residents.” Federal officials expressed serious concern with rumors that commercial pilots supplying the DEW Line buzzed caribou herds for amusement, given the “alarming” decline in caribou numbers. “It is difficult to say exactly what damage is done to a caribou herd that is harried by an aircraft,” the deputy minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources noted,” but most wildlife experts are convinced that there are a number of undesirable results.”[49] The full magnitude of these impacts cannot be determined, but anecdotes suggest that these activities—coupled with the concentration of Aboriginal groups around military installations—had devastating local impacts and disrupted the traditional native subsistence economy.


PIERRE TRUDEAU’S ELECTION as Prime Minister in 1968 signalled a new era in Canadian political life. He was uncomfortable with Canada’s “helpful fixer” role abroad, scaled back its commitments to NATO, and reshuffled military priorities to highlight sovereignty protection and continental defense.[50] His liberalism was the product of a decade which had witnessed, among other dramatic developments, the emergence of a widespread ecological consciousness in North America. At the same time, Trudeau was interested in northern development, and rediscovered a role for the Canadian Forces in protecting Arctic sovereignty. The most pressing threat was not Soviet invasion, but the challenge to Canadian claims from its closest ally. The media generated significant public alarm over the voyages of the American ice-breaking supertanker Manhattan in 1969 and 1970, which revealed the feasibility of carrying oil from Alaska to the eastern seaboard through the Northwest Passage. Canadian leaders viewed the passage as internal waters, while American spokespeople insisted that it was an international strait. This sovereignty challenge provided an important connection to the larger theme of Canada’s custodial responsibilities in the North. “If the Manhattan succeeds,” a (Toronto) Globe and Mail editorial anticipated on September 9, 1969, “other oil laden vessels will follow in her wake. Before that happens Canada must be ready to receive and control them; for it is Canada’s northland that would be devastated if the ice won and the tanker lost.” What if a supertanker ran aground along the Northwest Passage? The Liberian tanker Arrow had run aground off Chedabucto Bay, Nova Scotia, in early 1970, discharging nine million liters of oil and polluting hundreds of kilometers of shoreline. Canadian scientists suggested that a similar accident in the Arctic Ocean would have catastrophic effects, and the media reported such forecasts to an emotionally charged Canadian public.[51]

A delicate Arctic thus became a convenient pretext to extend Canadian jurisdiction northward, and the government took direct action to securitize the region. In his October 1969 Throne Speech to Parliament, Trudeau explained that “Canada regards herself as responsible to all mankind for the peculiar ecological balance that now exists so precariously in the water, ice and land areas of the Arctic Archipelago. We do not doubt for a moment that the rest of the world would find us at fault, and hold us liable, should we fail to ensure adequate protection of that environment from pollution or artificial deterioration. Canada will not permit this to happen.”[52] Sovereignty had never been far from the lips of Canadian politicians and other “northern nationalists,” although it was certainly secondary to military exigency during the 1940s and 1950s.[53] But this pressure was diminishing, and Trudeau’s environmentalist spin on lingering nationalist concerns was novel.

The decision to frame foreign, particularly American activities as a threat to Canada, violating the country’s territorial integrity and jeopardizing the broader human right to live in a “wholesome natural environment,” allowed the state to adopt extraordinary means to protect its environmental interests with unprecedented haste.[54] The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act created a regulatory zone extending one hundred miles out from Canadian shores in waters north of the sixtieth parallel. The Territorial Sea and Fishing Zone Act extended Canada’s territorial sea from three to twelve miles, which meant that any foreign vessels entering the Northwest Passage would have to cross waters subject to Canadian control. Both bills passed parliament unanimously.[55] This renewed interest in Arctic waters also had implications for terrestrial spaces: the first regulations governing Arctic land use were introduced in 1972. By this time, of course, debris and waste from military activity had already been scattered across the North, often in unmarked drums susceptible to corrosion and posing “considerable environmental liability.” Soils at former military installations were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other inorganic compounds abandoned when the military departed in the 1960s. Asbestos, lead-based paints, building debris, and leaky drums of fuel, oils, and solvents were stored in buildings or scattered around the sites. While these concentrations represented a tiny fraction of the overall contamination levels in the North, their local ecological impacts were significant.[56] Because the fresh regulations did not apply retroactively, however, these were matters to be left for another generation.

The armed forces had an obvious role in safeguarding sovereignty and independence, and provided a functional capability to show the flag in remote areas. The 1971 White Paper on Defence asserted that Canadian sovereignty could face nonmilitary challenges in the 1970s, and that the military had to reconfigure its surveillance and reconnaissance role to incorporate nonevasive, nonhostile, and often cooperative “targets.” Defense policy would now reflect broader national policy goals, including ensuring “a harmonious natural environment.”[57] For example, the Air Force would have to be prepared to conduct surveillance of Canadian waters to detect pollution from foreign vessels, and the armed forces would be expected to help arrest ships that breached Canadian environmental regulations.[58]

Despite government rhetoric of expansion and the assertion of sovereignty, however, the military’s presence in the North did not change significantly in the 1970s. Troop reductions abroad translated into a smaller Canadian Forces, not redeployments to the Canadian North. The Army conducted frequent winter indoctrination patrols, parachute assault exercises prepared the Canadian Airborne Regiment for Arctic combat, Arctus aircraft logged thousands of flying hours over the Arctic archipelago, and naval vessels ventured into northeastern waters to fly the Maple Leaf. Taken together, however, these activities were transient and limited. Long-range air surveillance patrols were constrained by weather and the lack of northern airfields, naval ships were confined to select waters only in ice-free months, and ground surveillance was impractical given the distances involved.[59] The Canadian Rangers, an unpaid volunteer force comprising mainly indigenous northern residents who acted as the military’s eyes and ears in remote communities, expanded in number and coverage. They were a way to show the flag without incurring the high expense of committing regular force units to the north. Their environmental impact was slight, except for the caribou and seals brought down by their military-issue rifles and ammunition.[60] Apart from the creation of a new Northern Region headquarters in Yellowknife, the military’s physical presence in the North was still much less than the mid-1950s.

Nevertheless, relatively modest military activities continued to leave their mark on northern landscapes. The federal government embraced a national development role for the Canadian armed forces, and military engineers seized the opportunity to work in what they considered “very remote and hostile climates,” viewing the challenge of northern construction as a complement to their combat training. Major projects included the building of bridges along the Dempster Highway in the Yukon and the construction or upgrading of remote airfields, which the Department of Indian and Northern Development (DIAND) supported as a measure to improve communications in the North. Remote airfield construction could have been completed by civilian contractors, but gave military engineers a chance to operate in environments likened to “combat conditions,” which demanded “a considerable amount of inspired adaptation.”[61] By this time, the Canadian North per se was not likely to be a battlefield in which soldiers would be forced to fight, but it still served usefully as an inherently hostile environment.

The immediate crisis atmosphere over Arctic sovereignty ended when the American tanker initiative was abandoned in favor of a trans-Alaskan pipeline, which posed no immediate challenge to Canadian territorial claims. Declining political and military interest in the region reflected this perception of a diminished threat. But the saliency of environmentalism in northern political discourse did not wane, and became explicitly tied to broader concepts of security. The most threatening mega-projects in the 1970s originated with the hydrocarbon and hydroelectric industries, not the military. When the Quebec government announced its intention to exploit the hydro-electric power of James Bay in 1971, and refused to negotiate with Cree and Inuit communities, Aboriginal groups initiated legal action and launched debate about the extent and meaning of Aboriginal rights. A few years later, a Mackenzie Valley pipeline threatened to disrupt Aboriginal livelihoods and an intensive public inquiry exposed potential impacts. In Thomas Berger’s landmark 1977 Mackenzie Valley Pipeline report, based upon extensive consultation with residents, northern native peoples came to symbolize the epitome of environmentalism: harmony with nature, an intrinsic spiritual connection to the land and fauna, and deep-seated ecological knowledge.[62] The government had employed the idea of the Arctic as “homeland” to assert its sovereignty, and Aboriginal peoples adopted the same logic to bolster their own claims. The official supposition could hardly be retracted, particularly as Aboriginal Canadians began to organize politically.[63]

The idea that northern residents might need protection from Canadian military activities came to the fore in the debate over cruise missile testing in the early 1980s, a time of contradiction in Canadian defense policy. In 1983, Pierre Trudeau (back in office once more) embarked on a peace initiative to convince world leaders “to civilize the dialogue … [and] get out of the Cold War era.” This message met with little positive reception in Washington, but Canada’s enduring security alliances stood intact.[64] Concurrently, Trudeau’s government had signed an umbrella agreement with the U.S. that permitted cruise missile testing in Canadian aerospace: the state-of-the-art nuclear delivery system would travel down the Mackenzie Valley to the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range. This northern landscape, selected because it resembled Soviet terrain, was well suited to trials of a surreptitious weapon designed to skim the earth, underneath enemy radar cover, to deliver its payload. Activists and journalists followed the issue, however, and the ensuing debate emphasized the threats to local ecology and the plight of local residents directly affected by military activities.[65]


THE VOYAGE of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea through the Northwest Passage in 1985 precipitated another flurry of Canadian interest in the north. External Affairs minister Joe Clark’s statement to the House of Commons encapsulated his government’s approach to the latest sovereignty crisis: “Canada is an Arctic nation. … Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic is indivisible. It embraces land, sea and ice. … From time immemorial Canada’s Inuit people have used and occupied the ice as they have used and occupied the land. … Full sovereignty is vital to Canada’s security. It is vital to the Inuit people. And it is vital to Canada’s national identity.”[66]

While the idea of the Arctic as a seamless, holistic national space was not new, Clark’s words suggested a shift from Trudeau’s ecological sensibilities to the practical considerations of Aboriginal rights. Both approaches, however, continued to treat the “resources” of the north, whether environmental or human, as justification for a political and, if need be, military vision of Canada as a geographic entity defined by nordicity.

For Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government (1984–1993), the first step toward perpetuating a statist vision of the north was to formalize Canada’s cartographic control over the region, applying straight baselines and effectively enclosing the Canadian archipelago within “historic internal waters” on the grounds that it had never been part of an international strait. To assert functional control, it also declared that the armed forces would build a Polar-8 icebreaker, conduct naval exercises in Arctic waters, and increase the number of surveillance overflights. The 1987 statement of defense policy (which included no less than three polar projection maps) reiterated that the government would allocate substantial resources to address northern security. Acquiring ten or twelve nuclear-powered attack submarines would afford Canada a true “three ocean navy” which could monitor Arctic waters and identify foreign incursions in support of continental defence. Fixed underwater sonar surveillance systems, a fleet of long-range patrol aircraft, and a new “northern training center” would significantly augment the military’s presence.[67] All of these activities reflected the government’s emphasis on conventional military tools to assert sovereignty in the north.

However, low-level flying controversies, environmental concerns, and public appeals by Aboriginal leaders to demilitarize the North invariably expanded the debate beyond a realist understanding of state-centered security. Writing in 1986, George Erasmus, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, saw “no military threat in the Canadian North,” only a threat to the cultural survival of indigenous peoples posed by a military build-up. The president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Mary Simon, drew similar parallels between military activities, “justified by the government on the basis of defence and military considerations…[that] often serve to promote our insecurity.” Inuit ties to the environment and a collective social order meant that, for them, “Arctic security includes environmental, economic and cultural, as well as defence, aspects.”[68] Here was an alternate, unofficial security discourse, one bypassing the integrity of the nation state to focus on the protection of essential group and individual rights.

These contrasting visions of northern nature clashed most prominently in a debate, beginning in 1980, over the potential expansion of Goose Bay’s air training facilities. Compared to population-dense Western Europe, where low-level flying was disruptive and dangerous, Canada seemed blessed with a preponderance of space. Two expansive training areas in Labrador and eastern Quebec, representing roughly 100,000 square kilometers, allowed aircraft to train at altitudes as low as thirty meters. For the Sheshatshit Innu, however, these operations were intrusive and threatening. As aircraft began to swoop low over or near their bush camps, the Naskapi-Montagnais Innu association protested, alleging that the training was environmentally hazardous. The military responded that it had instituted measures to avoid negative impacts on human health and wildlife, but Native residents were unconvinced. In the fall of 1983, amid media fanfare, an Innu delegation travelled to West Germany to contest NATO’s activities, securing the support of the German Green Party and the peace group Survival International.[69]

The flights continued, however, and Labrador remained a source of military and political interest after NATO proposed a new tactical fighter center in Turkey. The Canadian government lobbied to upgrade the Goose Bay base instead: one hundred allied aircraft could fly forty thousand sorties annually over land and sea ranges. A key advantage was the low population density: central Labrador was practically uninhabited, the logic went, and was much more secure than Turkey. The provincial government and local non-Aboriginal communities believed it would bring a windfall of jobs and money into an economically depressed region.[70]

Once more, the Innu rose to the challenge, and quickly allied with the environmental movement, which Aboriginal groups had previously fought over the ethics of the seal hunt and had accused of promoting “cultural genocide.” Now they became strange bedfellows to protect a certain image of Labrador. Public intellectuals such as David Suzuki, the award-winning host of the popular Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television program “The Nature of Things,” gave the Innu cause mainstream legitimacy. Well-attended news conferences, occupations, and demonstrations elicited significant non-Aboriginal support and media interest. In June 1986, for example, a Sheshatshit Innu leader and a Greenpeace activist locked themselves in a van on Parliament Hill and blasted parliamentarians with recorded “jet noise”[71]—an act designed to show that military activities also polluted the local “soundscape,” with the sonic booms of jets startling caribou and people and supplanting the “keynote” sounds of Nitassinan with the roar of technology.[72]

In their public presentations, the Innu frequently played upon the notion of the “ecological Indian.”[73] They argued that air training obstructed their traditional practices, and stymied indigenous attempts to nurture their rural communities back to health.[74] So long as rampant militarization threatened land and animals, it posed an existential danger to their way of life. They asserted that low-level flying had negative effects that only they could see on the ground. Because they claimed a more intimate connection to nature than non-Aboriginal people, the Innu challenged the scientific data cited by government officials with their own observations. When these themes were wrapped together, the Innu argument suggested that the military—and by extension the Canadian government—was threatening their individual identities, the health of their communities, and their traditional territory. As Peter Armitage and John Kennedy observed, the Innu engaged in “ethnic dichotomization” using Aboriginal symbols and stereotypes to polarize their differences from non-Aboriginal interests, creating an “ethnodrama” to mobilize public support.[75]

The Goose Bay controversy was also an ecodrama. The Innu depicted their contest with the government and non-Native locals as resistance to cultural and ecological genocide. In this debate, the military was no longer able to maneuver under the radar of media scrutiny, nor would “national security” and alliance rationales be so easily digested by the public. Military supporters predictably stressed that Canada was committed, as a NATO member, to uphold democratic values through collective defense. This burden had to be shared, and providing “land and facilities for training is just as much a contribution to the Alliance as modernization, budget allocations, weapons testing, or commitment of military forces.”[76] They also highlighted the economic benefits of NATO training, and challenged the Innu claims. For example, John Crosbie, the federal Minister of Transportation, used scientific reports to contest the idea that low-level flights were a “great environmental menace.” Other proponents of the flights questioned Aboriginal claims to the land based on traditional pursuits, identity, and cultural survival. How could the Innu claim an intimate ecological awareness, given the shabby state of their homes and the garbage strewn about their villages? To what extent was the Innu opposition their own, rather than the agenda of extremist peace groups, environmentalists, and other “outside agitators”?[77] The military was adamant that low-level flying, Aboriginal land use, and environmental sustainability were not mutually exclusive.

But on a larger scale, the growing prominence of environmental causes was forcing the Mulroney government to work within new frameworks. In 1986, the Department of National Defence asked the Minister of the Environment to form an independent environmental assessment review panel to appraise publicly the existing and potential military activities at Goose Bay. In December 1989, a preliminary Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concluded that expanded low-level flying activities would not have significant adverse effects if they were carefully monitored and managed. To do so, Defence implemented a satellite monitoring system to track caribou, began to plot human and animal patterns of land and air use, promised to stop low-level overflights at designated thresholds, and set up toll free lines so that hunters and fishermen could notify the military when they planned to use the land. Of course, all of this required the acceptance of Aboriginal land users.[78]

For the military’s critics, the EIS was far from persuasive. Principal Innu organizations refused to participate in the process, “fearing that their co-operation would merely legitimate the continuation of the low flying.” They had little positive to say about the study’s findings. When the report was released, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Dan Heap still accused the Canadian Forces of conducting “war against the Innu,” as did peace activists. The Innu signed a “mutual defense agreement” with “some of Canada’s most militant Indian bands” to protect their interests, suggesting little room for compromise. Drawing upon scientific evidence and “traditional ecological knowledge” to bolster their case, the Innu claimed the moral high ground. Innu court actions to stall the proposed NATO facility carried into 1990.[79] That troublesome year, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Aboriginal-government friction over the Meech Lake constitutional accord, and an armed confrontation between soldiers and Mohawks at Oka, Quebec, displaced Goose Bay from the national headlines. In the end, the collapse of the Berlin Wall sounded the death knell for expansion plans at Goose Bay. With no Soviet adversary, NATO and Canadian priorities shifted away from the eastern sub-Arctic.


THAWING RELATIONS between the superpowers led the Canadian government to abandon most of its 1987 White Paper commitments to northern defense projects. The federal government’s “Green Plan,” first introduced in 1990, and its extensive Arctic Environmental Strategy (1991–1996) obligated departments to adopt more environmentally conscious practices. As one military officer told scholar Richard Langlais, these new strategies had direct implications for military operations in the north. Southern unit commanders had to fill out hefty paperwork laden with environmental procedures and policies prior to visiting the region. When asked if the military’s role included protecting the environment as a component of “national security,” the officer responded that the military should not be asked to “walk the beach and clean up the oil and pick up the birds and all that.” Armed forces existed to fight wars, and environmental commitments were a distraction. But they could no longer be ignored.[80]

In the last decade of the twentieth century, a broader definition of Arctic security was matched by an expanding range of environmental concerns. Increased levels of persistent organic pollutants corresponded with the increased toxicity of traditional foods consumed by Inuit peoples, and climate changes threatened to wreak havoc on the Arctic ecosystem and traditional human activities in the region. In short, environmental and human security became inseparable, in a manner more sophisticated than earlier naturalizations of aboriginality. A discourse of military necessity had been supplemented by a new Arctic Environmental Strategy, announced in 1991 “to preserve and enhance the integrity, health, biodiversity and productivity of our Arctic ecosystems for the benefit of present and future generations.”[81] If the image of the north as an unspoiled, pristine wilderness was still powerful for southern Canadians, then the valuation of this wilderness had shifted, largely but not completely, from military expediency to a combination of supranational and local sustainability.[82]

Long-range pollution from the south in the form of industrial chemical compounds and heavy metals could not be curtailed without fundamental changes to the international industrial order, but the toxic legacy of Canadian military activities on local terrestrial and marine ecosystems in the north could be addressed more directly. “Canadian Military Under the Gun Over Pollution,” the Ottawa Citizen proclaimed in September 1991, explaining that taxpayers faced a “staggering bill” when it came to identifying and remediating waste fuels, chemicals, and lead pollution at bases and former installations across the country. Tony Downs from DND’s environmental division told reporters that Goose Bay housed the “remains of a massive fuel tank farm, one of the largest in North America,” with more than 4 million liters of spilled fuel in the ground. Furthermore, National Defence had already spent nearly $15 million to incinerate PCBs stored in bunkers at this airbase. This was the tip of the iceberg. The daunting task of tearing down and cleaning up DEW Line sites was anticipated to cost up to $300 million. Given that this mess was a product of bilateral continental defense schemes, the Canadian government hoped that the United States would pay for most of it.[83] The two countries reached an agreement in 1996 to share clean-up costs related to some former military installations in Canada, but the process was delayed by U.S. congressional concerns that this pact could be construed as a precedent for critics of American military activities around the world.[84]

When the last remaining DEW Line sites were closed in the early 1990s, obvious hazardous materials were removed and the buildings locked. Agreements between National Defence and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada prescribed the removal of all unwanted structures to their foundations, the clean up of all visible physical debris (such as barrels and equipment), and reestablishment of natural drainage. Chemical contaminants, from batteries to asbestos, also posed significant local dangers. An academic Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) affiliated with Canadian military colleges conducted extensive studies into contamination at remote military sites and its impact on the food chain.[85] Similar projects throughout the North meant that much of the military’s activity in the region was devoted to coping with its own environmental history.[86] The irony was that a new battle—that of remediation—was being waged in a language of natural hostility that had changed only slightly from the early years of the Cold War.


HISTORIANS OF MODERNIZATION theory have demonstrated how its claims to objectivity were compromised by its Cold War origins and applications. The immediacy of geopolitical conflict meant that grandiose theories of democratization and economic liberalization often ran counter to seemingly necessary military incursions and tempting authoritarian stability.[87] The case of the Cold War Canadian north is similar insofar as militarization was frequently disguised behind loftier goals, whether of scientific enlightenment, economic and social development, or national pride. The most significant military project in the north, the Distant Early Warning Line, was a modern marvel designed to render a complex landscape legible, and in the process comfortable for southern visitors and workers. This meant overcoming and disguising the effects of northern nature on bodies and minds, with little consideration for the ways in which the Line was radically altering the human and physical geographies of the north, confirming once more an unfortunate correlation between toxins and race in North American environmental history.[88]

In writing this history, engineering endeavors such as the DEW Line, just one of a long list of military projects in the Cold War North, must be considered next to the more general issue of nature as a subject of military scrutiny. The contributions of the American and Canadian armed forces to the history of the Cold War North comprise more than a list of individual activities and subsequent effects. A map of “footprints”—some lingering, others fading—fails to illuminate two wider considerations. First, these footprints represent a fraction of the global military activity conducted in the name of the Cold War. Second, the identification of military sites or routes across the Canadian north points only to the material manifestations of a particularly powerful form of imaginative geography which treats an environment as both an opponent and a resource to be used, possibly to advantage, with the correct knowledge and training.

“As Canadian nationalism became more and more concerned about the need to maintain a separate society with a distinctive identity,” the political scientist Thomas Tynan has written, “the Arctic became a useful symbol of Canada’s national heritage. Any American threat to this region, for example, the threat of commercial pollution, would be seen as an assault upon Canada’s very own heritage and identity.”[89] We have noted that the Canadian approach to northern nature began to change in the late 1960s, reflecting a direct connection between landscape and identity politics. The north ceased to be only a hostile environment to be assaulted and engineered for strategic purposes. By the early 1970s, it had also become a place demanding protection from environmental and jurisdictional threats. Northern peoples concurrently articulated their parallel, if distinct, sense of the region as a homeland, and environmental and indigenous groups appropriated and altered a governmental discourse which demanded that the delicate environment be protected.[90]

And yet the militarization of northern nature has been flexible enough to accommodate varying discourses of defense, protection, and security. Tracing the genealogy of the Cold War has been aided by the recognition that the famed military-industrial complex established in the middle of the twentieth century has not vanished. In addition to a lingering, terrifying global presence in soils, water, air, and species, it returned with a vengeance as Americans prepared for an indefinite war on terror. Cold War military activities in the Canadian north ultimately constitute part of a global “treadmill of destruction” tying militarism to environmental and political injustice.[91] Surveying the sixty years since the beginnings of the Cold War, it appears as if this has been brought about more by unfortunate neglect than deliberate disdain. “While the military has had a considerable impact on the North,” Kenneth Eyre argued in 1987, “the North in fact has had surprisingly little impact upon the Canadian military.”[92] Eyre may have been correct, although when writing he was not able to account for the costs of Cold War toxicity that drained declining defense budgets in the 1990s.

As yet another wave of sovereignty and security concerns washes over the Canadian public, prompted by a global climate change crisis that some commentators anticipate will make commercial transnavigation of the Northwest Passage feasible within the next two decades, it will be crucial to consider how northern military activity will be justified—in the familiar language of national defense, or in the more complex terms of human and environmental security.[93] Beefing up defense spending and resisting compliance with international environmental agreements suggest that the Cold War is, paradoxically, being both perpetuated and forgotten. But as we have done in this essay with reference to the Cold War period, it will also be crucial to continue to consider the persistent militarization of northern landscapes in more philosophical terms—to ask how this militarization bears on the idea of nature more generally, especially when the Canadian north is still represented as geographically distinct.

P. Whitney Lackenbauer, assistant professor of history at St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, is the author of Battle Grounds: The Canadian Military and Aboriginal Lands (UBC Press, 2007). Matthew Farish, assistant professor of geography at the University of Toronto, is the author of Strategic Spaces: The Contours of America’s Cold War, forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press. They are currently collaborating on a history of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.


The authors thank Ken Coates, Matthew Evenden, Alan MacEachern, Bill Morrison, and two anonymous reviewers for their criticisms and suggestions. An early version of the essay was presented at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association (at York University), where we received a number of insightful comments. We are also very grateful to the archivists and librarians, especially at the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History and Heritage in Ottawa, who assisted our inquiries.
1. J. Tuzo Wilson, “Winter Manoeuvres in Canada,” Canadian Geographical Journal 32 (1946): 88–100; quote on 89–92.

2. See Defence Research Northern Laboratory, 1947–1965 (Ottawa: Defence Research Board, Department of National Defence, 1966).

3. On Musk-Ox, see Hugh A. Halliday, “Exercise ‘Musk Ox’: Asserting Sovereignty ‘North of 60’,” Canadian Military History 7 (1998): 37–44; and Kevin M. Thrasher, “Exercise Musk Ox: Lost Opportunities” (MA Thesis, Department of History, Carleton University, 1998).

4. In this essay we will deliberately follow the loose strategic parlance of the period and occasionally use the terms “north” and “Arctic” interchangeably, with exceptions where geographic specificity is required. We are aware of the hazards accompanying this decision, but our intention here is emphatically not to delimit a distinct “northern” or “Arctic” region, as much as such differentiation can be avoided.

5. For a unique example, see Tom Vanderbilt, Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002).

6. Rachel Woodward, “From Military Geography to militarism’s geographies: disciplinary engagements with the geographies of militarism and military activities,” Progress in Human Geography 29 (2005): 718–40. For a historical perspective, see John Childs, “A Short History of the Military Use of Land in Peacetime,” War in History 4 (1997): 81–103.

7. The reference here is to the literature spawned by Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, trans. Mark Ritter (London: Sage, 1992).

8. Indeed, there are few adequate histories of Cold War Canada; the standard reference is Reg Whitaker and Gary Marcuse, Canada and the Cold War: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945–1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994). See, also, Reg Whitaker and Steve Hewitt, Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: Lorimer, 2003); Robert Bothwell, The Big Chill: Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 1998); and Greg Donaghy, ed., Canada and the Early Cold War, 1943–1957 (Ottawa: Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1998).

9. Kenneth C. Eyre, “Forty Years of Military Activity in the Canadian North, 1947–87,” Arctic 40 (1987): 292–99; quote on 294.

10. Kenneth S. Coates and William R. Morrison, The Alaska Highway in World War II: The U.S. Army of Occupation in Canada’s Northwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 8–9.

11. Historians have begun to uncover the effects of war on former combat zones. See, for example, Donovan Webster, Aftermath: The Remnants of War (New York: Pantheon, 1998).

12. See, for instance, Valerie L. Kuletz, The Tainted Desert: Environmental and Social Ruin in the American West (New York: Routledge, 1998); Gregory Hooks and Chad L. Smith, “The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans,” American Sociological Review 69 (2004): 558–75.

13. See Patricia N. Limerick, “The Adventures of the Frontier in the Twentieth Century,” in The Frontier in American Culture, ed. James R. Grossman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 67–102.

14. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 2.

15. Kenneth C. Eyre, “Custos Borealis: The Military in the Canadian North” (PhD thesis, Department of War Studies, Kings College, University of London, 1981), 45–79. Most planes were equipped with skis or floats, and construction was limited to grass or gravel airstrips and makeshift buildings. See “The History of Military Construction in the Canadian North from 1945 to 1980,” Department of National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage (hereafter DHH), Ottawa, file 80/127, Volume 1.

16. On these projects, see Stanley W. Dziuban, Military Relations between the United States and Canada, 1939–1945 (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1959); C. P. Stacey, Arms, Men and Governments (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1970), 379–88; and Shelagh Grant, Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936–1950 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1988).

17. Newfoundland and Labrador did not become a Canadian province until 1949, and was initially just named Newfoundland.

18. “The History of Military Construction,” DHH, 2; John N. Cardoulis, A Friendly Invasion: The American Military in Newfoundland, 1940–1990 (St. John’s: Breakwater, 1990), 114–29; Library and Archives Canada (hereafter LAC), RG 25, G-1, v. 1993, file 1056-AZ; “World’s Largest Airport Operating in Labrador,” St John’s Evening Telegram, May 18, 1943; David Bercuson, “SAC vs. Sovereignty: The Origins of the Goose Bay Lease, 1946–52,” Canadian Historical Review 70 (1989): 206–22; John Clearwater, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Canada (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1999), 123–54; Deputy Minister, Department of National Defence (hereafter DND), to Deputy Minister, Department of Resources & Development, January 27, 1955, LAC, RG 22, Series A-1-a, v.836, f.84-11–11 pt.1.

19. Coates and Morrison, The Alaska Highway in World War II, 85. On the air staging route, see Edwin R. Carr, “Great Falls to Nome: the Inland Air Route to Alaska, 1940–45” (PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 1946). On Canol, see Richard Diubaldo, “The Canol Project in Canadian-American Relations,” Canadian Historical Association Historical Papers 1977, 179–95.

20. The phrase is Bruno Latour’s; for a spatial consideration, see Michael Heffernan “Mars and Minerva: Centres of Geographical Calculation in an Age of Total War,” Erkunde 54 (2000): 320–33.

21. Coates and Morrison, The Alaska Highway in World War Two, 67, 86–100, 158.

22. Philip Godsell, The Romance of the Alaska Highway (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1944), 1–3, 45, 159–64.

23. Godsell, Romance, 45, 159–64, 195. It is revealing that Coates and Morrison also entitle their third chapter in The Alaska Highway in World War II “The Native People and the Environment,” treating the two subjects as intrinsically connected.

24. A. L. Washburn, “Geography and Arctic Lands,” in Geography in the Twentieth Century: A Study of Growth, Fields, Techniques, Aims and Trends, ed. G. Taylor, 3rd ed. (New York: The Philosophical Society, 1957), 267–87; quote on 267. Washburn’s chapter was originally published in 1948. The “unknown Arctic” found expression in far more popular texts, such as Pierre Berton’s The Mysterious North (New York: Knopf, 1956).

25. For an example, see Leslie Roberts, “The Great Assault on the Arctic,” Harper’s (August 1955), 37–42.

26. R. A. Howard, Down in the North: An Analysis of Survival Experiences in Arctic Areas (Maxwell AFB, AL: Arctic, Desert, Tropic Information Center, 1953), iii, 1. For more on these topics, see Matthew Farish, “Frontier Engineering: From the Globe to the Body in the Cold War Arctic,” The Canadian Geographer 50 (2006): 177–96.

27. Quoted in Hugh A. Halliday, “Recapturing the North: Exercises ‘Eskimo’, ‘Polar Bear’ and ‘Lemming’, 1945,” Canadian Military History 6 (1997): 29–38; quote on 38.

28. On Sweetbriar, see “Joint Canadian-United States Exercise Sweetbriar’, 1950,” Polar Record 6 (1951): 258; Omond M. Solandt, “Exercise Sweetbriar,” Speech to the Empire Club of Canada, March 30, 1950 (;=yes). Solandt was at the time Chairman of Canada’s Defence Research Board.

29. See T. Ray, A History of the DEW Line (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, Air Defense Command Historical Study 31, n.d.). The political history of North American air defense is covered in Joseph T. Jockel, No Boundaries Upstairs: Canada, the United States, and the Origins of North American Air Defence, 1945–1958 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1987).

30. This paper can only gesture to the relationship between the DEW Line and native northerners, the subject of a larger project underway by the authors. The best starting points on the social and cultural history of the DEW Line are M. S. Bégin, “Des radars et des hommes: mémoires inuit de la station Fox Main de la DEW Line (Hall Beach, Nunavut)” (MA thesis, Université Laval, 2004); R. Quinn Duffy, The Road to Nunavut: The Progress of Eastern Arctic Inuit since the Second World War (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988); J. D. Ferguson, A Study of the Effects of the D.E.W. Line Upon the Eskimo of the Western Arctic of Canada (Ottawa: Northern Research Coordination Centre, Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, 1957); J. N. Harris, “National Defence and Northern Development: The Establishment of the Dewline in the Canadian North” (MA thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1980); and Kevin McMahon, Arctic Twilight (Toronto: James Lorimer, 1988).

31.Distant Early Warning Line Military Geography Support Programme (Ottawa, Joint Intelligence Bureau, January 1955), DHH File 79/82.

32. Scott, Seeing Like a State, 7.

33. James D. Brannian, Frank J. Donohue, and Attilio Baltera, “W. E. Engineering for the DEW Line—I. Siting Design and Construction,” Western Electric Engineer 1 (1957): 2–11; quote on 3.

34. J. D. Brannian, “Siting the DEW Line Radar Stations,” Engineering and Contract Record 70 (1957): 53–55, 171–78, 195–202, 207–11; quotes on 53.

35. M. S. Cheever, “Construction on the DEW Line,” Engineering and Contract Record 70 (1957): 53–57, 193–199; the quote is from p. 53.

36. Excerpt from Western Electric Corporation, “The DEW Line Story in Brief” (Paramus, NJ: Bell Telephone Laboratories, Booklet Rack Service, c1960), reprinted in P. Whitney Lackenbauer, Matthew Farish, and Jennifer Arthur-Lackenbauer, The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line: A Bibliography and Document Resource List (Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, 2005), 11. For similar themes, see, also, Richard Morenus, DEW Line: Distant Early Warning, the Miracle of America’s First Line of Defense (New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1957).

37. Joint Press Tour, DEW Line, March 26–April 3, 1956, DHH 181.009 (D6587).

38. See, for example, “Temperature, Vapors Kept under Control in DEW Line Buildings,” The Globe and Mail, April 24, 1956; Rick Ranson, Working North: DEW Line to Drill Shop (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2003), 7–18.

39. See Jockel, No Boundaries Upstairs, and Andrew Richter, Avoiding Armageddon: Canadian Military Strategy and Nuclear Weapons, 1950–1963 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002), 37–47.

40. House of Commons Debates, April 19 1951, 2173–74. For background, see RG 10, v.6341, f.736–1 pt.1, LAC; “Canadian Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta,” (c1960s), DHH 112.3H1.009 (D279); Dan Black, “Combat at Cold Lake,” Legion Magazine September/October 2002 (

41. See Indian Claims Commission, Indian Claims Commission Proceedings vol. 1 (1994), 3–157; and P. W. Lackenbauer, Battle Grounds: The Canadian Military and Aboriginal Lands (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007).

42. LAC, RG 22, vol. 836, file 84–11–11, part 1.

43. “Canadian Forces Base, Cold Lake, Alberta,” DHH; T. Thompson, “Tales of the Bay and Chilly Pond,” Airforce 25 (Summer 2001): 34–35.

44. See D. A. Westworth & Associates Ltd., National Defence Environmental Assessment Cold Lake Air Weapons Range vol. 1: Natural Resource Inventory (Edmonton, December 1994); Bel MK Engineering, Department of National Defence Environmental Assessment of NATO Flying Training in Canada–4 Wing Cold Lake, Final Report (Calgary, April 1997), 44–47.

45. See, among other sources, Laura A. Bruno, “The Bequest of the Nuclear Battlefield: Science, Nature, and the Atom during the First Decade of the Cold War,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 33 (2003): 237–60.

46. Assistant Chief, National Parks Branch, to G. W. Rowley, Secy, Advisory Committee on Northern Research, February 10, 1956, and April 10, 1957, LAC, RG 22, vol. 836, file 84–11–11, part 1.

47. Robert F. Legget, “An Engineering Assessment,” in The Canadian Northwest: Its Potentialities, ed. Frank Underhill (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959), 9.

48. Trevor Lloyd, “Canada’s Northland,” Queen’s Quarterly 66 (Winter 1960): 529–37.

49. J. D. Ferguson, “A Study of the Effects of the Distant Early Warning Line Upon the Eskimo of the Western Arctic of Canada” Northern Research Coordination Centre research project (April 1957), 48; Extract from Mr. D.W. Bissett’s Report for August and September, 1961, LAC, RG 85, vol. 1360, file 207–6 pt 2; Distant Early Warning Co-Ordinating Committee, Progress Report No. 6, LAC, RG 12, vol. 2407, file 14–13–9–1 pt 4; R.G. Robertson to Vincent W. Farley, Western Electric Company, 4 April 1956, LAC, RG 25, box 5928, file 50210-C-40 pt. 7; Ken Reimer, The Environmental Impact of the DEW Line on the Canadian Arctic: Summary (Victoria: Royal Roads Military College, Environmental Sciences Group), 29–30; William R. Morrison, True North: The Yukon and Northwest Territories (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998), 137. On illicit hunting, see, for example, Lynden T. (Bucky) Harris, “A Failed Polar Bear Hunt,” and Larry Wilson, “DEW Line War Stories vol. 1,” both at

50. For context, see J. L. Granatstein and Robert Bothwell, Pirouette: Pierre Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 12–35, 79–81.

51. See the chapters in The Arctic in Question ed. Edgar Dosman (Toronto: 1976). On the American response, see Theodore T. Eliot, Jr., “Information Memorandum for Mr. Kissinger, the White House—Subject: Imminent Canadian Legislation on the Arctic,” March 12, 1970, Department of State E.O. 12958, declassified and amended July 12, 2005.

52. House of Commons Debates, October 24, 1969, 39.

53. The important work of Shelagh Grant is essential reading on this subject. See her Sovereignty or Security? and “Northern Nationalists: Visions of ‘A New North’, 1940–1950,” in For Purposes of Dominion: Essays in Honour of Morris Zaslow, ed. Kenneth S. Coates and William R. Morrison (North York, ON: Captus Press, 1989), 47–70.

54. On environmental security, see Simon Dalby, Environmental Security (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); Jon Barnett, The Meaning of Environmental Security: Ecological Politics and Policy in the New Security Era (London: Zed Books, 2001).

55. See Thomas M. Tynan, “Canadian-American Relations in the Arctic: The Effect of Environmental Influences upon Territorial Claims,” Review of Politics 41 (July 1979): 416–17. Christopher Kirkey, “The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Initiatives: Canada’s Response to an American Challenge,” International Journal of Canadian Studies 13 (Spring 1996): 41–60, provides a balanced assessment of Canadian-American concerns on the AWPPA.

56. A. Holtz and M.A. Sharpe, “Central Arctic DEW Line Site Inspection, July 18–25, 1984” (Environmental Protection Service, Western and Northern Region, 1984), available at Environment Canada Library; “PCBs cleaned up on DEW Line,” Winnipeg Free Press, August 21, 1985; Reimer, Summary, 34–35; Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Environment Department, “Sources and Pathways,”

57. “Defence in the 70s,” reprinted in Canada’s National Defence, vol. 1: Defence Policy, ed. Douglas L. Bland (Kingston: School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, 1997), 132; BGen R. M. Withers, “Northern Region Concept for Force Development,” 15 June 1971, DND file NR 3185–1 (Comd). See also the Report of the Steering Committee on the Canadian North, “Canadian Forces Policies Objectives and Activities in the Canadian North,” December 5, 1969, DHH 73/1223/987, box 52. The military’s “major efforts” to avoid polluting the Frobisher Bay area during exercise Patrouille Nocturne, a mock invasion in early 1972, indicated this growing awareness of ecological impacts. See Rick Michon, “Patrouille Nocturne,” Canadian Forces Sentinel 8 (1972): 1–11.

58. “Role of the Canadian Armed Forces in Relation to Sovereignty—Report on Consultations with Other Government Departments and Agencies,” January 26, 1971, 9.

59. Eyre, “Forty Years,” 297–98.

60. See P. W. Lackenbauer, “Aboriginal Peoples in the Canadian Rangers: Canada’s ‘Eyes and Ears’ in Northern and Isolated Communities,” in Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture, ed. David Newhouse, vol. 2 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, in press).

61. “The History of Military Construction,” DHH, 33; Indian and Northern Affairs 1971/72 Annual Report, 78.

62. On the James Bay hydroelectric and Mackenzie Valley pipeline projects, see Boyce Richardson, Strangers Devour the Land: A Chronicle of the Assault upon the Last coherent Hunting culture in North America, the Cree Indians of Northern Quebec, and their Vast Primeval Homelands (Post Mills, VT: Chelsea Green, 1991); Richard F. Salisbury, A Homeland for the Cree: Regional Development in James Bay, 1971–1981 (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986); Thomas R. Berger, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland: The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, rev. ed. (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1988); M. O’Malley, The Past and Future Land: An Account of the Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline (Toronto: P. Martin Associates, 1976); and Hans Carlson, “A Watershed of Words: Litigating and Negotiating Nature in Eastern James Bay, 1971–75,” Canadian Historical Review 85 (2004): 63–84.

63. For example, the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories formed in 1969, the Committee for Original People’s Entitlement (COPE) in 1970, and Inuit Tapirisat of Canada in 1977. On political developments, see Mark O. Dickerson, Whose North? Political Change, Political Development, and Self-Government in the Northwest Territories (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992), 105–09.

64. Bothwell and Granatstein, Pirouette, 365, 371–72.

65. See, for example, Carol Giangrande, The Nuclear North: The People, The Regions, and the Arms Race (Toronto: Anansi, 1983), 7, 44–62; C. A. Cannizzo, “Cruise controversy,” Calgary Herald, April 22, 1982; and “Northerners deserve a say on test flights,” Globe and Mail, November 6, 1985.

66. House of Commons, Debates, September 10, 1985, 6462–64.

67. Ron Purver, “The Arctic in Canadian Security Policy, 1945 to the Present,” in Canada’s International Security Policy, ed. David B. DeWitt and David Leyton-Brown (Scarborough: Prentice Hall, 1995), 94; Elizabeth B. Elliot-Meisel, “Still Unresolved after Fifty Years: The Northwest Passage in Canadian-American Relations, 1946–1998,” American Review of Canadian Studies (Autumn 1999): 407–30, esp. 416–17.

68. Georges Erasmus, “Militarization of the North: Cultural Survival Threatened,” Information North (Fall 1986): 1; Mary Simon, “Security, Peace and the Native Peoples of the Arctic,” in The Arctic: Choices for Peace and Security, ed. Thomas R. Berger (West Vancouver: Gordon Soules, 1989), 36, 67 (emphasis in original). On this connection, see, also, Franklyn Griffiths, “Environment and Security in Arctic Waters,” in National Security and International Environmental Cooperation in the Arctic: The Case of the Northern Sea Route, ed. Willy Ostreng (Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1999), 179–204.

69. Department of National Defence, Summary: Goose Bay EIS (Ottawa: DND, July 1989), S-3; Peter Armitage and John C. Kennedy, “Redbaiting and Racism on Our Frontier: Military Expansion in Labrador and Quebec,” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 26 (1989): 798–817, esp. 802–03. Goose Bay had been a major facility throughout the Cold War. The U.S. Strategic Air Command stationed nuclear strike forces at the base in the early 1950s, and RCAF and USAF units began intensive training at an air-to-air firing range by mid-decade. British RAF Vulcan bombers began low-level flying training in 1967. This activity meant economic stability for non-Native residents in this part of Labrador.

70. David Murrell, A Balanced Overall View? Media Reporting of the Labrador Low-Flying Controversy (Toronto: Mackenzie Institute Paper no. 19, 1990), 11–12; H. A. Pickering, “Foreign Policy as an Extra-Territorial Extension of Public Policy: The Development of the ‘Military Training Industry’ at Goose Bay, Labrador” (PhD diss, Queen’s University, 1992); DND, Summary: Goose Bay EIS, S-5–10.

71. Peter Armitage, “Indigenous Homelands and the Security Requirements of Western Nation-States: Innu Opposition to Military Flight Training in Eastern Quebec and Labrador,” in The Pentagon and the Cities, ed. Andrew Kirby (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 138–42; “Indians Pitch Tents at NATO Base as Battle Over Hunting Rights Escalates,” Montreal Gazette, April 22, 1987. For the Innu perspective, see “Chronology of Events Related to Military Flight Training Over Nitassinan (Quebec-Labrador) and Innu Opposition to It,” at

72. On this theme, see Peter A. Coates, “The Strange Stillness of the Past: Toward an Environmental History of Sound and Noise,” Environmental History 10 (October 2005), 636–65; and R. Murray Schafer, Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1994).

73. For a critical look at this image, see Shepherd Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York: Norton, 2000). For a contrasting perspective, see Winona LaDuke, All My Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (Minneapolis, MN: Honor the Earth Press, 1999).

74. M. J. Niemans, “‘For the Future For Every One of Us’: Innu women on community, country and military low-level flying in Labrador” (MA thesis, University of Amsterdam, 1995); M. Wadden, “Screaming jets are destroying our culture, say the Innu of Labrador and Quebec,” Montreal Gazette, June 25, 1988; K. Cox, “Pediatrician sees trauma among Labrador children,” Globe and Mail, October 9, 1989.

75. Armitage and Kennedy, “Redbaiting and Racism,” 807; Murrell, A Balanced Overall View?, 17–18; Mary Barker, “Low-level Military Flight Training in Quebec-Labrador: The Anatomy of a Northern Development Conflict,” in Aboriginal Autonomy and Development in Northern Quebec and Labrador, ed. Colin A. Scott (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001), 233–54, esp. 248–49.

76. Department of External Affairs and International Trade, “Our NATO Commitment: Sharing the Burden” (pamphlet, c. 1989).

77. This synopsis is based upon Armitage and Kennedy, “Redbaiting and Racism,” 808–11. This perceptive article seems to overstate the pervasiveness of “communist conspiracy” arguments against the Innu.

78. DND, Summary: Goose Bay EIS: An Environmental Impact Statement on Military Flying Activities in Labrador and Quebec (July 1989); Barker, “Low-Level Military Flight Training,” in Autonomy and Development, 241; Paul Koring and Kevin Cox, “Study sees little harm in Labrador NATO base,” Globe and Mail, November 1, 1989. Aboriginal land claims and defense policy were explicitly excluded from EIS criteria.

79. DND, Goose Bay EIS; Wadden, “Screaming jets”; Spaven, “Environmental State,” 158–60; FEARO, “Environmental Assessment Panel Reviewing Military Flying Activities in Labrador and Quebec: Compilation of comments received from technical experts concerning the EIS” (December 1989); Geoffrey York and Laureen Pindera, People of the Pines: The Warriors and the Legacy of Oka (Toronto: Little, Brown, 1991), 280; K. Cox, “Innu fighting back on challenges to traditional lifestyle,” Globe and Mail, February 12, 1990.

80. Government of Canada, Canada’s Green Plan: Canada’s Green Plan for a Healthy Environment (Hull, Quebec: Environment Canada, 1990); Richard Langlais, Reformulating Security: A Case Study from Arctic Canada (Goteborg, Sweden: Goteborg University Humanekologiska skrifter 13, 1995), 150–55.

81. See Christopher S. Wren, “Eskimos View Radar Stations as Blots, Not Blips,” New York Times, August 17, 1985.

82. On this theme, see Shelagh D. Grant, “Arctic Wilderness—And Other Mythologies,” Journal of Canadian Studies 32 (1998): 27–42; Sherrill E. Grace, Canada and the Idea of North (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001); and Renée Hulan, Northern Experience and the Myths of Canadian Culture (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002).

83. “Canadian Military under the Gun Over Pollution,” Ottawa Citizen, September 15, 1991. See also “Arctic Cleanup cost may hit $300 million,” Toronto Star, November 24, 1991; Edison Stewart, “Ottawa targets Arctic polluters,” Toronto Star, April 30, 1991.

84. On this agreement, see Heather Myers and Don Munton, “Cold War, Frozen Wastes: Cleaning up the Dew Line,” Environment and Security 4 (2000): 119–38. Actual American payments, which would take the form of a credit to Canada’s Foreign Military Sales Trust Account (to purchase American-produced weapons) over a ten-year period, were delayed by congressional opponents.

85. Reimer, Summary; Memorandum of Understanding between DIAND and DND for the Remediation of Distant Early Warning System and North Warning System Sites, 5 July 1989. Reimer et al., 12, distinguish between contaminants (“substances whose presence causes a deviation from the normal composition of the environment”) and pollutants (“a substance that is present in greater than normal concentration as a result of human activity and which has a net detrimental effect.” PCB clean-up at abandoned DEW Line sites actually began in the mid-1980s. See Indian and Northern Affairs Canada 1985–86 Annual Report, 28.

86. See, for example, Peter Moon, “Abandoned Bases Ooze Pollutants” (Toronto) Globe and Mail, March 14, 1997; John S. Poland, Scott Mitchell, and Allison Rutter, “Remediation of former military bases in the Canadian Arctic,” Cold Regions Science and Technology 32 (2001): 93–105; Leonard J.S. Tsuji et al., “Remediation of Site 050 of the Mid-Canada Radar Line: Identifying Potential Sites of Concern Utilizing Traditional Environmental Knowledge,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies 21 (2001): 149–60. On northern militarization as heritage, see David Neufeld, “Commemorating the Cold War in Canada: Considering the DEW Line,” The Public Historian 20 (1998): 9–19.

87. See, for instance, Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

88. Carolyn Merchant, “Shades of Darkness: Race and Environmental History,” Environmental History 8 (2003): 380–94.

89. Tynan, “Canadian-American Relations in the Arctic,” 426.

90. Our historical approach clarifies assumptions in recent literature suggesting that the main discursive shift from traditional military security to environmental and human security took place in the late 1980s and 1990s. See, for example, Rob Huebert, “Canadian Arctic Security Issues: Transformation in the Post-Cold War Era,” International Journal (1999): 203–29; and Andrew Wylie, “Environmental Security and the Canadian Arctic” (MA thesis, University of Calgary, 2002).

91. Hooks and Smith, “The Treadmill of Destruction.”

92. Eyre, “Forty Years,” 292.

93. See, for example, Rob Huebert, “Climate Change and Canadian Sovereignty in the Northwest Passage,” Isuma (Winter 2001): 86–94. For a dissenting opinion, see Franklyn Griffiths, “The Shipping News: Canada’s Arctic Sovereignty Not on Thinning Ice,” International Journal 58 (Spring 2003): 257–82. On climate change and the Arctic, see Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), Impacts of a Warming Arctic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).





Are you passionate about history?

Share that passion with the world. Join us: Contribute to History Cooperative