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By Major Paul Doucette
Credit: Cpl Rick Ayer
HMCS Montréal sails off the coast of Grise Fiord during Operation NANOOK.
Everything about the community of 134 exemplifies resilience. It lies on the southern coast of Ellesmere Island and is the most northern permanently settled community in the country. The next signs of civilization beyond Grise Fiord are the Eureka weather station and CFS Alert, hundreds of kilometers to the northeast, where their populations are essentially deployed.
Getting to shore presented its own challenges. Even if there was a dock to accommodate Montréal, getting there would have been problematic given an array of icebergs and ice “growlers” in the way. The issue was alleviated with a network of inflatable boats set up by Montréal’s deck department, so that by mid-morning sailors were moving ashore to visit the hamlet and, similarly, residents of Grise Fiord were moving to Montréal to tour the ship.
As sailors arrived they were greeted by local residents, who during the course of the day, also offered informative presentations on traditional clothing, special tools and time-tested practices used by generations of people who have lived in the Arctic. Throughout the day, sailors also had the chance to visit with members of the community, go on hikes and travel along the coast on locally-arranged boat tours.
Credit: Cpl Rick Ayer
Crew members of HMCS Montréal land on the shores of Grise Fiord, Canada’s most northern community.
As a part of the exchange Peepeelee Pijamini, a prominent community member, offered words of welcome to the ship and also acknowledged the work of the Ranger program in the Canadian Forces.
“They help each other, that is what they do,” she said.
Before the presentations concluded, Montréal received an inukshuk from the community, which was made by Pijamini out of the same rock that is being used by her husband, Looty, to construct a monument in commemoration of Grise Fiord’s first inhabitants who were relocated there from Northern Québec in the early 1950s.
While many of the sailors rotated ashore, many of Grise Fiord’s residents had the chance to tour Montréal and see members of the ship’s company in their own home away from home. Many of the residents commented on how complex the ship appeared to be as well as it being a kind of village in itself.
Operation NANOOK is the Canadian Forces’ premier sovereignty operation in the Arctic taking place from August 6 to 26 with navy participation from HMCS Montréal, Glace Bay and Goose Bay.