We're a southern people, for the most part, huddled along and near the U.S. border, oblivious to the Far North and its quiet magnetic pull on the Canadian soul. And yet, our great northern span, through the territories and Arctic, is in the midst of an epochal shift.
Climatically, economically, socially and culturally – our North is being redefined in ways that will shape Canada for the century ahead.
Our energy ambitions and resulting carbon emissions are disrupting the northern landscape, its very foundation. Our neighbours are showing territorial interests that seek to alter our sovereignty. Our investments in mines, oil fields, roads and ports are changing the northern economy, for good and bad. Even the North Pole is in question, thanks to our fractured relationship with Russia.
As southern as we, individually, may be, the North has again become a test of nation-building.
But whose nation? And how should it be built?
Those questions are among the most important facing Canada, as we chair the Arctic Council and our federal government charts an increasingly bold northern strategy.
To search for answers, we dispatched a dozen journalists to explore every corner they could reach, fanning across an expanse larger than India. Combined, they travelled 60,000 kilometres, from Iqaluit in the east to Whitehorse in the west, and from the northern reaches of Eureka to Cape Dorset in the south.
Their stories, videos and photographs begin to appear today and will continue to roll out on our website and mobile apps over the next week, along with commentary and insight from Canada's most influential voices on northern affairs, and debate among our readers.
A taste of their discoveries:
Our Ottawa veteran Steven Chase journeys to the port community of Nanisivik, heralded six years ago as the first Arctic naval base, to find that it remains uninhabited, well behind schedule. Population? Zero.
Our senior international correspondent Mark MacKinnon journeys to Murmansk, the largest Arctic city in the world, to find that Vladimir Putin has a program well underway to become the world's dominant northern power.
Our Calgary-based energy writer Jeffrey Jones explores the much-anticipated Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway, a year-round thoroughfare that will connect communities and – supporters say – become an economic boon.
The Globe also visited the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, the country's northernmost research lab, to understand how Canadian scientists are tracking climate change. And reporters went to Iqaluit, to understand the problem of expensive food, and Resolute, to explore the challenges of northern health care: both stubborn social issues with no easy solutions.
In a masterpiece of long-form journalism, our celebrated feature writer Ian Brown and photographer Peter Power spent a month traversing communities along the Northwest Passage, hunting for muskox, exploring mining projects, and speaking with local artists and entrepreneurs. Theirs is a kaleidoscopic portrait of the North, one in which the future can't be so neatly severed from the past. A generation of young Northerners, many educated in the south, are coming back, and are determined to shepherd change on their terms: finding a way to embrace economic opportunities while preserving culture and autonomy.
In a sit-down interview this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper explained his government's northern strategy, his personal interest in the region and his outlook on the challenges and opportunities that this moment presents. He also describes how the North is essential to his strategy to "revive a robust and positive vision of Canadian nationalism."
Whether you agree with Mr. Harper's politics or not, he touches on a truth, that the North is a lynchpin of our country's identity. It is both geography and mythology, a place that we continue to inscribe with our hopes and ambitions and our desire to articulate who we are.
What does this future look like? And how will this rush to reshape the North affect its people and its culture?
From a place that has long blunted easy categorizations and laid waste to grand impositions, we hope you will find both answers and more questions in this project, and above all a rekindled interest in a part of Canada that will define us anew.