Canada’s C3 Expedition Meets the Arctic

    Sea ice floats at dusk in the Northwest Passage. © Jackie Dives, Students on Ice Foundation

    A polar bear cub and its mother lounge on sea ice off the coast of Baffin Island. A zodiac with binocular-clad passengers pulls up to towering cliffs filled with hundreds and thousands of birds on Prince Leopold Island. A community comes together to celebrate the youngest square dancers in Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq).

    These are only three moments from an unprecedented expedition that took place across Canada’s Arctic, honouring our country’s past and looking towards a brighter future.

    From June 1 to October 28, the Canada C3 ship travelled from Toronto to Victoria across Canada’s three coasts. A former Coast Guard icebreaker served as the vessel for conversations about reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, the environment and youth engagement.

    A diverse group of Canadians were invited on board, including scientists, artists, Indigenous Elders, historians, community leaders, youth, journalists and educators. Using art, music, research and storytelling, participants elevated Canada’s collective knowledge and built connections with each other and remarkable people across the country.

    After an incredible experience in Ontario, Quebec and Canada’s Atlantic provinces in June and July, the ship sailed northward for the beginning of Leg 7 in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

    The vibrancy, warmth and diversity of Iqaluit set the tone for a leg full of special moments. The journey moved into expedition mode as the ship sailed through massive chunks of sea ice, glided past gigantic icebergs, experienced the roughest seas of the journey, and witnessed never-ending Arctic sunrises and sunsets.

    Canada C3 participants hike in Sophie Cove, Nunavut, the most northern point of the voyage. © Jackie Dives, Students on Ice Foundation

    For Maxime Le Flaguais, a renowned Quebecois actor and Canada C3 participant, the journey was an opportunity to learn more about English-speaking Canadians. “On the C3 ship, I feel like I’m discovering another culture, which is the Canadian culture,” he says. “For me, a culture is a language first. To know or discover a culture you have to know the language. If you don’t know the language you cannot read the books, you cannot see the movies, you cannot enter a culture. I learned English to get a peek at what the Canadian culture has to offer.”

    On Leg 8, as the ship sailed from Qikiqtarjuaq to Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), Nunavut, the expedition saw some beautiful treasures of Canada’s Arctic. From the sight of the towering Sam Ford Fiord to the quiet murmur of a melting iceberg, the environment never ceased to inspire. Amid this serene beauty, on board the ship, the participants broached the incredibly difficult subject of reconciliation. Drawing upon their own personal experiences, they shared valuable knowledge and stories and pushed themselves to understand different perspectives.

    On Leg 9, the Canada C3 expedition reached its most northern point — Sophie Cove, Nunavut, at 75.1 degrees north. As they travelled through the northern reaches of our country, participants enjoyed the beauty of glacial ice and were amazed by the kindness of the local Inuit communities. One of the Canada C3 themes most apparent on this leg was the environment. The expedition visited the Devon Island ice cap, where they observed the melting and calving of the glacier.

    The Canada C3 ship in Umingmaktok, Nunavut. © Peter Wall, Students on Ice Foundation

    Canada C3 Youth Ambassador Marta Thorpe has a background in biomedical sciences and ecology. She was interested in seeing how climate change is affecting the Arctic. “Down south, you don’t see climate change as dramatically year to year. But up here, it’s affecting the environment and it’s affecting people and how they can get food and water. That’s something that I wasn’t expecting to realize so quickly, because you think of it as a longitudinal concept, but here it’s so apparent.”

    The places along Canada’s three coasts are awe-inspiring, but the Canada C3 ship has become quite extraordinary. Without a doubt, the most significant room on the ship is the Downie/Wenjack Legacy Room — a place for conversations about reconciliation. Many tears have been shed in this room and it has inspired many people to continue to work towards a better relationship between Canada’s Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.

    Pioneering broadband connectivity for coast to coast to coast sailing expedition

    SSi Micro Ltd. (SSi), the North’s premier Internet service provider and the developer-operator of Nunavut’s QINIQ network, partnered with the Canada C3 Expedition to make communications history. SSi delivered broadband Internet aboard the 220-foot Canada C3 vessel as it sailed north along the Atlantic coast, across the Arctic and down the Pacific west coast. This was the first ever voyage of its kind in Canada, and the onboard communications team shared daily videos, live broadcasts, incredible photos and more to millions of Canadians using satellite broadband connectivity.

    Canada C3 was an epic 150-day, 23,000-km sailing journey from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary of Confederation. Through this unprecedented expedition, Canada C3 connected Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

    Most sea-faring vessels in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic waters are limited to intermittent Ku-band satellite coverage for minimum data usage such as emails and text messages, with transmission speed rarely exceeding 128 kilobits per second. To meet the communications requirements of the Canada C3 Project, with daily uploads of high data content such as video and photos, and to allow 60 passengers and crew to engage in regular Internet and social media activity, SSi provided an innovative solution to achieve much more robust connectivity. Using a 2.4 metre diameter C-band antenna equipped with auto-tracking electronics and gyro-stabilizing mechanics, SSi locked the ship onto a C-band satellite that covered all of Canada, and delivered speeds up to 10 megabits per second – almost 80 times better than the standard marine connection for ships in this northern region.

    “This is a unique and unprecedented communications project that required an innovative communications solution. The SSI Micro team is an extraordinary partner of Canada C3 that enthusiastically embraced the C3 challenge and donated considerable expertise, resources and capacity. They are a vital partner without whom this would simply not have been possible,” says Geoff Green, Canada C3 expedition leader.

    “SSi is thrilled to be involved with Canada C3. Delivering broadband to a moving platform, at high latitudes like the Northwest Passage, comes with significant challenges. Fortunately, we have always had a healthy disrespect for the impossible, and were immediately intrigued by the opportunity to make telecom history,” says Jeff Philipp, Founder and CEO of SSi Micro. “SSi is a natural partner for this incredible project celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary — we’re Canadian, we’re northern, and we have been breaking the communications mould for over 25 years.”

    Check out this video on SSi and Internet connectivity in the Arctic at:

    Many Indigenous leaders joined the expedition, including Mary Simon, an Inuit leader with decades of service to her people. Recently, she submitted a report to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs on a New Shared Arctic Leadership Model. The Canada C3 journey was inspiring to her when she joined on Leg 10. “Listening to all of the unique stories of the people who are on the ship is really tied into reconciliation, because that’s what reconciliation is,” she says. “You get to know each other, understand each other and respect one another much more.”

    In addition to the many Indigenous leaders on board, there were some very new Canadians. Abdul Fettah Al Masoud came to Canada as a Syrian refugee. His journey to the Arctic on Leg 11 was transformative. “I came to the North to learn more about Canada. I wanted to learn more about Indigenous people,” he says. “When I get back, I will talk to my friends and my brothers about what I saw. I want to be a leader and teach youth. I want to teach them how beautiful Canada is.”

    Indeed, throughout the voyage Canada’s beauty has been undeniable. From the wonders of its natural environment to the incredible resilience of its people, the Arctic has been particularly memorable.

    Relive the journey in its entirety at Canada C3 is a proud partner of First Air.