Forty Years of Military Activity in the Canadian North, 1947-87


  • Kenneth C. Eyre



History, Military history, Military operations, Sovereignty, World War II, Canadian Arctic


Military and strategic perceptions of the North have changed several times during the 20th century. Initially, the North was simply ignored: later - by the mid-1939s - it was perceived as a strategic barrier more formidable than either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. During the Second World War and the Cold War, with the views of the United States in the dominance, the area was seen as an approach, initially to Europe and Asia, and later to the heartland of North America. In contemporary Canada, the North is seen as having intrinsic value and as such is deserving to be watched over, protected and, if necessary, defended. Military forces have been involved periodically in the North since the days of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. The intensity and degree of this involvement has reflected the changing perceptions of the North. Military presence can be analyzed as relating to defence, protection of sovereignty and national development, although naturally many specific programs have overlapped. American involvement, starting with the United States entry into World War II and continuing into the present, has been extensive but primarily concerned with defence. Military activity has been a significant factor in the development of northern infrastructure both as deliberate national development programs and as the by-product of defence-related construction activities. While the military has had a considerable impact on the North, the northern fact has had surprisingly little impact upon the Canadian military. The Canadian Forces are just beginning to comprehend the unique aspects of the North and to develop policies and programs appropriate to contemporary northern realities and the assigned military responsibility to be Custos Borealis - Keeper of the North.

Key words: Arctic, Canada, defence, development, North, strategy, sovereignty