Of all of the series that I wanted to go back and clean up, this is perhaps the most urgent. The purpose of Canadian Storytime is to tell the tales of misery and woe that didn’t make it into the national record. Events like the wilful, deliberate starvation of the Plains Cree by John Macdonald and his gang of goons. Or the sudden shutdown of the Hebron Moravian Church, an essential institution for nearby Inuit, by the federal and Newfoundland governments. Did I mention that after that closure came forced relocation? Relocation is one of Canada’s darkest secrets, and this series is here to bring some light to these hidden stories of unimaginable pain. Even when forced relocation was well-meaning, it was poorly executed and invariably led to heartbreak and squalor.
Of all of Canada’s myraid forced relocations few have as stupid an origin story as the High Arctic Relocation. I hope you’re sitting down for this one, because it’s the perfect cocktail of caker self-importance, flagrant disregard for humanity, and the kind of foresight and planning that Canada does best (that is, none at all). It’s the early 1950s; the corrupt, questionable government of Louis St. Laurent rules the Ottawa roost, and the Red Scare is in full swing. Ottawa is acting in a “frenzied” manner, the RCMP is given extraordinary power to detain homosexuals and lock them into something called the “fruit machine” (don’t worry: we’re definitely going to be talking about that one), and nobody is thinking clearly because of media sensationalism and because they’re useless Ottawa kleptocrats and scumbags.
Looking at the source I cited above, you might note the fear that Canada was believed to be a natural battleground between the Soviet Union and the United States. The supposed entry point into Canada was over the North Pole, where Canada had no power projection of any kind. Despite having at best a tenuous claim to lands that they had no clue how to control, Canada was desperate to avoid the ridiculous boogeyman that was the prospect of Ivan coming over Ellesmere Island. And to avoid that make-believe prospect, Canada decided to create a make-believe community which would serve to solidify Canada’s claim to the Arctic – a village of “human flagpoles“, as it were. The two places where deceived Inuit were dumped and left to die are today called Grise Fiord and Resolute.
Since cakers were hilariously racist and categorically unable to themselves survive on Ellesmere Island (which might in retrospect have been a sign as to the likelihood of a mass Soviet invasion of the High Arctic), Canada scrounged around to find a population to dupe into a lifetime of suffering. Naturally, they settled on the Inuit. Seven families were told that they could move to a land of abundance, and if that didn’t work they could leave in two years. Neither of those things turned out to be true. From the source that I cited in the previous sentence, this phrase stands out to me:
The plan was inherently unsound, and the means necessary to carry it out were equally unsound. The failures in execution served only to aggravate the hardship and suffering inherent in the plan from the outset.
So in effect, a hairbrained idea was executed in a slapdash fashion against a non-consenting population that was duped into said hairbrained idea. And just in case you thought that Canada had consulted the Inuit at all and maybe asked them what a difference of 1200 miles in latitude and a total lack of infrastructure might make on their living conditions, rest assured that Canada did not give a single shit. In fact, Canada assumed that the Inuit were simply too stupid to offer advice on their own living conditions. Even worse, the relocation was also serving as an experiment to see if the transplanted peoples would even survive. Yes, people – Canada committed a shoddy, unconscionable experiment with dubious methods in the name of strengthening its territorial claims to lands that it has no idea how to use.
For decades, people who were separated from their families lived lives of deprivation and want. When Ottawa was informed that they had a responsibility to apologize for their unimaginable, boneheaded stupidity, Ottawa immediately leapt into action. By commissioning a report. Which ultimately attempted to exonerate Ottawa by claiming that there was nothing wrong with separating families and moving them thousands of kilometers into an unknown, unsafe environment for the sake of claiming territory. This claim, mercifully, was too flimsy even by Ottawa’s weak standards and the House apologized. In 2010. And then money that Ottawa gave to the victims by way of a trust fund ended up performing so poorly that it stopped paying out to the victims and couldn’t cover its own expenses.