Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada, is the northernmost continuously inhabited place in the world, on Ellesmere Island (Queen Elizabeth Islands) at latitude 82°30'05" north, 817 km (508 mi) from the North Pole. It takes its name from HMS Alert, which wintered 10 km (6.2 mi) east of the present station, off what is now Cape Sheridan, in 1875–1876.

All Alert residents are temporary, typically serving three- to six-month tours of duty there. They staff a military signals intelligence radio receiving facility at Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert, which includes Alert Airport), as well as the Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory, a co-located weather station and monitoring observatory, both operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

In the 2021 census, the permanent population was recorded as 0.

Alert is named after HMS Alert, a British ship that wintered about 10 km (6.2 mi) away in 1875–76.[1] The ship's captain, George Nares, and his crew were the first recorded Europeans to reach the northern end of Ellesmere Island. Over the following decades, several other expeditions passed through the area, most notably Robert Peary during his expedition to reach the North Pole in 1909.

Post-World War II (1945–1970)

Shortly after the end of World War II, Charles J. Hubbard of the United States Weather Bureau aroused interest in the United States and Canada for the establishment of a network of Arctic stations. His plan, in broad perspective, envisaged the establishment of two main stations, one in Greenland and the other on the archipelago, which could be reached by sea supply. These main stations would then serve as advance bases from which a number of smaller stations would be established by air. The immediate plans contemplated the establishment of weather stations only, but it was thought that a system of weather stations would also provide a nucleus of transportation, communications, and settlements, which would greatly aid programs of research in many other fields of science. It was recognized that ultimate action would depend on international cooperation, since the land masses involved were under Canadian and Danish control.

 A sign at CFS Alert commemorating Alert as the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world. The area has been inhabited since 1950.

Following negotiations between the United States and Canadian governments, a group of five weather stations was established, known as the Joint Arctic Weather Stations (JAWS). On the Canadian side, the stations were to be operated by the Department of Transport (DOT). The locations for each station were surveyed in 1946, and a cache of supplies was dropped in Alert in 1948 by USS Edisto. Alert was the last of the five to be settled when the first twelve personnel (eight permanent staff and four to assist with construction) arrived on April 9, 1950.[2] Construction began immediately, with the first priority being the creation of an ice runway on Alert Inlet before work began on the permanent all-season runway on Cape Belknap. Until its completion, supplies were parachuted in.

On July 30, 1950, nine crew members of a Lancaster, operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), died in a crash while making an airdrop of supplies to the station.

The last United States personnel were withdrawn on October 31, 1970,[3] and the following year operation of the weather station was transferred to the newly created Department of the Environment, with the Department of Transport retaining control of airfield operations for several more years.

In April 1971, a party of federal and Northwest Territories (NWT) government officials arrived in Alert in an attempt to reach the North Pole. Alert had been the embarkation point for many North Pole expeditions that relied on weather information supplied by the weather station there. The 1971 expedition was led by Stu Hodgson, former Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, and included in his party were representatives of the prime minister's office, the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, as well as a large media group including Pat Carney of Gemini Productions, Ed Ogle of Time magazine, Val Wake of CBC News, and a television crew from California. While waiting in Alert for a weather window to fly to the pole, the party's television crew spent a lot of time filming at the weather station. The military was unhappy about the film crew working on the station, but the weather station was seen as being a sort of no-man's land. The commissioner's party made two attempts to reach the pole and failed. Some of the incidents surrounding this event are recounted in Val Wake's memoir My Voyage around Spray with Apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum.[4]

Recent history (1971–present)  The opening of the Alert Background Air Pollution Monitoring Network in 1986.

In August 1975, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his then three-year-old son, future prime minister Justin Trudeau, visited the station and nearby Ward Hunt Island.[5] In August 1986, the Government of Canada opened Alert Background Air Pollution Monitoring Network.

By the 1990s, the original buildings of the original weather station had fallen into disrepair and were burned in the summer of 1996, leaving only the hydrogen shed and a wooden outhouse. The weather station and observatory offices were moved to Polaris Hall.

In early April 2006, the Roly McLenahan Torch that was used to light the flame at Whitehorse, Yukon, for the Canada Winter Games, passed through Alert.[6] While the Canada Games torch was supposed to pass over the North Pole, bad weather prevented a Canadian military Twin Otter from making the trip. The torch did not travel outside Alert that weekend (April 9–12). In August 2006, Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, made a visit to Alert as part of his campaign to promote Canadian sovereignty in the north.

On November 8, 2009, the 2010 Winter Olympics torch relay arrived at Alert via airplane from Churchill, Manitoba, reaching its most northerly point on land.[7] The next day it travelled to Iqaluit.

On January 19 and 20, 2015, Governor General David Johnston flew into Alert on a C-17 Globemaster transport from CFB Trenton.[8] He toured Alert, received an overview of its operations, met with civilian and military personnel and presided over a change-of-command.[9]

Aircraft crashes

Since Alert has not been regularly accessible by icebreakers due to heavy ice conditions in the Lincoln Sea, resupply is provided by Royal Canadian Air Force transport aircraft which land at the adjacent Alert Airport. Difficult conditions at such a remote northern location have resulted in several incidents, two of which have involved fatalities:

 The remains of the Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster 965, which crashed in July 1950. Difficult Arctic conditions make landings in Alert hazardous.On July 31, 1950, around 17:00 GMT, an RCAF Lancaster 965 from 405 Squadron Greenwood crashed during the establishment of the JAWS weather station when a parachute for resupplies being airdropped became entangled on the tail of the aircraft. The nine crew members were killed. An attempt was made to recover their bodies; a RCAF Canso was dispatched and the flying boat landed in Dumbell Bay on August 7. The bodies of the Canadian crew were brought aboard in wooden coffins made from packing crates—the family of Colonel C.J. Hubbard of the United States Weather Bureau requested his remains be buried at Alert[10]—but the combination of the extra weight and a tail wind resulted in an aborted takeoff. The Canso struck ground at the narrow point of Dumbell Bay, damaging the tail section and rendering it useless. Following this, it was decided to bury the crew's remains west of the airstrip, and a military funeral was held the same day. The arrival of the United States Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind allowed repairs to be made to the Canso.[11] The wreckage of the Lancaster is still visible 500 m (1,600 ft) southwest of the CE building.On October 11, 1952, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster, flown by the United States Military Air Transport Service, crashed on landing at Alert, while carrying a load of aviation fuel. The four crew members survived the crash; the aircraft was destroyed. The wreckage was pushed to the south side of the runway, where it remains today. Because of the high visibility of the wreckage due to its location at the runway, it is often mistaken for the RCAF Lancaster.[11]On October 30, 1991, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, part of Operation Boxtop, crashed about 20 km (12 mi) from the airfield, killing four of the 18 passengers and crew on impact. Pilot John Couch died of exposure following the crash. Couch was conducting a visual approach and descended into a hill due to a mistake regarding the plane's true location.[12] A blizzard and the local terrain hampered rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert; United States Air Force (USAF) personnel from Thule Air Base 700 km (430 mi) south; 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron from CFB Winnipeg, and 440 Transport and Rescue Squadron, from CFB Namao outside Edmonton (both squadrons are part of 17 Wing Winnipeg); 424 Squadron from CFB Trenton, Ontario; and 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron from CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia. The crash investigation recommended all C-130s be retrofitted with ground proximity detectors. The crash and rescue efforts were the basis of the film Ordeal in the Arctic (1993).
^ A History of the Canadian Coast Guard and Marine Services Archived September 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine ^ Johnson, Jr., J. Peter (January 1, 1990). "The Establishment of Alert, N.W.T., Canada". Arctic. 43 (1). doi:10.14430/arctic1587. S2CID 130962631. ^ "High Arctic Weather Stations". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 9, 2018. ^ My Voyage Around Spray Archived September 1, 2021, at the Wayback Machine Val Wake website ^ "Discovery recalls Justin Trudeau's 1st visit to High Arctic — as a 3-year-old". CBC News. ^ "Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay coming to Nunavut". CNW. November 21, 2008. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014. ^ "Olympic Torch Relay heads to Vancouver". The Big Picture. boston.com. December 4, 2009. Retrieved November 22, 2014. ^ Allemang, John; Cowan, Tonia (January 23, 2015). "Governor-General Johnston discusses Alert, Canada's northern 'anchor point'". The Globe and Mail. ^ "Governor General and Commander-in-Chief Visits Canadian Forces Station Alert". News Release on Governor-General web site. January 19, 2015. ^ Pigott, Peter (2011). From Far and Wide: A Complete History of Canada's Arctic Sovereignty. Toronto: Dundurn. ISBN 978-1-55488-987-7. ^ a b Gray, David R. (2004). Alert: Beyond the Inuit Lands. Ottawa: Borealis Press. pp. 96–97. ISBN 1-896133-01-0. ^ Lee, Robert Mason (1993). Death and Deliverance: The True Story of an Airplane Crash at the North Pole. Golden CO: Fulcrum Publishing. ISBN 978-1555911409.
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