Crossing the Drake, first impressions of Antarctica




The MV Ushuaia, docked at the port of Ushuaia, waiting for us to board


Walking up the gangway of the MV Ushuaia, our floating home, I was filled with excitement for what lay ahead!

Walking up the gangway of the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days, I couldn’t even imagine what adventures lay ahead. It’s hard to describe how I felt, standing on the stern of the ship, watching the port of Ushuaia disappear into the distance. Excitement? Absolutely! A kind of excitement I have never felt before. Trepidation? None whatsoever. I think my feeling was more of a sense of mystery and anticipation of the complete unknown. I’d never been to Antarctica before and even though I’d been to the Arctic a few times, I couldn’t seem to imagine what Antarctica was going to be like. Of course I’d seen photos and watched documentaries. But the fact the fact that I was going to Antarctica… I was still in disbelief.


Me on the stern of the MV Ushuaia, with the port of Ushuaia disappearing into the distance



As we slowly left Ushuaia behind, I wondered what it would be like when we crossed the Drake Passage. The Drake, after all, is one of the roughest seas in the world. I’d never been sea sick or motion sick before, ever. But there’s a first for everything. I wasn’t worried about it though. I had Gravol (anti-nausea meds) and my Relief Band, an electronic gizmo that combats nausea through neuromodulation. Using electrical impulses, it stimulates a nerve in the wrist which sends electrical impulses to the brain, which then sends a signal to the stomach to restore normal gastric rhythm. Yes, probably too much information, but I am a scientist and scientists wanna know. The most important part about the Relief Band is that YES, it does work and yes, the Drake Passage put it to the test.


There is no way to take a photo to show what the Drake Passage was like. This is very, very clam and just before hitting the Antarctic Convergence

I say the Drake Passage put the Relief Band to the test. I’m not sure how many Relief Bands were on board our ship, but most of us had one. So there was lots of ‘testing’ going on.  Having said that, we were told by Greg Mortimer, our very experienced expedition leader, who has been to Antarctica by ship, many, many times, that our crossing was one of the smoothest he has ever experienced. It’s crossings like this where they call the Drake Passage, the Drake Lake. Don’t get me wrong. The ship pitched from side to side. And people were sick. Me? Just one hint of queasiness that the Relief Band took care of quickly. For those who do suffer from significant sea sickness, the crossing wasn’t fun. But it was FAR better than it was for the folks on the MV Ushuaia on the previous expedition who had 20 foot swells.

So why is the Drake Passage so notoriously rough? Blame the Antarctic Convergence. The what, you say? The Antarctic Convergence. It’s the name given to the region where the ocean currents that continuously encircle Antarctica – old, northward-flowing antarctic waters, meet the relatively warmer waters of the subantarctic. It’s where these two currents converge that things get rough. But we were really lucky. Relatively speaking, it was smooth sailing…


A map showing the Antarctic Convergence, where the warmer waters of the north meet the colder waters of the south

Once we passed the Antarctic Convergence and made our way toward the Antarctic Peninsula, the magic began to happen. It started with icebergs. Massive icebergs! I learned that there is an entire vocabulary to describe ice – whether it’s sea ice, fast ice, tabular ice bergs, growlers…. Our introduction to ice was seeing absolutely huge slabs of ice, many taller than our ship. My reaction to seeing these massive bergs for the first time was far from eloquent. I think I must have won a prize for the number of times I said the word, “Wow”. It’s all I could come up with. And for someone who is almost never at a loss for words, this was significant. I came to experience many, many time over the course of our expedition, that this was the one word I could articulate. It was a symptom of the most wonderful sense of overwhelm that I have ever experienced.


It’s impossible to not be in awe of landscapes like this

As we moved closer to the the South Shetland Islands, a group of islands north of the Antarctic Peninsula (the mainland, or antarctic continent), the icebergs became more numerous. I don’t care how many of those giant tabular icebergs one sees; they never lose their impact. They are so imposing. And to think that we are only seeing the 10% that is above water….


Massive tabular icebergs. Without anything for scale, it’s impossible to convey the immense size of these. Many were far taller than our ship. And remember that 90% of an iceberg is hidden below water

The ultimate in iceberg excitement was our first sighting of penguins on an ice floe. It felt like something out of a Disney movie, but is was real. It was our new reality. I can’t even come up with the words to describe the feeling of seeing penguins on an ice floe. Wow. Yes, that’s all I could muster. But the epitome of the magic happened when we passed by a massive iceberg, taller than our ship. It was boot-shaped. And on the ‘instep’ was a group of penguins. Wow again! Needless to say, my camera was working overtime at this point. I was craving capturing the moment to share with others. Since I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was seeing and feeling, maybe I could capture it with my camera. As I came to learn, the lighting in Antarctica is magical. It is varied, often due to cloud cover, but even on bright sunny days, the light seemed different from anything I’d ever seen before. The way the subdued, gentle light was bathing this giant penguin-covered iceberg was  beyond description. A case of a picture really and truly being worth a thousand words.


A massive iceberg with penguins hitching a ride

It’s hard to believe that seeing massive icebergs was a common thing and yet it never felt common. It always elicited the same excitement as the first time we saw them. And while we were busy doing our ‘classroom learning’, all learning came to an immediate halt and the meeting room emptied out when someone shouted, “iceberg!” or “whale!”.


A great way to travel!

Seeing land for the first time in Antarctica was equally spectacular. Our first encounter with land was at the Aitcho Islands, a cluster of small islands on the west side of the north entrance to the English Straight, which separates Greenwich Island and Robert Island, in the South Shetland Islands, and north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Aitcho Islands, as they are officially known, were originally named the H.O. Islands – the H.O. standing for Hydrographic Office, a name of military original given to the islands when they were mapped in 1935.


Our first sights of Antarctica were these massive chunks of rock near the Aitcho Islands in the South Shetland Islands

Our first shore landing happened in there Aitcho Islands, on Barientos Island. And it was our up close and personal introduction to…..PENGUINS!!!


Sparring Chinstrap penguins


Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.

I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.


Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.


Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors


Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.


Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.


Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.


Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.

While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.


Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences.  I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.


The stunning landscape of Antarctica


Duelling Chinstrap penguins


Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to  visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.


Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

Great connections


Night falling over Ushuaia on my last night here. Somehow I know in my heart that I will be back.

I sat gazing out the hotel window tonight, at Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel below. The sun was getting lower in the sky and yet still peeking out from behind those dramatic dark clouds that seem so characteristic of this area. Those ones that create a drama so appropriate for the rugged mountains below them. This view is awe-inspiring and in the 5 days I’ve been staying here at Hotel Arakur, on a hill overlooking the town, I’ve spent considerable time peering out the huge hotel windows in the lounge or in my room, enjoying the scenery and reflecting on everything that has happened during the past month. Reflecting on all of the magic.


Stunning icebergs like this one were a common sight in Antarctica.

Our expedition to Antarctica is something that I still struggle to find the words to describe adequately. I’m not sure that I ever will find the words. For me, the photographs are part of my voice and so I hope that between my images and the words that I do manage to find, I hope you will get even just a glimpse into the magic that has been happening for the past month. I look forward to writing my blog posts to chronicle our expedition. For now, I just want to remember the past 5 days, the days after the expedition that were needed to catch my breath after such a busy 3 weeks on the ship.


Today I took a penguin tour with Pira Tours, to see Magellanic penguins (as well as one King penguin straggler)

There is no doubt that our voyage to Antarctica was pure magic. But I’m also surprised by how much magic happened here in Ushuaia, after the expedition. It wasn’t anything big, like the incredible things we saw and experienced in Antarctica. Instead, it was the culmination of many small things – the people I connected with and the stories they had to tell. I’m blow away by how friendly the people of Ushuaia are, including the ones living here who’s homes are far away. They are friendly, warm, and welcoming, always eager to help. In fact, I feel like I’m leaving Ushuaia with several new friends – a young gentleman, Javier, who works at the front desk of the hotel. I bumped into him in the park this afternoon, waiting for my penguin tour bus to arrive. We sat on the rock wall edge of a garden and simply chatted about our life paths. The connection was wonderful. And there is Maia, our guide for the penguin tour today. She was a fabulous tour guide in every way, but what really struck me was the warmth of the conversation we had during the 1.5 hour long bus ride back to Ushuaia. We shared our interests and dreams and realized we have a lot of common, including our love to connecting people to nature. In fact, I’ve asked her to send me her resume to keep on file so that when I get to the point where I can hire people to help with  Biosphere, my environmental education organization, I would really like to have Maia help us run our expeditions to this part of Argentina.

On the tour of the Beagle Channel, I also became friends with our tour guide, Christian. He too is into photography, loves nature, especially birds. There were also a few German families I got to know from my Beagle Channel tours.What struck me about all of these great connections was the ease with which they happened. I’ve travelled quite a lot and have met people from all over the world. I enjoy meeting new people along my journeys. But I have never experienced a level of connection as I have with people here in Ushuaia. Clearly, the magic didn’t end when we stepped off the ship from Antarctica.

Tomorrow I leaver Ushuaia. I’ll head to Buenos Aires for a few days before heading back home to Canada. I miss our snowy,  cold weather, especially at Christmas. And I dearly look forward to seeing Maggie, my elderly cat, who has been sick and in the animal hospital for the past few weeks. It’s time to head home. But I do it with a bit of a heavy heart because I really will miss Ushuaia and the people here.


The smile on my face, while touring the penguin colony, is pretty much the same as it’s been for the past month. Pure joy at the things I have been experiencing.

Time to reflect on our Antarctic journey


Overlooking the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia, Argentina. Watching the sun set on the day, but also on our Homeward Bound expedition. Although our expedition together has ended, our journey together has only just started. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

It’s nearly 11pm on December 22nd. I”m sitting here in a hotel, high on a hilltop overlooking Ushuaia, Argentina, the End of the World, as it’s called. The sun has set behind a dramatic array of clouds, with the mountains across the harbour as their backdrop. The lights of Ushuaia are twinkling in the town below and I feel a sense of stillness and peace, something that has eluded me until now. Finally, the time has come for reflection. It has been an indescribably busy three weeks on our Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition. But also an indescribably transformational and unforgettable experience. The version of me that stepped off our ship, the Ushuaia, a few days ago is not the same version of me that stepped onto that ship on December 2nd.


It is hard to find the words to describe the Antarctic landscape. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

It’s been very difficult to find the words to describe what I have been experiencing, seeing, and feeling during our Antarctic voyage. Between the stunning, almost surreal landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula, the massive amount of work we’ve done during the expedition around leadership, vision, and strategy and the shear exhaustion of long hours of work with little quality sleep, and the discussions, connections and sharing of dreams and visions with the women on this expedition,  it’s been nearly impossible to process what’s been happening and even harder to find the words to describe it. But I am back in Ushuaia, Argentina, the place of our departure to Antarctica on the very southern tip of South America and the southern-most city in the world. Our 20 day expedition has ended and we are left to say our final  ‘see ya later’ to the amazing, incredible, inspiring, courageous, and determined women on Homeward Bound.


Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Seeing penguins with a snow gently falling felt like being inside a snow globe. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

 I had hoped to write a blog post per day during the expedition, but for some strange reason, I couldn’t find my voice. The words were simply not there. Gone. No matter how hard I tried, I could not conger up any words to describe what we were seeing and experiencing. So now, with the time to pause and reflect, the words are beginning to come.


The diversity of shapes, colours and sizes of Antarctic icebergs is beyond description. I’ll let the images speak for themselves. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

I want to share this journey with you. I want to share my transformation with you. I want to share the incredible and indescribable beauty of Antarctica with you. But most of all, I want to share with you my passion for protecting our planet’s beautiful yet fragile wild places, in the hopes that maybe you too will feel a sense of stewardship and a need and desire to protect nature. And finally, I want to share with you the power, courage and commitment of 76 women in science from the around the world and the phenomenal team that brought us all together and created this journey for us. Our Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica is about creating change, about women coming together to become leaders in creating a sustainable future for our planet. Visionaries  and influencers in the making.


A Chinstrap penguin soaking it all in. [photo copyright Shelley L. Ball]

The start of something incredible…

I’ve been here in Ushuaia for 3 days now. At least I think I have. I’ve lost all track of time. I have to check my phone to see what day it is and it doesn’t get dark here until about 11pm so even my sense of time during the day is off kilter.

Over the past few days, the 76 Homeward Bound women have been arriving a few at a time, here in Ushuaia. It’s been the most incredible experience. We have all worked together for nearly 2 years toward this goal and yet until I arrived here in Ushuaia, I’d only met one of the 76 women – Wynet Smith – who is based in Ottawa. As we have begun to connect here in Ushuaia, it feels more like a homecoming, not new introductions. At least 2/3 of the participants are from Australia and many of them are already connected, but that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t a barrier. It hasn’t created cliques. Not at all. I’m so impressed by how quickly we have all connected, regardless of where we are from, our age. Our differences don’t really seem to exist. Instead we are focused on our similarities – our shared experiences through our science careers, our passion for women’s leadership and the environment. These are the things that bring us together.


The stunning scenery of Tierra del Fuego National Park, near Ushuaia, Argentina. Our hike through the beautiful southern beech forests was wonderful and we were treated to views like this.

Yesterday I went hiking with 3 of the HB women. We drove up to Tierra del Fuego National Park, not far from Ushuaia, to hike in the southern beech forest. It was a beautiful day and a great way to get out, stretch our legs after many hours of travelling, and a great way to spend time together to get to know each other. We even bumped into 4 other HB women who had taken the bus up for the hike.


Me, Kathleen and Sam – Homeward Bound women. We are all from the Perth area, Kathleen and Sam from Perth, Western Australia and me from near Perth, Ontario.

I don’t know what the next 20 days hold in store, but if the past few have been any indication, I think we are in for an incredible and even magical experience. 76 women, one mission.


Part 2 of the journey to Antarctica – Buenos Aires

After a long flight and a disorienting many hours in an airplane, I finally made it to South America. We left Toronto very late Saturday night and made it to Santiago, Chile where we stopped to drop off passengers, refuel and refresh our flight crew. Waiting in line to board back onto our plane in Santiago, I was roasting. Too many winter layers still being worn from my departure in Ottawa that was accompanied by snow and about minus 5C. The heat and humidity of Santiago were a reminder of the mind-bend that modern travel brings – that we can be in a completely different part of the world and climate in less than 24 hours.

I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to my overnight in Buenos Aires. I’m not a city person. I grew up on the outskirts of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada but have spent a large part of my life in rural areas and cities just aren’t my thing anymore. So to come to a big city like Buenos Aires wasn’t the part I was looking forward to. Certainly not compared to seeing Antarctica. Having said that, I’ve been here a total of about 7 hours and have fallen in love with this city. The first thing I was struck by was the friendliness. I went to dinner at a restaurant nearby my hotel, recommended by the hotel. Fantastic! Definitely not a restaurant for vegetarians, but it was fantastic. BBQ’ed chicken, veggies, French fries (real homemade ones), a small bottle of Argentinian Malbec wine. Food heaven!  With me,  I had a little advert and map to to get to the restaurant, provided by my hotel so I could find my way to the restaurant. The waiter saw it, grabbed it from me and brought me a complimentary glass of champagne. And then another one. I have to admit that I both waddled and staggered home from far too much good food and good wine and champagne.


I think the thing that struck me most about the things I’ve experienced in just several hours of being here, is the difference in the pace of life and the perspective of life. I think in North America, we are so focused on appearances – our houses, cars, cottages, boats, clothes, whatever. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just get the feeling that here, life is focused on things much different. One thing that struck me was the connection with family. I was concerned about walking back to my hotel alone after dark. The concierge said not to worry. He was right. Wandering back around 8:30 pm, downtown Buenos Aires was filled with families – young parents pushing strollers or having dinner with their young children. There are kids everywhere here. I love it! This place just seems to emanate a different set of priorities than what we have in North America and frankly, I would say better priorities. Buenos Aires reminds me of my trips to Costa Rica long ago – a country where family, friends, faith, and friendliness prevail. It’s easy to drive through cities in these countries and think wow, look at the dilapidated buildings. But is that really what life is about? Appearances? I think not. I think it is about connecting and the connection in this city and in this country are palpable. I think as North Americans, we have much to re-learn.


The sense of connection here is also so appropriate to the mission I’m on – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica. The expedition is about 76 women, with science backgrounds, connecting and collaborating with a sole mission in mind – to elevate and enhance women’s leader globally, so that more women are influencing decision-making and policy development,  globally, in the areas of sustainability and climate change. Ultimately, the mission is about bringing about change. About doing something concrete. About changing the world. Sure, some will say we are dreaming. That a mission of ‘changing the world’ is delusional. But collectively I think we can have an impact. It all comes down to connection. To collaboration. To mutual support in pursuit of a common goal.

I’m glad that I’m spending a night in Buenos Aires on the way to Ushuaia and on the way back, will spend 2 nights here. It’s a fantastic city. Lots more to discover and learn.

Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica


It’s here! It’s finally here! After nearly 2 years of waiting, hard work, connecting, planning, and anticipation, it’s here. Tomorrow I will be boarding an airplane bound for Buenos Aires and then Ushuaia, in Argentina. Ushuaia is where we – 76 women from around the world, all with science backgrounds – will board our ship (The Ushuaia) and head for the Antarctic Peninsula.

Homeward Bound isn’t a vacation. It’s a women in science leadership expedition. Our mission – to elevate the role of women in science, to enhance our leadership abilities, and to have an influence on decision making and policy development, globally, around sustainability and climate change. In a nutshell, it’s about creating a better future.  And we believe that women need to play a far, far greater role in shaping that future, than we have in the past.

Homeward Bound isn’t just a women’s leadership expedition. It’s the beginning of a movement. It’s the beginning of change, of a new era where women have an equal seat at the table, where gender ratios in all careers are far more balanced, but most especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Homeward Bound 2016 is the first. It’s a lot of firsts. It’s the first of 10 planned Homeward Bound expeditions, leading to 1,000 women having participated and being out there influencing the world. It’s the largest women’s Antarctic expedition. For many of us, it’s our first trip to Antarctica.

Over the course of this journey and adventure, I’ll be writing about my experiences. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog from the ship in Antarctica, but if I can, I will. If I can’t, then I’ll be posting my blog entries soon as I get back to Ushuaia on December 21st.

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me through this nearly 2 year process to get to this point. It’s been a long haul, but the support and encouragement has been overwhelming and for that, I am truly grateful. In my experience, nothing of true value was ever easy to attain. It takes effort and commitment, courage and trust. Who knows what the next month will bring, but I’m ready for this adventure…




Where hydrogeology meets hops, it’s good for the environment – Cartwright Springs Brewery, Pakenham, Ontario

Biosphere is all about connecting people to nature and helping them learn about the environment. Although our flagship activity is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions to some of the most amazing places on the planet, we also know that understanding what’s happening in our own backyard is just as important. That includes learning about and supporting local businesses that operate in a way that is good for the environment. We love supporting businesses like this because they show that you CAN make a profit and operate in an environmentally sensitive way  . Profits and the environment are not an ‘either or’. Businesses can do both.

Today we discovered an outstanding example of a local business balancing planet and profits – Cartwright Springs Brewing Company in  Pakenham, Ontario. In impromptu visit to Cartwright had us taste testing their incredible brew. While we worked our way from the pilsner to the porter, we got talking with Eduardo Guerra, one of the business partners. By the time we’d made it to the bottom of a tasting glass of maple porter, Eduardo was telling the story of Cartwright’s cutting edge water treatment system. Cartwright is made with spring water – water that bubbles out of the ground right outside their front door. Because  they depend on this water for their brew, it’s extremely important that they protect this water source. But it’s more than that. Cartwright cares about the environment. So much so, that they spent a lot of money putting in a high-tech water treatment system that treats all of the water on site. And after treatment, all of the water that flows into the weeping bed is cleaner than grey water that a household water recycling system would produce. That really impressed us!

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As we sipped their springwater-fresh brew, Eduardo was telling us that the ‘waste’ (the spent grains) goes to a local farmer and is used as animal feed. So the environmental footprint of this micro-brewery is incredibly small – possibly smaller than any in Ontario and maybe even any in Canada.

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We applaud Cartwright’s committment to the environment. They’re showing local businesses and the brewing industry at large, that you can run a profitable business in a way that is good for the environment. This is a philosophy that Richard Branson’s Plan B projet is promoting – that people and planet matter just as much as profits and that businesses around the world can operate in a way that generates profit while being good for communities and the environment.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, I really hope you’ll consider visiting the Cartwright Springs Brewery. It’s nestled in the forest not far off the main road. Grab a pint and park in one of their Adirondack chairs on their stone patio. Support our local businesses who make the effort to be at the forefront of sustainability. Way to go Cartwright! Biosphere gives you two thumbs up!



Erratum – I incorrectly stated in a previous version of this article that the spent grain was used as organic fertilizer. This was incorrect. The correct information is that it is used as animal feed by a local farmer.

Trapped In A Human Zoo – an interview with France Rivet (part 3)

Today is the last instalment of my interview with France Rivet.  But there is still plenty to learn about this story. If you’d like to learn more, I’d encourage you to buy a copy of France’s book, In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab: The events of 1880-1881.

I found myself wondering what it would be like for France, after all of her research, to finally come face to face with the skeletons of Abraham and his colleagues. Would it be sad? Would it be a happy moment, after 3 years of searching? Here’s what France had to say….

“Honestly, I had no clue how I was going to react the moment I would be standing in front of the skeletons. On my first visit to the anthropological collections of the Natural History Museum in Paris, I started by asking to look at their archives, at the actual papers. Finding new information, new pieces of the puzzle, was a higher priority for me. But, obviously, the time came when the person responsible for the collection asked: “Would you like to see the skeletons, now?” I didn’t have the choice. I had to say, “Yes”. I dreaded that moment, but everything went well. In fact, it may sound heartless but I didn’t have any reaction. Maybe it was because the five skeletons stood among a collection of 2,000 who all looked alike! I did not recognize Abraham, Ulrike, Tigianniak, Tobias, nor Maria in the skeletons I was seeing. They could have shown me the wrong skeletons and I would not have known. The names engraved on their skulls, and the identification numbers matching those of the certificates and other archival documents, were what confirmed that they were indeed the right ones. I was a lot more impressed by a collection of 19th century busts made on living people. Those looked so real! Had I come face to face with the Labrador Inuit’s busts, I probably would have had an emotional reaction.

Here’s a link where you will see a photo of a selection of these busts: (http://www.theguardian.comartanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/oct/14/paris-musee-de-l-homme-museum-reopening)

I must also say that I found the remains in the very early stages of my research. Five years later, with thousands of hours spent researching, writing and telling their story, the bound is somewhat stronger. What I remember is that when I left the museum, as I was walking in the Jardin des Plantes, I told myself that these skeletons did not belong in reserves covered under plastic bags. It became clear that it was now my responsibility to do whatever I could to make their dream to return home a reality. These people had left Labrador in good faith. They tragically died, and scientists studied them as much as they could before, and even after their death. To me, they had given enough to science. I felt that it was time for them to come home and rest in peace.”

France’s writing of this final chapter of the story of Abraham and his companions was the culmination of 5 years of work. I asked France, what do you feel is your proudest moment or greatest accomplishment associated with this project?

She answered, “I guess my proudest moment is whenever someone from the Inuit community comes up to me to thank me for what I have accomplished. Whether it is a simply thank you, a hug, or a handshake, I know that all of my efforts were worth it. They are making a difference for them. They are allowing them to finally close the chapters on one of their sad stories.

The other moment that made me very proud is after we ended the filming of the re-enactment scenes for the documentary film. To see the pride in the eyes of the Inuit actors, and to see Charles, who plays Abraham, jump up and down because he was so proud of himself, was just priceless.

I can’t change the life of everybody, but knowing that I’ve had a positive impact on the life of at least one person, makes it all worthwhile.”

We look forward to knowing what happens next. Currently, the Nunatsiuvut government is discussing the repatriation of the remains of the Inuit, back to their home in Labrador. I hope that this does indeed happen. I think it needs to happen. Abraham had realized the mistake he had made by taking his family and colleagues to Europe. He wrote about looking forward o the day that they would go home. Abraham did not live long enough to have his wish fulfilled. But thanks to France and the governments of Nunatsiuvut, Canada and France, hopefully Abraham will finally come home.


October 2014 when Johannes Lampe and myself visited with Sylvie Bédard and Pierre Guimond at Canada’s Embassy in Paris.

Why the “Trapped In A Human Zoo” story was so important to tell (part 2 of my interview with France Rivet

Today I continue my interview with France Rivet about her journey to uncover the fate of Abraham and his fellow Inuit travellers.

I asked France, “Why is it important to share the story of Abraham and the other Inuit with the world? What do you hope might be a result of sharing this story so widely?”

Here’s what France had to say: “Recently, I attended an event at the National Arts Center in Ottawa related to the truth and reconciliation commission. One of the ladies who spoke talked about how important it is for each society to tell the stories of its heroes. In my opinion, Abraham is one of the Labrador Inuit’s heroes. Inuit and non-Inuit all have something to learn from his resilience, his strength, the non-aggressivity he has shown despite the hardships he was going through, despite being lured and lied to. These are universal values for all human beings.

I also hope that sharing Abraham’s story with the world will contribute to raising awareness about Nunatsiavut. 99.9% of people I talk to have never heard the name. They have no clue where it is located on the map. Many know of Nunavut, of Nunavik, but I regularly get blank faces when I mention Nunatsiavut.


Nain, the administrative centre of Nunatsiavut. That’s where the government offices are and the repatriation policy is being written

Finally, I hope that hearing about this story will show people that anything is possible. Six years ago, I would never have believed that an ordinary citizen such as me could accomplish what I have done. For example, in my mind, it was simply impossible for a regular citizen to visit the reserves of world-renowned museums, or have his/her actions result in a Prime Minister and a President signing an agreement! No way! That had to require weeks, if not months, of discussions among top political advisors. One thing this project has taught me is that when you trust life and give it the time it needs to set the stage properly, miracles do happen. It has now happened too often that the right people appear on my path at the perfect time, that something didn’t go as I had planned, but in the end, it was for the better. I keep moving forward, but I no longer fight when things don’t go as fast, or exactly as I would like them to. I know that there is a reason for it, and that eventually I’ll understand what that reason is. What has become most important for me is to let my “little internal voice” guide me. It always knows what is best for me. If things don’t feel right, if there is too much negativity, it is a clear sign that I’m not on the right path, and I am no longer afraid of letting go of them. I know that it is making room for the good things that are awaiting down the path. I have learned how important it is to persevere, and to collaborate with others! If my experience can benefit someone somewhere then it will be a step towards a better world.”


Abraham, his family, and the young Inuk who accompanied them to Europe

I think France touched on some really important points about why it was so important to share this story with the world. I would also add that there is an expression that says, ‘history repeats itself’. I actually feel that our job is to make sure that history does NOT repeat itself, that the terrible things that have been part of human history do not happen again – that we learn from these tragic events and do all that we can to ensure something like them never happens again.

I also share France’s  philosophy, that things happen for a reason and that sometimes we are guided down a certain path in life, despite our thoughts that we might be veering off course. Sometimes the universe just has plans for us that are different from our own. But the lead us to where we need to be.


Nunatsiavut Minister of Education and Economic Development, Patricia Kemuksigak, discussing with France Rivet after the world premiere of “Trapped in a Human Zoo”. Photo taken by Sophie Tremblay-Morissette/Nunatsiavut Tourism