This is a freaking long article dealing with the dismantling of the Cold War relics left behind be the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, built in the 1950s in the Canadian high arctic. It's kind of rambling, but it deals largely with the scale of the environmental mess left behind in those days of man concurring nature on such a scale and the culture shocks put on the Inuit who lived there. A fascinating and sometimes sad read of you've got time to kill.
DEW Line: Canada is cleaning up pollution caused by Cold War radar stations in the Arctic
Published on Friday August 03, 2012
PHOTO: RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR Federal officials review progress of the DEW Line site clean-up at Cape Dyer, on the eastern edge of Baffin Island. It was the largest of the line's 42 Canadian radar stations.
DYE-MAIN DEW LINE STATION, NUNAVUTIn a low-flying Twin Otter, the glaciers of Cumberland Peninsula seem close enough to touch, snaking down from peaks as far as the eye can see.
The view is a stark, stunning expanse of white ice and grey mountains, with polished layers of more recently exposed rock as glaciers retreat ever further.
Related: See photos of the DEW line
Thats global warming, says Dave Eagles, an environmental engineer leading a team of federal scientists and officials flying to Cape Dyer, at the peninsulas eastern tip.
Later, as the plane crosses the milky waters of Sunneshine Fjord, human influence on a pristine environment becomes as obvious as a boot cleat in the face.
From the sky, it looks like a giant post-modern flag on the tundra 5,000 neatly aligned black vinyl bags and white crates, filled, Eagles explains, with soil contaminated by PCBs and lead.
The plane lands for a closer look on an unpaved runway, marked for approach by long rows of rusty oil drums recycled from the many thousands found scattered across the tundra.
On a hill in the distance, elevated on steel stilts, a huge geodesic white dome looms over the site like a giant golf ball or alien spacecraft. Its a radome, the unmistakable symbol of the Distant Early Warning Line, a series of 63 U.S.-built radar stations across the Arctic, most of them on Canadian soil.
The U.S. military built the DEW Line in the heady days of the late 1950s, a time when Cold War fears of Soviet bombers were matched by absolute faith in human ingenuity and technology. The megaproject was designed to secure the continent from a polar attack. But first, a hostile Arctic environment had to be tamed.
Its legacy marks the North to this day.
The DEW Line the biggest military project in Arctic history played a major role in the transformation that eventually tied the Inuit to a wage economy and sedentary lifestyle. It was a fast, traumatic shift that left deep social scars, including alcohol-related violence.
It was hell, says University of British Columbia professor Frank Tester, an authority on Inuit social history. In all of recorded human history, there is no group of people who went from a hunting and gathering culture to a modern one in such a short period of time.
The land was also disfigured. The military and civilian personnel who operated the radar sites treated the North like a vast garbage dump. Then, after so much effort and hubris, the DEW Line shrivelled as fast as it came.
In 1963 five years after it was completed intercontinental ballistic missiles and other new technologies made half of the 42 radar sites in Canadas Arctic obsolete. They were abandoned and left to rust.
The rest were closed by 1993, replaced by fewer, mostly unmanned sites.
Those repurposed sites form todays North Warning System. In 1996 the Department of National Defence (DND) launched one of North Americas biggest environmental clean-ups. That effort continues, largely unnoticed by Canadians.
The military is cleaning up the feds call it remediating the biggest 21 DEW sites and expects the last one, DYE-Main, to be completed next summer. The total clean-up bill is expected at $575 million double the original estimate. About $92 million of it comes from the U.S. (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has spent a further $82 million cleaning eight of the smaller 21 sites so far.)
If I make a mess in your backyard, youd want me to clean it up, says Eagles, project manager for the DND remediation, referring to a clean-up protocol signed with Inuit leaders.
The extent of the mess at the DND sites is staggering. By the end of the clean-up, 35,000 cubic metres of waste, weighing more than 40 million kilograms most of it soil contaminated with PCBs and lead will have been shipped south for incineration or burial. That includes the 5,000 bags and crates lined up at DYE-Main, waiting to be transported.
Another 283,000 cubic metres of less contaminated soil and non-hazardous waste steel drums, demolished warehouses, garages, living quarters, giant antennas, water tanks will have been buried on site in new, engineered landfills.
Then theres 202,000 cubic metres of soil contaminated by diesel fuel, placed in land farms where its tossed and turned until the hydrocarbon evaporates to levels set by the clean-up criteria.
These volumes of waste could fill 208 Olympic-size swimming pools. Many more thousands of cubic metres of garbage in 83 early landfills once deemed safe must also be cleaned up..
The 21 DND sites will eventually be left with 134 landfills. (The biggest at DYE-Main is 200 metres long by 200 metres wide.) Sixteen are filled with moderately contaminated soils. They average 62,000 cubic metres.
Inuit leaders consider the clean-up a success. Its widely applauded as the best thing to hit the Arctic since the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. But as one historic problem ends, another one looms. A scramble is on for the Arctics resources, partly because of by seas made ice-free by global warming.
Theres talk of a new Cold War as Canada, Russia, the U.S. and others file competing claims of sovereignty over parts of the Arctic. The U.S. rejects Canadian sovereignty over the fabled Northwest Passage, Canadian fighter planes have scrambled to intercept Russian bombers. The federal government plans a naval facility at the eastern gate of the Passage.
International oil companies salivate at the prospect of offshore rigs. Proposals for massive mines, like the Mary River iron project on Baffin Island, are also adding up, as are the costs to taxpayers to clean up abandoned ones.
The projects can be a source of much-needed Inuit jobs. But as the rush in resources and geopolitics intensifies over one of the most sensitive ecosystems on Earth, the DEW Lines legacy makes for a cautionary tale.
How ingenuity can outwit the Arctic
David Kanatsiak was caribou hunting the day the 20th century came roaring his way. He was a boy of 11 or so, riding a dogsled with his uncle in Nunavuts Melville Peninsula, near what would eventually become the Hamlet of Hall Beach.
Today, sitting at the dining table of his comfortable home there, a flat-screen TV beside him and an Ottawa Senators banner on the wall, he knows it as the day he first encountered Qallunaat, white people. But back then, he was gobsmacked.
First he spotted white tents in the distance. Then came a sound and vision like nothing he had ever experienced: a machine, its steel tracks devouring snow, barrelling toward his frantically barking dogs. Later, when he found the words to describe it, Kanatsiak learned its name a Bombardier snowmobile.
The boy was too stunned to notice anyone in the machine. The experience was strictly, overwhelmingly sensory.
I felt it when it went by, says Kanatsiak, 68. And the smell of the motor I never smelled anything like that before. I was really scared.
It was 1955. The building of the DEW Line had begun.
The white mans presence in the Arctic didnt begin with the DEW Line. In 1576, explorer Martin Frobisher went looking for a Northwest Passage to Asia, stumbled on a group of Inuit and brought one back to England. From the mid-1700s on came whalers, fur traders, missionaries and more explorers, including the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845. The Hudsons Bay Company opened its first Arctic trading post in 1909.
Canada declared its sovereignty over the region in 1880 and the North-West Mounted Police set up a few posts. Until 1920, these police officers were the only Canadian Government representatives with whom Inuit had contact, according to a 2006 report for what was then called the Indian and Northern Affairs Department.
The government then began the controversial practice of relocating some Inuit groups, sometimes to areas offering better game, other times to use them as human flagpoles in the exercise of sovereignty. But the general policy, at least until the mid-1950s, was to leave the Inuit to their traditional, seasonally nomadic way of life.
World War II forced Canada to seriously consider the North. Pushed by the U.S., the federal government approved the 1941 construction of military airfields in the eastern part of the region, used to airlift supplies to Europe. A year later, the Japanese occupied three Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific, and the Alaska Highway through the Canadian tundra was laid.
Tens of thousands of soldiers and construction workers employed on those projects and the devastating diseases they brought were like nothing the Inuit had seen. The Cold War would spread that kind of contact across the Arctic.
In the late 1940s, the Soviet Union added long-range bombers to its arsenal and detonated an atomic bomb. The wide circulation of maps looking down from the North Pole, showing the proximity of the Soviet Union to North America, added to a sense of urgency, if not paranoia. Suddenly, American generals are saying, If theres a Third World War, it will be centred on the North Pole, says University of Toronto professor Matthew Farish, who has written extensively about the militarization of the North.
The response was the Distant Early Warning Line, designed by MIT scientists to give advance warning of Soviet bombers heading over the North Pole. Its radar stations straddled the 69th parallel and stretched 5,000 kilometres from Alaska to Greenland.
The project, financed by the U.S., captured the imagination of what Farish calls a high modernist period.
Theres tremendous scientific and technical hubris that we can do this, that we have the power to transform the environment of the North to suit our needs, says Farish, a geography professor co-writing a book on DEW Line history.
Enthusiasm for man-made environments was symbolized by Buckminster Fullers geodesic dome, later of Expo 67 fame. On the DEW Line, it protected rotating radars from Arctic weather.
Media coverage and industry brochures described DEW Line construction in breathless, almost giddy terms. A report by Western Electric Corp., an AT&T subsidiary that built the Line, noted that 460,000 tons of material was transported from the U.S. and Canada to the Arctic by sea, air and land.
Some 45,000 commercial flights were used for deliveries; 75 million gallons of petroleum products were shipped, enough to fill 9,375 tank cars in a train 65 miles long; 9.6 million cubic yards of gravel was produced, enough to build two replicas of the Great Pyramid; 22,000 tons of food was shipped in a million containers; and 20,000 people worked directly on the Line.
The construction and transportation of (DEW Line) buildings show how ingenuity can outwit the Arctic, the company wrote.
The radar stations were run by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado. Construction was completed in 1957, at a cost of $600 million (U.S.), 60 crashed planes and at least 35 lives. The cultural and social cost to the Inuit, who were never consulted about the project, is still being tallied.
When David Kanatsiak saw the snowmobile, Hall Beach didnt exist. He was an orphan. His father drowned hunting a seal and an illness killed his mother. He lived with his grandparents and moved, like many Inuit, from one seasonal camp to another.
By then, many had been hooked into the white fox fur trade, says UBCs Tester, a professor of social work. The Hudsons Bay Company would give Inuit trappers credit for store goods in exchange for pelts, a transaction that kept them tied to the company.
In the 1920s, the average price of a fox pelt was $60. By 1949, it collapsed to $3.50. Inuit trappers, many of whom had turned away from subsistence hunting, could no longer make a living.
You have a population, between 1945 and 1955, which is desperate, says Tester, noting that some starved.
So when word spread of a mountain of discarded building materials on Melville Peninsula scraps from the FOX-Main DEW Line station under construction it sounded like manna from heaven. Kanatsiak recalls people flocking to it, scavenging wood, metal sheets, clothes, even discarded food.
The dump was located on the ice, Kanatsiak says through an interpreter. When spring and summer came, the ice melted and the whole dump vanished into the sea.
The scraps were used to build shacks near the site, the beginnings of a shanty town that would become Hall Beach a settlement process mirrored at several DEW Line bases. Kanatsiak lived with nine people in a one-room shack.
The shacks were public health hellholes, with no floors, leaky roofs and no sanitation. Epidemics of tuberculosis and chicken pox broke out.
Tester says the Inuit mortality rate with the onset of modernization in the 1950s actually rises. He notes that in some communities, four out of 10 infants died.
In 1959, when the federal government finally introduced a housing program, it was a rent-to-own scheme Inuit could not afford. Besides, at 200 square feet, the houses were dog kennels with no running water or electricity, Tester says.
The housing situation, because of the cheap, chiselling nature of the federal government, was an absolute disaster, says Tester, who wrote key reports for the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, which held public hearings for three years until 2010 on the impact of government policies on the Inuit. It was a case of government basically not wanting to make people dependent, not wanting to give anybody anything for nothing.
The federal government introduced a social housing program in 1965. That year, 10 houses were built in Hall Beach, double the number already there.
By 1967, Hall Beach had 31 houses.
By contrast, the contractors and military men who staffed FOX-Main lived in what were called module trains, with southern comforts including bars and movie nights. Flush with the sense of having heroically tamed the environment, they proceeded to treat it like a vast outdoor toilet.
What a mess!
Dave Eagles has been project manager of the defence departments DEW Line clean-up since 2006. A retired lieutenant-colonel, he took the job to end his military career on a high. Friendly and bursting with information, hes a rare government official who speaks his mind.
My first reaction was to say, What a mess! Why did they do this? says Eagles, 59, referring to his initial look at the clean-up challenge. The more I thought about it, I realized they werent treating the North much differently than they were treating the south.
In mid-July, Eagles travelled to Cape Dyer with a team of federal scientists and officials to inspect the clean-up. A Star reporter and photographer tagged along.
At 21 kilometres long and seven kilometres wide, DYE-Main was the DEW Lines biggest radar base. Some 200 people used to work there.
It was built on Cape Dyer, a desolate, grey and ochre landscape that dips and heaves. The ground is covered with granite rocks and, incredibly, bursts of yellow or purple saxifrage flowers. Jagged cliffs plunge 500 metres to Davis Strait next stop, Greenland. Icebergs float by. Berger bits, Eagles calls them.
Eagles team was picked up in a dirty van that smelled like animal carcasses had decomposed in the back seat. It was driven by Marc Fournier, who oversees the site clean-up for Defence Construction Canada, a Crown corporation that works exclusively for the defence department. A stocky, easygoing Ottawa resident, he immediately lowered the front windows to a chorus of demands for fresh air.
I tell everybody Im on the moon, Fournier says while driving to the work camp.
The first stop is the cafeteria of a long trailer, where the contractors health and safety officer, Jennifer Guyot, gave a briefing. Its the 25-year-old Montrealers first trip to the Arctic. Its awesome, she beams.
Guyot spotted her first polar bear after 10 days on the job. So Im, like, a veteran, she tells the group.
Three armed Inuit called bear monitors tour the site in all-terrain vehicles. Theyve killed two bears so far. At another DEW site, a polar bear smashed the window of a helicopter to grab food left inside.
If a bear approaches, Guyot explains that dropping an item of clothing while making a run for it might distract the beast. Alternatively, make yourself look big and make a lot of noise so it wont think youre a snack.
If contact is made, even a 1,000-pound animal has its weak spots. You can jab it in the eyes, punch it in the nose or pull its ears, and this will bother him, she says.
About 100 workers are tearing down and cleaning up DYE-Main, whose radome remains part of the North Warning System. They use 45 pieces of heavy equipment, including massive rock trucks, excavators and bulldozers. Two planeloads of food arrive each week; the last one delivered 4,000 pounds.
We can survive a month without a delivery, Fournier says. It will be hotdogs and crackers and peanut butter and jam sandwiches for a week, but well live.
The clean-up usually begins the last week of June, when snow and ice ease their grip on the land, and ends the first week of September. Heavy equipment is shipped from Montreal and stays until the end of the contract. In other words, the contractor works two months but gets paid for 12 because his equipment is tied up year-round.
Plowing is the first order of business. Vehicles left outside in winter are each marked with a long pole, to find them when they get completely covered by snow. A mangled pickup truck at DYE-Main testifies to what happens when the marker is forgotten and a snowplow does its job.
Weather rarely co-operates. The wind goes clear through you, Fournier says. It rains sideways up here. Workers are on 12-hour shifts, 28 days straight. Theres Internet and satellite TV, but a squirrelly feeling of isolation has long been a feature of DEW Line work.
Morale has to stay very positive, Fournier adds. You have a bad apple it doesnt matter if the guy walks on water, its going to bring everybody down. On one worksite, a cook went after a worker with a butcher knife, shouting, Dont criticize my food! Both were fired.
Work began at DYE-Main in 2005, but piles of rusty barrels, thick wires and all kinds of garbage remain scattered about. Three heavy generators that look like locomotives await disposal. They were found in a switching room full of hazardous-looking equipment. It was something out of a Frankenstein movie, Fournier says. Im sure people in there died of cancer.
In the DEW Line years, diesel fuel was shipped and piped into big tankers on site. But gasoline, lubricating oil and other fluids were shipped in barrels. Eagles says up to 20,000 rusty steel drums have been found at some sites.
Some radar stations were careful with their garbage. Others looked like they purposely tried to make as big a mess as possible, he adds.
Near DYE-Mains radome, thousands of gutted steel drums were found scattered at the bottom of a steep slope in a six-kilometre radius. Eagles and his team figured out they were the result of a game: DEW Line workers would roll empty barrels down the slope, competing at who could roll one the furthest.
It was to relieve boredom, he says.
At the southern part of the base, two DEW Line dump trucks had to be fished out of a ravine where a melting glacier creates a waterfall that empties into the Sunneshine Fjord. Another practice, at DYE-Main and other sites, was to drive unneeded trucks and equipment onto the sea ice, where they would disappear with the summer melt.
By the late 1980s, there was evidence the mess was adding to toxins in the Arctic food chain.
Until banned in 1977, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were widely used in industrial products, from lubricants for transformers to caulking compounds to oils and paint. They dont break down in the environment.
PCBs contaminating the south travel north on air currents. Once in the Arctic, they climb up the food chain, from plankton, to fish, to seals, to polar bears and finally, given their traditional diet, to the Inuit. They have long had a higher level of PCBs in their bodies than Canadians in the south.
Health Canada notes evidence of chronic, high-level exposure to PCBs increasing incidence of liver and kidney cancer. They may create, for small children exposed in the womb, learning disorders. But we dont know of what duration, says Ken Reimer, director of the Environmental Sciences Group at the Royal Military College in Kingston.
In 1989, Reimer led a scientific team inspecting all 42 DEW Line sites. He found the heaviest concentrations of PCBs at the end of sewage pipes that emptied on the tundra, the result of DEW Line workers pouring the toxins down the drain. Plants that flourished with the human fertilizer attracted animals and gave PCBs access to the food chain.
Each PCB hazard emitted a halo of contamination the distance spread by wind of about 20 kilometres. The radar stations were placed 80 kilometres apart and many attracted Inuit settlements nearby. The result, Reimer says, was a continuous corridor of pollutants across the Arctic that augment the PCBs in the soil and potentially in the food chain.
After consulting Inuit communities, Reimers team helped draft the DEW Line clean-up protocol, calling for work that made the sites environmentally safe, and got rid of unneeded infrastructure. It was approved by DND and Inuit authorities in the eastern and western Arctic.
For PCBs, it means transporting south all soil contaminated by more than 50 parts per million. Theyre incinerated at sites in Cornwall, Ont. and Swan Hills, Alta. Soil contaminated with lead that can leach beyond a set threshold is buried in Grandes-Piles, Que. A single vehicle battery that leaks lead on the tundra contaminates an area two metres by two metres, about half a metre deep.
Less hazardous waste is buried on site, contained by thick gravel walls and covered by several layers of gravel and plastic sheeting.
We want to build forever, Eagles says. The pyramids have lasted a long time; theres no reason our landfills shouldnt.
Global warming may have other designs.
The Arctic, Eagles says, is getting quicker snow melts and heavier rainfall. Engineers at the BAR-2 DEW site, in the Northwest Territories, had not anticipated the damage this could cause. A trickle of water one day became a raging torrent. It eroded one side of a landfill, forcing contractors to rebuild it and divert the stream. Three years later, the other side collapsed. Weeks after that, a second landfill at the site was eroded by water.
Eagles team also notices the permafrost melt a little more and refreeze a little less each year. Year by year, the ground is sinking in the western Arctic, which means the sea is coming in, he says, adding that land is also slumping.
The top cover of some contaminated landfills is almost three metres thick. The aim is to prevent the summer thaw from causing the landfill to leach. Eagles has commissioned new climate change models to see whether an even higher cover is needed.
No one can convince me there isnt global warming, Eagles says. Its real up there.
The clean-up agreement states landfills will be monitored during the next 25 years. It costs $500,000 annually to inspect those sites on foot. Eagles team hopes to reduce those costs with new equipment that straps under the belly of a plane to detect leaching landfills with flyovers.
Of DNDs 21 DEW Line sites, only three all in the western Arctic might be transferred to Inuit control after the clean-up. Inuit leaders in the Northwest Territories want the sites, but not the repair bill for landfills that may have to be fixed in the future. Negotiations continue.
Landfills that existed before the clean-up are dug up if deemed hazardous, their contents sorted and cleaned. Used barrels, for example, are steam-washed, crushed and reburied in engineered sites. But huge dumps that no one knew existed were also discovered.
There was no record at DYE-Main of what Eagles calls a glacier of garbage a quarry filled with waste, about 100 metres long and 20 metres high. It took years to scrape and thaw a layer at a time, and rebury the garbage in a proper landfill.
Other surprises include blasting caps tens of thousands found at the CAM-5 site at Mackar Inlet. An explosives disposal expert was called: He threw them one at a time into a fire. One exploded in his hand, tearing apart his leather glove but sparing his fingers.
At Dewar Lakes FOX-3, a huge boulder was discovered with wires sticking out from a hole in its centre. No one dared crawl inside to have a look. Blowing it up was out of the question: How many explosives were in there, if any? After some head scratching, a protective wall of sand was built next to it and work continued.
More shocking was the body discovered at FOX-5, on Broughton Island in Baffin Bay. Clean-up work was stopped and the RCMP called. An autopsy determined the person died of natural causes.
There was trouble with contractors, of course.
The DYE-Main contract was initially won by SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant. In 2009, however, the company and the Defence Department agreed to end it.
The clean-up agreement stipulates a minimum level of Inuit workers for each DEW Line site, ranging from 65 to 85 per cent. At DYE-Main, the deal called for a 71-per-cent minimum. But Eagles says SNC-Lavalin never managed more than 50 per cent, at times falling as low as 35. He chalks it up to a culture clash.
If youre up here and youve only got two months of summer and the narwhals come by and youve got this one day of the year to hunt them, are you going to go to your job or are you going to drop tools and go out hunting narwhals? Eagles says.
To a southerner, if someone said, The ducks are flying; Im going duck hunting today, youd lose your job. You cant do that here; youve got to understand the cultural differences.
Don Beattie, project support officer for Defence Construction Canada, puts it this way: If you tell one guy he no longer has a job, then his brother, his sister and his cousins wont show up either.
Work stopped for a year in 2010. The government bought Lavalins equipment and sold it to Qikiqtaaluk Logistics Inc., an Inuit-owned company that resumed the clean-up last year. The deadline for completion is August 2013.
Culture clash aside, Inuit workers have been hard to find, despite at least $75,000 in federal money for training usually in operating heavy equipment for each site. One problem: a job means the loss of the housing subsidy many receive. Its a huge disincentive to work, Eagles says. (More than half of Nunavuts 33,500 residents live in subsidized housing.) Trained workers also tend to get snatched up by mining companies.
It can be back-breaking work, particularly for the men in the debris crew, who spend their shifts picking up garbage, big and small. But for at least one bulldozer operator at DYE-Main, it was the chance of a lifetime.
Its my dream job, says Albert Kooneeliusee, 38, a Pangnirtung resident who earns $27 an hour.
The DEW Line kids
The Melville Peninsula has long been a rich hunting ground for caribou, seal, walrus and whale. Its been occupied for 4,000 years. The Thule are the Inuits ancestors and remnants of their houses, dug in mounds and built with whale bones, lie at the edge of the FOX-Main DEW site.
The site is about 1.5 kilometres south of Hall Beach. Its white radome sparkles on clear days. Its now a North Warning radar site manned by a partly Inuit-owned private contractor who employs five local people.
The geodesic radome and giant antennas are on the hamlets flag. The mayor, Paul Haulli, worked as a labourers foreman for five years during the site clean-up, which he says provided work for up to 30 local residents.
The DEW Line people left a big mess to the community, he says. There were old trucks and parts in the sea; you could see them from the shore. They took a lot of that stuff out.
People are a lot happier now. That area is a lot cleaner and safer. Now we do a lot of fishing over there.
When the site was being cleaned, residents demanded the 36.5-metre-high antennas be left standing.
A lot of people go walrus hunting in the main waters, says Haulli. If they take those big radars off you would lose the land. They really help the hunters to know where Hall Beach is.
The terrain is unbelievably flat. The Inuit know Hall Beach as Sanirajak, the place that is along the coast. Its 147 dwellings face Foxe Basin, and thick floes of ice cram its shores in mid-July. In January, the average temperature is minus 32 C.
Most wood homes look well-kept. Some have polar bear or fox skins drying outside. A few residents live along the shore in shacks decorated with whale bones and antlers. In the summer, when the sun never sets, children play on gravel roads till early morning. Few people stir before 1 p.m.
Fog seems to rule the place. It rolls in to suffocate even spectacularly sunny days, regularly shutting down the hamlet airstrip. When the fog lifts, tundra dotted with gleaming pools of water extends to the horizon, vast and mesmerizing.
The 2011 census indicates the population shrank by 108 during the last five years, and stands at 546. Haulli hotly disputes this, insisting it increased by about that amount. What no one disputes are chronically high unemployment and welfare rates. Just 30 people, 15 years and older, had a high school certificate at the time of the 2006 census.
The last two full-time social workers who lived in the hamlet quit after six months and went south. One drops in a couple of days at a time, but no one thinks thats enough.
Hunting and fishing remain popular, particularly with food prices at the two local stores ridiculously high. Teenagers speak Inuktitut and English and many dye their hair red in what one resident says is a collective homage to the international pop star Rihanna.
The younger generation is torn between the traditional way of life and all the amenities the modern world has to offer, says Cpl. David Ferguson, the hamlets RCMP officer. Theyre still trying to find the balance between the two.
Ferguson jumped at the chance two and a half years ago to work in Hall Beach. He and his wife had tired of the rat race in his previous posting, St. Johns, Nfld. Hes now kept busy with incidents of domestic violence and sexual abuse, often of children.
The majority of what we deal with is alcohol-related, he says.
Liquor can only enter Hall Beach legally if a hamlet committee approves individual applications. The committee grants virtually all requests, much to Fergusons dismay, including from people known to cause trouble when drunk. The maximum that one person is allowed per month is six 60-ounce bottles. Ferguson has seen such orders approved.
The booze is flown in only after applicants pay. That could take days, so its stockpiled in an Iqaluit warehouse. When fog further prevents orders from being delivered, the stockpile grows. Once it finally lifts, the booze arrives all at once. And Ferguson gets busier.
It happened Canada Day weekend. Ferguson logged six incidents in a six-hour period, including domestic assaults and a serious stabbing. An extra police officer has been temporarily flown in to give Ferguson a hand.
Alcohol abuse is not unique to Hall Beach. Many aboriginal communities in Canada struggle with it, including those that had nothing to do with the DEW Line.
Still, the DEW Line introduced many Inuit to booze, says UBCs Frank Tester, despite laws that prohibited the sale of liquor to the Inuit until 1959. He has interviewed elders who tell horrifying stories of being forced to drink, then degraded and sometimes sexually abused.
Yet the deal to build the radar line, signed by Canada and the U.S., explicitly tried to shield the Inuit.
The Eskimos of Canada are in a primitive state of social development, the agreement stated.
It is important that these people be not subjected unduly to disruption of their hunting economy, exposure to disease against which their immunity is often low, or other effects of the presence of white men which might be injurious to them.
That was wishful thinking.
Its unclear how many Inuit worked on the Line in its early days. Jack Ferguson, a young sociologist sent by the government in 1956 to examine the impact of the DEW Line, reported that 25 per cent of the male labour force in the western Arctic about 200 people had jobs building the stations. Ferguson was alarmed by what he saw.
This new type of work makes severe demands upon the Eskimos, he told the government in his report. Long and regular hours are a typical feature; the work is different, baffling and requires none of the traditional skills of the hunter-gatherer.
A mans time is no longer his own and he may no longer travel where and when he pleases, he added. These Eskimos are now located close to a DEW line site, which is not necessarily suitable for hunting and trapping. The communities themselves have been split in two: the men working at the DEW line site, the women and children trying to maintain a traditional life in an economy in which they have no part.
Men working at the site got food but often, their families went hungry. One cook gave Ferguson a letter he received from an Inuit woman: To Sir cook: Would you please let us have a piece of meat to cook even thou its small. We got nothing to eat. My children will be starving while there dad working and getting good meat every day while we get hungry having nothing to eat.
Historically, a talented hunter, for example, would share food in return for hand-sewn clothes or whatever he needed. Theres this network of social relations that keep people bound together, Tester says.
Suddenly, Inuit wage earners are buying goods in stores. Inuit tradesmen and women lose their livelihoods and social function. And unlike a big stash of meat, which goes bad if it isnt shared, money is held by a person who alone decides when to spend it. Collectivism starts giving way to individualism.
Money is an incredibly important element in this process of culture change, Tester says. It destroys the social fabric.
One consequence today is the difficulty in finding volunteers to work on community challenges in many Inuit hamlets, including Hall Beach. People are poor, and they expect payment for what they do.
In 1963, when half the DEW Line sites shut down, the Inuit discovered another southern phenomenon unemployment. (The federal government began extending family allowance programs to all Canadians in 1945.)
In short, when alcohol became readily available, there was lots of sorrow to drown.
David Kanatsiak says FOX-Main had three rowdy bars. He knew nothing of alcohol until a Catholic priest found him a job as a janitor at FOX-Main, at $30 a week. He soon got fired for sleeping a lot. He returned to a traditional lifestyle, spent five years living in a camp, then went back to the janitors job. He retired a few years ago and thanks the DEW Line for helping him feed his children, whom he proceeds to name and count on his fingers six.
When I remember the old way, it saddens me, Kanatsiak says, noting his DEW job also allowed him to eventually buy a home. I dont miss anything about it. It was really hard to live off the land. The only heating we had was seal oil.
When the white people came, my body absorbed the white culture really well, he says with a smile.
There are far less pleasant memories for the people one Hall Beach resident calls the DEW Line kids.
One night, I watched boys in the hamlet play ball near the ice flows. A bad toss and plunk the ball was in the sea. A boy of maybe 10 swore. Then he took of his shoes, stepped on a thick block of ice, hoped to another, and finally stepped into the cold water. When he came back with the ball, his mother took off his wet socks and put on his shoes. He went right back to playing.
When I introduced myself and my purpose there, the mothers reaction was immediate: What did the DEW Line mean for Hall Beach? Thirty years of heavy drinking.
Her name was Mary, she was 39, and she lived in a two-storey blue house by the beach. Near the entrance were antlers still attached to a caribou skull the remains of a hunt by the eldest of Marys four children. She wanted me to speak with her common-law partner.
Jacky Nuvviaq delivers drinking water to hamlet homes. He sat with Mary at the kitchen table while two boys played a video game on a flat-screen TV. Hes muscular, has a thin moustache, a wisp of a goatee, and speaks almost in a whisper.
There was screaming and fighting in the house every single night, says Nuvviaq, 41, recalling his childhood.
His grandfather, who adopted Nuvviaq as a child, worked at the DYE-Main site at Cape Dyer. Nuvviaq recalls drunken parties as regular events. He would sit with other Inuit children under the game-room pool table, watching each others parents get drunk. The fathers would eventually pass out.
Then these white people would take advantage of the mothers because there were a lot of sleeping husbands around, Nuvviaq says. Theyd let us go out for ice cream.
He recalls one night when a white employee led his 4-year-old sister away. She came back 10 or 15 minutes later, he says. She was shaking and crying and couldnt say a word.
Mary touches Nuvviaqs back and says, A few years later, she said what that horrible man did to her.
Nuvviaq, a boy of about 11 at the time, says his home was filled with abuse fuelled by alcohol. At some point, Nuvviaqs grandfather was transferred to Hall Beach. Nuvviaqs biological father also worked at the DEW site here. Nuvviaq would run to his sister, who lived with his biological father, when she called for help.s
Nuvviaq has one fond memory: As a DEW Line child, he had access to the sites library. Hed take National Geographic magazines to his room. I pronounced the words right, but couldnt understand what they were. The pictures made him dream.
When he was about 15, Nuvviaq says he too got hired on the Line. He bounced around different sites over the years, working first as a janitor and later as a labourer. And he too became a violent drunk.
I gave her a lot of bruises, he says of Mary, who continued to comfort him with her touch. I would drink a big bottle of rum, 75.5-per-cent proof, with just a bit of orange juice. After one beating, he ended up in jail.
I feel like Im 80, Mary says, and Im just going on 40.
Mary is also the child of a DEW Line worker. She talks of nights spent on the porch with her siblings, waiting for the anger and pain inside the house to die down.
The DEW Line destroyed lots of families, she says. Its a big dark secret here. Nobody talks about it.
Mary Qanatsiaq, an adult educator who has recorded the oral histories of several DEW workers in Hall Beach, says no one in the hamlet is surprised when a troublemaker, or troubled adult, turns out to be one of the DEW Line kids.
They have a lot of anger in them, she says.
Lisa Arvaluks father worked first at DYE-Main and later at FOX-Main. Sometimes he cleared snow, sometimes he cooked.
My parents were drunk all the time, says Arvaluk, 34. It was very depressing.
They fought constantly, she says, and the household was violent. It would get especially bad when her mother cheated with American soldiers. She recalls many nights running with her brother and sister to her grandparents house for safety.
We were running with no boots or coat, says Arvaluk, a single mother of two young children who gets $1,000 a month in social assistance. It was winter.
When she was 14, she had to talk her way out of attempts by one soldier to sleep with her. Later, she convinced her father to go to a Winnipeg rehab centre for six weeks.
It gives me flashbacks. It gives me the shivers, she says, laughing nervously. Theres a lot of people who went through those miserable years.
The many challenges Inuit communities face cant be blamed solely on the DEW Line. It affected communities in different ways. Much else was also happening at the time. The federal government was imposing itself on the North as never before, extending social programs and residential schools, building towns like Frobisher and Inuvik, and creating Inuit settlements, sometimes through relocation.
The DEW Lines impact wasnt all bad: Its wages saved some Inuit from starvation, its nursing stations provided health care, its airstrips made the North accessible, its radars acted as a Cold War deterrent, however briefly, and the presence of all those Americans building it pushed the Canadian government to worry about sovereignty over the neglected region.
Fostered in the government focus is a vision of the North, not as a sensitive and wondrous ecosystem to be protected, but as a land to be defended, the University of Torontos Matthew Farish argues.
The Arctic is treated as a militarized space, he says.
Military exercises are regularly held with names like Operation Nanook and Arctic Ram new military bases are considered and a naval facility is announced. Meanwhile, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Eureka, Nunavut, which tracks ozone depletion and climate change, is shutting down because of federal funding cuts.
Military calculations are increasing as global warming opens frozen waterways, triggers competing claims of sovereignty and attracts mining and oil companies. Corporations eye the DEW Lines airstrips as valuable infrastructure.
Nellie Cournoyea, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. in Inuvik, N.W.T., which signed the DEW Line remediation agreement, says proposed resource projects should be considered in terms of economic benefits and risk to the ecosystem.
We expect that every development would be under a balanced approach, she says.
Taxpayers are already on the hook for the almost $8 billion the federal environment commissioner estimates it will cost to clean up contaminated sites in Canada. Two of the biggest are the acid-leaching Faro mine in the Yukon and the arsenic-poisoned Giant mine in Yellowknife, N.W.T. Canadians got stuck with the bill after both companies went bankrupt.
David Eagles says the DEW Lines lesson is simple: Its very expensive to clean up so dont make the mess in the first place.