Alert: Beyond the Inuit Lands


197 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-896133-03-7
DDC 355.7'09719'5





Reviewed by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the transport archivist at the Government Archives and
Records Disposition Division, National Archives of Canada.


The Cold War forced Canada to exert greater control over its sovereign
northern lands by establishing military listening and meteorological
posts throughout the North. Alert is an account of Canada’s most
northern permanently inhabited defence station. Inhabitants of the
station, located on the tip of Ellesmere Island only 800 kilometres from
the North Pole, endured freezing weather and months of continual
darkness and isolation.

Established as a Canada–U.S. weather station in 1950, Alert slowly
expanded. In 1956, it became a Royal Canadian Air Force wireless station
with a mandate to intercept enemy communications. The station also
completed scientific studies on the environment, wildlife, meteorology,
and geology. Staff at CFS Alert (as it was renamed in 1966) peaked at
220 in the 1980s. Now a Cold War relic, the station has been scaled down
in recent years.

This book goes beyond the limited military scope one would expect in
such a history. The author, a scientist with the Canadian Museum of
Nature, is also interested in wildlife, flora, and geological aspects of
the North. He provides overly detailed accounts of Alert’s food
services and fuel consumption, but writes perceptively about the effects
of isolation on the inhabitants. His book is well researched and
supplemented with appendixes and photographs.


Gray, David R., “Alert: Beyond the Inuit Lands,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,