Operation Nanook hits Labrador: An inside look as soldiers train for the north

CBC Videojournalist Jacob Barker goes to Voisey's Bay to take an inside look at the Canadian Armed Forces annual northern training exercise.

It's the 1st time the country's biggest northern training mission is taking place in Labrador

Soldiers arrive in Voisey's Bay on a Chinook helicopter for Operation Nanook. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Operation Nanook is meant to show that the Canadian Armed Forces can operate in the country's most northern regions and a look inside the temporary operations camp at Voisey's Bay, Labrador makes it clear that it's no easy task.

"A few hiccups but we'll be able to achieve the aims we wanted to achieve when we started the excercise," said operations officer Captain Bruno Cyr, who has to keep the troops supplied and moving around.

"That's part of the exercise — is learning how to move so we'll learn from there and next time it will be even better."

The operation saw its share of kinks. Weather delayed the arrival of most of the troops for a couple of days and a broken helicopter windshield meant training scenarios couldn't go ahead as planned.

CBC Videojournalist Jacob Barker learns a bit about army life when he is offered a ration at Operation Nanook base camp in Voisey's Bay. Location: Voisey's Bay 2:09

That left soldiers with time on their hands but there was no shortage of activities.

"There's a lot of things. Mostly it comes to your imagination, whatever you can imagine or think up as a game. The sky is the limit, I guess," said Master Cpl. Marcel Richard while playing cards,

"Not everything's going to work out and you have to adapt. It's part of the training and you do the best you can with what you have."

Back on track

Though not every scenario went ahead as planned, eventually things did get on track. 

"It's very important training," Master Cpl. Graham Townsend said as he learned how to put a stretcher in a helicopter.

Master Cpl Graham Townsend gives us the lowdown on "How to put a stretcher in a helicopter familiarization" training in Voisey's Bay during Operation Nanook. 1:18

"When one of our buddies is injured, when one of our friends is really, really hurt, we have to make sure we can control ourselves to properly get them to the level of care that they require."

Really proud

Though most of the troops taking part were from other parts of Atlantic Canada, there were some locals. 

"It really helps the Labrador coast for them to show up here," Canadian Ranger Maria Emelia Merkuratsuk of Nain said. 

Maria Emelia Merkuratsuk helps offload supplies from a Hercules aircraft which delivered supplies and troops to Voisey's Bay. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"To see [Canadian Armed Forces members] in real life, to see them in person makes us really proud."

The Rangers, a reserve unit that opertes in remote areas, provides a lot of local knowledge for soldiers taking part in the training exercise.

Merkuratsuk became a ranger because her father was one. She embraces the role.

"I feel like keeping them safe [is] keeping us safe," she said.

Namesake vessel

The navy, along with a Labrador namesake also played a role in the operations. The HMCS Goose Bay was helping out moving troops and supplies around.

The HMCS Goose Bay is one ship assisting in operations for Operation Nanook, the CAF's largest Northern training exercise. 2:47

"Roads lesser travelled for the navy," Lt. Amanda Jayne said as the boat pulled into Voisey's Bay. "But very excited to be in this spot."

About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.