Nfld. & Labrador

She's a jolly good fellow, and the 1st woman from Newfoundland to join the club

Latonia Hartery was recently named a fellow of The Explorers Club, joining the ranks of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and biologist Sylvia Earle.

Archaeologist Latonia Hartery honoured by New York City's Explorers Club

Latonia Hartery on Ellesmere Island surveying archaeological sites at Alexandra Fjord. (Daniel J Catt)

Members of The Explorers Club in New York City have been recognized for achieving a lot of firsts — the summit of Mount Everest and the surface of the moon to name a few.

Now, Latonia Hartery is on that list with a first of her own.

The archaeologist, filmmaker and outdoor enthusiast is the first woman from Newfoundland to be named a fellow of the Explorers Club — a multidisciplinary international society dedicated to the advancement of field research and a gathering place for scientists from all over the world.  

Latonia Hartery interprets prehistoric Beothuk and Paleoeskimo sites for a group of young women in Bird Cove on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. She has been working at the research station there since 1998. (Dennis Minty)

"I mean, it seems a little surreal," Hartery told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

"I might not necessarily be at this global kind of scale, but for the last 20 years or so I've really worked hard to make contributions locally and and in the north ... so yeah, I mean it feels good and it feels like I've had, so far, a long and very rewarding career."

Love of exploration started young

Hartery has sailed through the Northwest Passage nine times, circumnavigated Newfoundland 12 times, and has taken part in other voyages to the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

She is known for her pioneering research analyzing plant residues on stone tools and is also an avid filmmaker. 

Hartery credits her parents with fostering her love of exploration from an early age. Her father is a helicopter pilot, and as a child she would skip school to fly with him.

"And that was OK with my parents ... they would write me notes to say, 'Oh she was ill this day,' but I actually would be off with my dad in a helicopter flying around southern Newfoundland watching caribou herd migrations from the sky at seven, eight years old." 

Latonia Hartery has many happy memories of flying with her helicopter-pilot father Gerard Hartery as a child. Here he is working a fuel drop in the Canadian Arctic. (Submitted by Latonia Hartery)

It was one trip in particular that set the course for her future. Her father was taking a group from National Geographic to the isolated community of Francois for an article. Hartery desperately wanted to tag along, but her parents refused because she had a test at school the same day.  

"I begged and pleaded and I went to bed that night and I could barely sleep at the thought. And when I got up the next morning my father said I was allowed to go," she recalled.

Hartery digs a test pit at the Bird Cove prehistoric site in northern Newfoundland, with St. Genevieve Bay in the background. (Submitted by Latonia Hartery)

"It was incredible to see these three Americans with their cameras and their delight at exploring, and I didn't even know that could be your career. That you could get out and understand culture, and interact with it, and photograph it, and be paid. That was a very formative day that I think changed my life probably forever."  

Shared connection with a famous explorer

The Explorers Club was established in 1904 and being a fellow comes with perks, such as meeting with other members in New York City once a year to exchange ideas. 

"That's a really interesting part of becoming a fellow. You get access to some of those people and other resources to help you with your missions," Hartery said.

"So for example, the Global Rescue Unit is now at my disposal should I ever be secluded on a mountaintop somewhere, and knowing me that's not unlikely, so that could be coming in handy."

Hartery already had a special connection with the Explorers Club through another Newfoundlander. Captain Bob Bartlett won the Explorer's Club Medal in 1927 for his Arctic expeditions and mapping of the North.  

Latonia Hartery with a group of Adventure Canada coworkers off the coast of Greenland. (Daniel J Catt)

"I'd always read so many books about Bob Bartlett and I was born exactly 100 years after he was. It's like a hundred years and a week or something like that," she said. 

"So I always remember looking at the list of the people who won this Explorers Club gold medal and Bob Bartlett is one of the first names." 

Hartery's work doesn't stop now that she's hit this new career milestone.

She continues work on early Indigenous sites at the research station in Bird Cove on the Northern Peninsula this summer. This fall she will sail the Northwest Passage for the tenth time as an archaeologist with tour company Adventure Canada.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show