Expedition celebrates Canada 150 by circumnavigating Bylot Island by ski

Four skiers are starting a month long trip around Bylot Island this week. The Bear Witness expedition is meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary by highlighting the island’s history and environmental importance.

The month-long trip has education and environmental science components

On the Bear Witness expedition, the skiers will use reports from locals and a drone to navigate the sea ice. (Submitted by David Reid)

Four skiers are starting a month-long trip around Bylot Island this week to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. 

The Bear Witness expedition will manage the 540-kilometre trip all on their own steam, hauling sleds and scientific equipment behind them.

"It's never been circumnavigated by ski before, not that that's a reason for doing it, but I just wanted to do a trip that arguably had never been done before," said expedition leader David Reid, who spent 19 years living in Pond Inlet. 

The trip is meant to "bear witness" to the island's history and environment. 
David Reid stands in camp looking towards Bylot Island. He spent 19 years living in Pond Inlet. (Submitted by David Reid)

Located at the Eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, Bylot Island has seen its fair share of explorers including Qitdlarssuaq, the shaman from Cumberland Sound who travelled to Greenland, and who, according to Reid, fought with local hunters on the island.

On the west side of the island, there's a rock inscribed with the date 1906 — the year Quebec sea captain Joseph Bernier claimed it for Canada. Reid intends to recreate a photo taken at the time.  

He will also be snapping photos throughout the trip with an expedition flag made by a student from St. Michael's school near Ottawa. The school will be following the trip on social media.

"If we can help shine a little bit of light, bring a little bit of profile to this part of the Eastern Arctic then we'll do our part," said Reid.
The expedition will ski the perimeter of Canada's 17th largest island. It is located 25 kilometres north of the community of Pond Inlet. (Submitted by David Reid)

The island is designated as a migratory bird sanctuary and the entire trip will take place within the proposed marine protected area of Lancaster Sound.

Reid says he hopes the trip will help encourage officially protecting the marine ecosystem.

Because of the mountainous terrain on the island, the plan is to ski on the sea ice. The skiers will have information from Pond Inlet locals about ice conditions, but will also use a drone to scout areas of smooth ice.

Expedition member Eric Brossier will be monitoring the thickness of the sea ice with a small device pulled behind the team on a plastic sled.

After the trip a satellite image will show the route travelled with a line that changes colour depending on the thickness of the ice. 
This device that looks like a 'double-spoon' will measure ice thickness and relay that information back to a satellite. (Submitted by David Reid)

Expedition members will also take ice samples and temperature data, which will be compiled in a report for use by York University and other interested parties.

Brossier and Reid will be joined by Ingrid Ortlieb and Martin Garcia, both seasoned Northern adventurers.

The skiers will set out from Pond Inlet on April 12.