Operation Nanook in Nunavut keeps emergency crews busy

Military personnel, search and rescue crews and others are taking part in the Canadian Forces annual exercise to practice emergency response in the North.
The Canadian military has 800 personnel on Baffin Island for the annual Operation Nanook military exercise. (Vincent Desrosiers)

The Canadian military along with various agencies and government departments have been dealing with a grounded cruise ship and other mock emergencies on York Sound, about 175 km south of Iqaluit on Frobisher Bay.

Earlier this week participants pretended there was a chemical leak on a cruise ship. On Wednesday they practised dealing with a scenario where a cruise ship ran aground.

The intent is for the situation to play out like it would in real life. Emergency responders and others are deployed within hours. 

Search and Rescue technicians like Conrad Cowan are the first on the ground with their equipment. It's all contained in a few small air-dropped crates. 

"Within those boxes there's tents, rations, stoves, sleeping bags, all the equipment we need to protect, house and treat the patients," Cowan said.

Major Mike Mallette with the Immediate Response Unit said dealing with an emergency in the Arctic presents many challenges.
"In the event of a major disaster where we're in a remote location and we're talking about potentially hundreds of people stranded out here, it's going to take a little more time to get those folks out of the incident site, and that's where we would come in," Mallette said.

Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island is the site for the Canadian military's exercise Operation Nanook. (Vincent Desrosiers)

Calm conditions on York Sound during Wednesday's exercise can mask the harsh geography. The Canadian Rangers are there to help the participants with the lay of the land.

Master Corporal Hezakiah Oshutapik with the Canadian Rangers has also been assigned to protect the participants from polar bears.

"We are the eyes and ears of the north, so we are responsible for  safekeeping the environment and wildlife," Oshutapik said.

Operation Nanook officially concludes Sept. 19, but most of the 800 people involved — including 650 military personnel and 150 government and emergency workers — return home this weekend.


  • The original version of this story said Op Nanook included a scenario involving a hostage situation on board a cruise ship. In fact, the scenario involved a chemical leak.
    Aug 28, 2014 7:56 AM CT