Richard Weber named to Order of Canada for polar adventures

Polar adventurer Richard Weber has been named to the Order of Canada, for his feats of exploration and his efforts to increase awareness of environmental threats in the Arctic.

Weber honoured for 'pioneering acts of polar exploration'

Richard Weber has a string of impressive firsts when it comes to the North Pole. In 1986 he became the first Canadian to get there on foot. In 1989 he was the first to stand exactly at the Geographic North Pole (so his GPS read '90' North). In 1995 he and a companion were the first to make the trip there and back without support. In 2006 he was the first to go by snowshoe. (Richard Weber)

For most people, a trip to the North Pole would be a major once-in-a-lifetime achievement, remembered and dined out on for years. 

Canadian adventurer Richard Weber has been there seven times, more than anybody in history.

Weber, who lives near Ottawa, has just been named to the Order of Canada for his decades of pioneering work as an explorer, adventurer and advocate for Arctic research and preservation.

"It's a great honour, of course. It's really nice to be recognized," he said.

Besides his many trips to the North Pole, Weber has set up the non-profit Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, to promote and support beluga research at Cunningham Inlet on Nunavut's Somerset Island.

A series of firsts

Weber made his first trip to the North Pole 30 years ago, when he became the first person to do so on foot. 

"I had this opportunity, and I thought, 'wow, this is pretty cool," Weber said. "One thing kind of led to the other."

What followed over the next decades were a series of firsts — first to reach the Pole from both sides of the Arctic Ocean (1988); first to stand exactly at the Geographic North Pole (1989); first trip to the Pole with no outside help (1995); first expedition to the Pole using only snowshoes (2006). In 2010, he set a record by trekking to the Pole from Canada in just 41 days.

His most memorable trip was the 1995 expedition, with a Russian partner, Mikhail Malakhov. Nobody had successfully staged an unsupported trip to the Pole, and none has done it since.

"One hundred and twenty-two days entirely self-supported, and we just managed to do it. Personally, it was my greatest trek."
Weber said he's seen dramatic changes at the North Pole since his first visit in the 1980s. 'The weather's warmer, lousier, it's a different place. It's shocking.' (Richard Weber)

'A different place'

Weber's many trips to the Pole have given him a unique perspective on how that environment has changed in recent decades. His first visit was in 1986, and his final trip was in 2010.

Between his first and last trips, it became "a different place."

"The weather's warmer, the ice is thinner, there's much less multi-year ice," he said. "There's much more open water, huge expanses of open water that weren't there in the 1980s.

"It's shocking. It's completely shocking."

Weber has also noticed big changes at Arctic Watch, the resort he operates on Nunavut's Somerset Island.

"When we first went there, there were no biting insects. And the little cabins had mosquito netting, and I removed some of the mosquito netting. I said, 'this is ridiculous, what's this for?'"

This past summer, mosquitos were out in force.

"You don't get insects unless you change the climate," he said.

Weber was one of 69 people who received appointments to the Order of Canada last month.


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