What the north means to northerners

From the Blue Metropolis/Metropole Bleu Festival in Montreal, Paul Kennedy discusses the 'idea of north' with writers from Quebec's Inuit North, Denmark and Norway. They compare and contrast the north as they know it, and how they express that through their writing.
Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is seen in a NASA Operation IceBridge survey picture taken March 25, 2014. (CP Images/NASA)
Listen to the full episode53:59

Just over fifty years ago, when Canada was celebrating the Centennial of Confederation, and IDEAS was just three years old, we commissioned a young classical pianist named Glenn Gould to research and produce a documentary called The Idea of North. Gould himself described it as "contrapuntal radio".

At a recent international writers festival in Montreal called Blue Metropolis/Metropole Bleu, Paul Kennedy discussed 'the idea of north' with a poet from Denmark, a  journalist adventurer from Norway, and an Inuit political activist from Northern Quebec. Everybody agreed, almost from the outset, that nobody wanted talk about Glenn Gould! But there was no shortage of other things to talk about…

The 'idea of north' Blue Metropolis Festival panelists

Paul Kennedy with Morten Stroksnes, Zebedee Nungak, and Ulrikka S. Gernes. (Dionne Codrington/CBC)

I think it would be a huge challenge, and very interesting for someone like me to go into the world of the north. On the one hand, I can romanticize about it. It would be nice to be alone, for once, and to be really alone, but I wouldn't survive. The idea of wandering into the wilderness, to search my own soul and meet my own thoughts and write poetry would only last for 24 hours. 
– Ulrikka S. Gernes

Ulrikka S. Gernes was born in Sweden, of Danish parents, and chose to move to Copenhagen at age 22, when she was already an established poet . Since then, she has published more than ten collections of widely-acclaimed poetry, one of which — Frayed Opus for String and Wind Instruments — was a finalist for the 2016 Griffin International Poetry Prize.​

My great-grandfather was born prior to 1870. He was born when the geographical area he was living in was called Rupert's Land, from 1670, by King Charles II. He lived from 1870 in Rupert's Land, then all of a sudden he became a citizen of the Northwest Territories, in the new Dominion of Canada. He was that particular colonial jurisdiction's citizen for 42 years. Then one day —  April 1, 1912, to be exact — he became a citizen of the Province of Quebec. So my great-grandfather went through three different jurisdictions and citizenships in his own lifetime, without ever having moved anywhere, and without any of these acts being explained, or sent as notices to him. My idea of north is coloured by that. – Zebedee Nungak

Writer, broadcaster and outspoken defender of the Inuktitut language, Zebedee Nungak is one of the founding fathers of  Nunavik. He lives in Kangirsuk, where he has been intensely involved in the creation and evolution of the democratic Indigenous self-government in Northern Quebec. His latest book is Wrestling with Colonialism on Steroids.

A famous Norwegian poet has said, "Norway is such a long country, and most of it is north". In an essay I wrote a few years back, I wrote that southerners think we will be flattered when they say this to us. But for me it is completely the opposite. I tried to explain that, yes — it is a long country, but most of it is actually in the south. You see it differently if you look at it from the north, rather than from the south. – Morten Stroksnes

Morten Stroksnes is an historian, journalist, photographer and writer from Norway.  His work has been widely published in every major Norwegian periodical. He's also well known for a number of books, the latest of which has been translated into English as Shark Drunk: The art of Catching a Large Shark from a Dinghy in a Big Ocean. It was named one of the best books of 2017 by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Listen to Glenn Gould's 1967 documentary The Idea of North

**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.



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