Contribution from Louis-Marie Beaulieu, FCA, C. Dir., Chairman of the Board and CEO and majority shareholder of Groupe Desgagnés Inc.

It’s a picture-perfect landscape: ice-filled waters, rugged white-crested northern coastlines, a pristine environment with abundant wildlife like polar bears, whales, walruses, caribou and seals, along with a native population who are proud of their northern heritage, traditions and way of life, but who are eager to share a smile and extend a welcoming hand to visitors. This is the bounty that Desgagnés has the honour to serve.

As a pioneer and leader in Arctic shipping, Desgagnés is pleased to participate in this special Canadian Arctic edition of Canadian Sailings magazine.

The Arctic region is arousing increasing global interest. It’s not only the awe-inspiring iridescent blue of the glaciers that is attracting countries the world over, but the multitude of resources and potential economic prosperity that the Arctic has to offer.  It is a region of beauty, a region of great possibilities, but also a region of extreme challenges. Besides Canada, nations such as Russia, China, Finland, Norway, Denmark and the United States, amongst others, are all vying for a piece of the North. These nations are willing to challenge the severe temperatures, unpredictable storms and unforgiving seas in order to harness this unique landscape and its resources.

For Canada, its obligation is to protect as well as to enrich and enhance both the social and economic prosperity of our North and its peoples. This responsibility must be shared by government and industry leaders. For Desgagnés, our record largely speaks for itself. As a marine transportation leader with the largest fleet of Canadian-flagged vessels serving the Eastern Arctic for the past forty years, we treasure our proud reputation of safe, reliable and environmentally-responsible shipping practices.  In fact, today Desgagnés services over 38 Inuit communities in Nunavik and Nunavut with a wide variety of goods, from nutritious food, medicine and clothing, to prefabricated houses, building materials, to bulk fuel and heavy machinery and equipment. In addition, Desgagnés also resupplies numerous mines, whether they be in production or still at the early stage of exploring, drilling and sampling, and regularly carry equipment to military radar sites across the Canadian Arctic, used in the decontamination program for these sites. Our Ice Class 1A vessels are specially designed for navigation through Arctic conditions, and the expertise of our experienced crew ensures secure and efficient transport services in regions without port facilities. Overall, 45 destinations are serviced by Desgagnés throughout the Canadian Arctic.

In the coming years, Desgagnés’s continued research and procurement of innovative marine transportation technologies – that meet or exceed the highest Canadian and international standards – will ensure that the growing needs of the changing Arctic are met. Such needs, for example, are sure to arise through inevitable advances in scientific research. Such research will propel new resource developments in the Arctic, and in turn, not only the need for greater infrastructure and demands for supplies and materials, but also requirements for the most efficient, safest and environmentally friendly ships.

Of course, another variable contributing to the changing Arctic is our changing climate. In recent years, the Arctic has experienced the warmest weather on record.  Ice cover is thinner and sea ice is thawing earlier, consequently opening shipping lanes for longer navigation seasons. As such, in 2008, Desgagnés was the first maritime shipping company to navigate westward in the Northwest Passage to resupply Inuit communities located in the Central and Western Arctic, with its cargo being loaded at ports on the St. Lawrence River. Since then, Desgagnés has continued to increase its presence in the Western Canadian Arctic, including resupplying a gold mine.

Changes in the Arctic climate may also have a future impact on the ice roads currently used in winter for shipping goods to Northern communities. New research reported in the journal Nature suggests that by mid-century, nearly 400,000 square kilometres of Canadian territory may no longer be accessible to create these roads. If this does occur, communities in the North will become ever more dependent on shipping to supply much-needed goods and services. Our full-service supply vessels are capable of transporting the wide variety of goods to meet all Arctic needs now and in the future.

To meet all the northern challenges, Desgagnés believes in partnerships and in the associations with the various Northern communities. 

In that manner, Desgagnés, who provides sealift services in communities of the 5 regions of Nunavut, works in partnership with Arctic Co-operatives Limited (ACL), an organization comprising 19,000 members, with co-op stores in the great majority of Nunavut communities.

Likewise, Desgagnés, through its services in Nunavik, is also in partnership with the Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ), which owns co-op stores in all 14 Nunavik communities and boasts more than 7,500 Inuit members, thus representing the near totality of Inuit adults in Nunavik.

The Arctic holds much promise. But it also presents its share of challenges. Regardless of the promise or the challenge, Desgagnés remains ready at the helm, poised to greet the changes that lay ahead with professionalism and expertise. We will continue working with the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut, the Inuit communities and partners, and industry colleagues towards growth and prosperity for the Arctic and its peoples. Desgagnés recognizes the importance of the Inuit communities and their involvement in order to ensure success in meeting the challenges of the Arctic.