By K. Joseph Spears
As we consider the need for collaboration in Arctic governance we should not forget Canada’s long-standing past of engaging with the Inuit in the management and governance of the region. A solid foundation was laid by some amazing Canadians. One such individual is Stuart Hodgson O.C. who passed away on December 18, 2015 in Vancouver at the age of 91.
Stuart had an amazing career as an antiaircraft gunner in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II downing a Luftwaffe Junkers aircraft off Northern Norway, and experience on the heavily fought Murmansk Arctic convoy run. This arguably triggered a lifelong interest in the Arctic.
Stuart was appointed as Deputy Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in 1963 by then Prime Minister Mike Pearson. When Stuart, a former labour organizer, questioned his lack of experience in government the Prime Minister quipped “that is exactly why I am appointing you to this position”.
Within months of his appointment as Commissioner, he developed a fledgling civil service, and created the foundation for devolution towards independent governance of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In September 1967 he moved his 30 employees from Ottawa to the new capital of Yellowknife, a small, isolated mining town on the north shore of Great Slave Lake. Houses had yet to be built and offices were in a dilapidated, condemned school.
Stuart became Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in 1967 and remained in that position until 1979. He was affectionately known by the Inuit as Umingmak (Musk-Ox), a big warm, friendly, generous, wise and protective presence. Stuart made a point of visiting every community in the North on a yearly basis and listening to the concerns of residents. Often these meetings would go on late into the night.
Through Stuart’s efforts, the Northwest Territories, Canada’s Arctic, was placed on the international map and he frequently hosted British Royalty and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. There is no doubt that Canada’s present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s deep interest in the Arctic was influenced by Stuart Hodgson’s in his visits to the North with his father, Pierre. Canada can learn much by reflecting on the life and achievements of Stuart Hodgson, a great Canadian and visionary and ground-breaking Arctic pioneer and elder.