A Haines Junction resident has been appointed to Canada’s highest honour recognizing his contributions as an explorer, photographer and geologist.
Michael Schmidt was one of a select few Canadians named as a member of the Order of Canada in December. His Order of Canada citation states that he is being recognized for “his contributions to northern science and knowledge in the fields of geology and geodesy, as a geophysicist, photographer and explorer.”
Speaking to the News in the first few days of 2023, Schmidt recounted some of the work that earned him the nomination. After moving from Denmark to Canada as a child, his first look at the north was while working for the Canadian Geodetic Survey as a student.
He said his interest in the north’s geography, people and history came to fruition with these early work assignments and a variety of other projects in the coming years.
One of the standouts was roughly six years of work on a research platform in the Arctic Ocean. Schmidt said the research platform was actually a chunk of ice shelf 24 square kilometres in size that broke free from the northern shore of Ellesmere Island in the 1980s. When various government agencies worked to set up a research station on the free-floating chunk of ice, it was hoped that it would float around the Arctic Ocean acting as a moving base for research that could be accessed by air.
“Unfortunately because of what we’re seeing now with climate change and warming and that sort of thing, it ended up flowing into and through the arctic islands, not around the Arctic Ocean as we had anticipated,” Schmidt said.
During the seasons he spent on the ice shelf, he worked on research and scientific monitoring but also on tasks like building ice runways and overseeing the complicated logistics that allow for life in the high arctic.
Schmidt’s most significant work in the Yukon was as part of a 1992 Royal Canadian Geographical Society expedition that’s goal was a more accurate measurement of the height of Mount Logan. He proposed an expedition that would use GPS technology that was state of the art at the time in an effort to get a more accurate measurement of Canada’s highest peak. Schmidt and his team climbed the mountain through May and June 1992 taking GPS readings and collecting information for other science projects as they went.
Prior to the GPS readings, Schmidt explained there had been a variety of heights presented for Mount Logan over the years from land-based surveys dating back to the 1890s to one done with a predecessor to the GPS system. He said the height arrived at by a survey of the Alaska/Canada border that put the mountain at approximately 6,050 metres above sea level was often repeated, but the evidence pointed against that height.
Schmidt’s expedition arrived at a height of 5,959 metres at Mount Logan’s summit with a three-metre margin for error. That figure has stood the test of time with a summer 2021 expedition chronicled by Canadian Geographic Magazine that used a modern GPS measurement marking the height within 20 centimetres of the measurement taken in 1992 once updated sea level information and other variables were taken into effect.
“I was actually very surprised and pleased to look at what we did back then and what they’ve just done now, and that is to come up with, in essence, the same value statistically,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt has lived in Haines Junction since 2016. He had returned to the area to do other work involving tectonics and the measurement of mountains several times in the years between his Mount Logan expedition and his permanent move to the village on the edge of Kluane National Park where he lives with his wife Marguerite Richard.
He was surprised and humbled to be recognized as an Order of Canada recipient.
“It’s exciting and I keep telling people it’s humbling,” Schmidt said.
“You kind of beat around your whole life doing your own thing and then one day you wake up to something like this and it’s overwhelming. It’s stunning, I’m thrilled.”
Schmidt said a presentation ceremony will be scheduled with Mary Simon, Canada’s Governor General, and he looks forward to meeting her. He has also had a chance to cast his eyes over the December 2022 list of Order of Canada appointees or previous members of the order which is more than 90 names long. Although the list contains such household names as actor Eugene Levy and NHL Star Sidney Crosby, Schmidt was especially surprised to see the name Andreas Laupacis. Laupacis was a year ahead at the same high school Schmidt attended and has since made contributions to the medical field in Canada and around the world. Schmidt was able to exchange a few emails with his former classmate and hopes to catch up more in the future.
“I know there are a lot of other people in Canada who are equally well-qualified to receive this award. And I just feel very, very lucky that the nomination was successful. And I can use that to go forward and see what else we can accomplish and do and have fun with,” Schmidt said.
“And so to be here in the Yukon, I guess in some ways representing Yukon, but I haven’t been here that long as this feels very special.”
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com