Governor General David Johnston visited Whitehorse this week to award the new Polar Medal to 10 recipients, including two Yukoners.
Marianne Douglas, one of Canada’s most experienced Arctic field scientists, and Anne Morgan, executive director of the Recreation and Parks Association of Yukon, both received medals during the ceremony on Wednesday.
“For me this medal recognizes all those years of gathering data but it also recognizes all the rest of my fellow colleagues and my students who came to work with me,” Douglas told reporters after the ceremony.
Douglas has spent years studying how climate change is impacting lakes in the Canadian High Arctic, on Ellesmere and Baffin Island. She’s also done work on the retreat of Arctic glaciers.
“The value of long term data is really important,” she said. “You need to have natural variability to distinguish from change.”
Such research also helps Canadians understand how our own actions impact the environment, said Douglas. “We know the environment is changing, but now people are ready to make changes to their lifestyle,” she said.
Douglas moved to the Yukon in 2006, while often going to the University of Alberta for research purposes.
During her time there, she worked with the university to partner with Yukon College.
“We were trying to make a difference with the kind of access to education for northerners,” she said.
Yukon College now offers a degree of environmental and conservation science through the University of Alberta.
“People can stay in the North and get a university degree,” she said, adding she is looking forward to Yukon College’s eventual transformation into a full university.
The medal is honouring her work, but it didn’t feel like that Douglas said, smiling.
“It didn’t feel like hard work, it was a privilege: it’s such a fabulous place,” she said.
When the governor general’s office called to announce to her she had won the medal, Anne Morgan couldn’t believe it.
“I think I told them when they called from the governor general’s office, ‘Are you sure?’” she said after the ceremony.
“It brings back so many fond memories of all my years in rural communities in recreation, all this little small world,” she said.
She’s glad the value of recreation in the North is receiving recognition.
“It plants those seeds for what you’ll end up doing for the rest of their lives,” she said.
During the ceremony, the governor general described the rationale for creating such an award.
“The Polar Medal recognizes those who have brought about a greater understanding of Canada’s northern communities and their people,” he said.
The Polar Medal replaced the Northern Medal, created by his predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson.
“Fundamentally, Canada is a northern nation, stretching from sea to sea to sea,” he said.
“This vast part of our country, including the Canadian Arctic, is integral to our identity, our sovereignty, our global environment,” he said.
The medal was also awarded to Michel Allard, a Quebec researcher who studied the impact of melting permafrost; Gerald Kisoun for his work in Northwest Territories communities; Second Lt. Dorothy Tootoo, in charge of the cadet program in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut; John Geiger, Ryan Harris, Louie Kamookak, and Doug Stenton for their involvement in discovering John Franklin’s HMS Erebus; and Shelagh Grant, for her research in northern history.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at