Quttinirpaaq National Park may not have streets, but it’s now included in Google Street View’s extensive digital mapping library.
“We are always looking to improve our maps to reflect the vast geography of Canada and to create a digital map to connect Canadians,” stated Google Canada’s spokesperson Alexandra Hunnings Klein via email.
Quttinirpaaq, which means ‘top of the world’ in Inuktitut, is a vast expanse between the North Pole (approximately 800 km to the north) and the communities of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord (more than 700 km to the south), located at the northernmost tip of Ellesmere Island.
The park’s manager Emma Upton said she waved the Quttinirpaaq flag when she learned the existing partnership between Parks Canada and Google was ending in 2016.
“I went, jumping up and down, and said ‘I really think the Trekker should come to the top of the world if it’s the last year. This is our opportunity.’ I really wanted to make it happen,” said Upton.
Each of Nunavut’s national parks – and there are four others: Auyuittuq, Qausuittuq, Sirmilik and Ukkusiksalik – are co-managed by Inuit and government by committee.
“We always consult with the joint park management committee. In the spring-time, before we were moving forward with this project, I had a meeting with the members. We got their input on whether there were concerns and suggestions,” said Upton, who has worked as park manager since 2014.
“We were on the same page in terms of what we thought would be the best bang for our buck.”
Even Inuit don’t really make their way there these days.
“Quttinirpaaq is so far removed geographically from Grise Fiord and Resolute that there are virtually no Inuit using the area,” said Upton.
“The area was inhabited through various ways of human habitation that date back over 5000 years, but the last was about 800 years ago that people were actually living on the land.”
But exactly because few Inuit actually have the opportunity to go, the footage captured by the Google Trekker was taken to the two partner communities.
“And the communities had the chance to have the Google Trekker in their communities. So the Trekker went to Resolute and Grise Fiord and people were very excited about it.”
At 37,775 square km, Quttinirpaaq is second only to Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles Alberta and the Northwest Territories, in vastness.
Upton figures they only managed to capture a fraction of it.
“Maybe we covered 300 square kilometres,” she said. “The objective was to capture imagery of the areas where people are most interested in and most likely to be able to visit. We focused on the Air Force Loop. It’s a (140 km) hike that people can do starting and ending at Tanquary Fiord.”
The team also covered some of the ground by helicopter.
Eric Laflamme is one of a handful of Parks Canada staff trained in using and troubleshooting the heavy and awkward 360-degree Google camera. Upton’s job was to lead Laflamme safely over the rough and uneven landscape, and make sure people were not captured in the shot.
“Some years we have over 150 to 200 people coming to the park, but there are lots of researchers. Then there are the military folk that are in Alert and they use the park for exercises. There’s the odd cruise ship. But in terms of real tourists, this year we had 25 to 30,” said Upton, adding some years maybe three people visit.
“It fluctuates, but it is more than most people would think.”
Upton said expenses were pooled from different Parks Canada budgets.
“We collaborate with the Polar Continental Shelf based out of Resolute for our aircraft support and obtained helicopter time from them,” she said.
“The cost for bringing the Google Trekker to the communities of Resolute and Grise Fiord and to the park would have been about $50,000, including personnel.”
The Google camera has also been to Auyuittuq park.
“Parks Canada is currently committed to an ongoing collaboration with our proud partner, Google, until 2020,” said Nunavut Field Unit’s Phil McComiskey.
“We’re currently discussing with Google how we might work together to showcase other National Parks in Nunavut and share these special places with Canadians through Street View.”