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News & opinion

26 OCT 2018

Team reenacts surveyor’s journey in Arctic Canada

As a boy, David Reid was an avid collector of stories by famous explorers. He would listen to them recount their tales of adventure upon their return from faraway lands. Reid is now an explorer in his own right and he has made it his mission to inspire others to embark on their own adventures.

RICS is sponsoring his Arctic Return expedition to Northern Canada to follow in the footsteps of the surveyor who mapped the final section of the Northwest Passage. And he’s sharing the details of his arctic journey from planning to execution with anyone with a spark of curiosity. His central message is a simple one: unplug and get outside.

Reid recently came to Toronto where he gave a presentation to RICS with the nuts and bolts of planning an expedition to the Arctic. He’s planning a historical reenactment of John Rae’s man-powered journey across 650 km to survey the final stretch of the Northwest passage. For RICS, this is an opportunity to bring awareness to how surveyors throughout history have impacted the built environment and to help raise awareness of John Rae’s work.

“This is an exciting event because we’re holding it in Toronto where John Rae trained as a surveyor,” said John Hughes, President RICS. Aside from a detailed presentation, the team brought along some gear for attendees to try on including full snowsuits and a sled.

In famous footsteps

RICS and explorer David Reid are teaming up for an ambitious 40-day expedition retracing the route taken by the famous Arctic surveyor John Rae.

In the early 1800s, the race was on to find a new shipping route from Europe to Asia and many ships got trapped in the ice trying to navigate the distance. John Rae was an explorer who was skilled in navigating the Arctic, learning from the local experts and living off the land. The Hudson’s Bay Company instructed him to train as a surveyor and use these new skills to map the remainder of the passage on foot.

While completing the task, John Rae found Sir John Franklin’s lost 1845 expedition and learned that the crews of the two ships had resorted to cannibalism in their final days stuck in the sea ice. Reporting these facts cost Rae dearly – he was ostracized by a society that did not want to believe such claims.

Now, despite his accomplishments, John Rae is relatively unknown. Whenever he is mentioned in historical documents or sites, his success is overshadowed by a reference to his discovery of Franklin’s ships and the crew’s demise.

Building awareness

“When embarking upon a project, it’s important to remember why we’re doing it,” said Reid to a crowd of curious professionals. “I feel that John Rae, as a surveyor and explorer, should stand on his own two feet.”

Reid is determined to give John Rae his due recognition and to reinforce the value of telling the truth – even if it comes with a high cost. This is a message he’s bringing to kids – by including an educational component and documenting his journey. Reid has engaged Garry Tutte, an award-winning filmmaker from Toronto with experience filming in extreme conditions to join the expedition.

Arctic Return launch event

Explorer David Reid outlines the expedition and showcases equipment at a launch event in Toronto attended by RICS President John Hughes.

Training is crucial

In Toronto, Reid and Tutte gave a presentation explaining how such an adventure is planned. The team is doing physical training by pulling tires on dirt roads every day for a couple hours. It mimics the physical strain of pulling two sleds weighing around 200 lbs – something the four-person crew will be doing for 20 km a day on skis for 40 days.

Aside from this physical training, mental training is also necessary. “We know going in that the vast majority of the time, we’ll have a head wind,” explained Reid saying it is important to expect and accept the cold before the trip. “You process that mentally - we know that going in. That’s part of the mental preparation.”

And like John Rae, the team is taking its cues from the people who know the region best. “It’s very important to invest the time and sit down with the elders, hunters and trappers and to pick their brains in the nicest possible way.”

Once in a lifetime

It’s not enough to plan the trip and make the journey, their goal is to bring awareness to John Rae and his work, inspire people to get outside and teach children the value of speaking the truth. This involves building a legacy through the film and possibly a book.

Tutte has been tasked with documenting the trip and editing it into an educational and inspirational film. But even while on route, the team will be sharing their daily travels on a blog, social media and through interaction with classrooms.

The Arctic Return team is very passionate about inspiring the next generation to leave their screens behind and enjoy spending time outside – but this isn’t just a message for kids. Reid stresses that unplugging is something we should all do more frequently.

At RICS, we’ll continue to watch Reid’s plans and wish him a safe journey. Learn more about the Arctic Return on the website where you can find maps and team biographies.

Want to learn more about surveying?

Follow (less literally) in John Rae’s footsteps by training as a surveyor.

  • Amie Silverwood, writer and media relations, RICS