Canada’s geography dictated our history, so we developed world-class skills in transport and communication. Early development involved knowing and understanding the resource base of our nation. Likewise, Canada's future progress must rely upon precisely this kind of knowledge.
Prior to European incursion, aboriginal people were primarily hunter-gatherers whose intimate knowledge of the resource potential of plants and animals was passed on through the oral tradition. They traveled far and wide, as maps they drew for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) illustrate. For example, within two years of the HBC establishing the trading post at Churchill, aboriginal groups arrived from the Mackenzie Delta after traveling around the coast. They returned in the same year.
We keep hearing that humans are altering the world in negative, "unnatural" ways. This charge assumes humans are not natural, that they are not part of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. (Ironically, people who fully support Darwin’s theory are usually the ones who make the charge...) Humans making change is a perfectly natural occurance, but extremists argue that it is not. They constantly point to natural changes and claim such changes are in fact unnatural -- and caused by humans. Goethe provided the obvious answer: “The unnatural -- that too is natural.”
Regardless, if the goal is to determine the extent of human impact on our surroundings, then it is necessary to know what conditions were like prior to human input. A determination is difficult, because although there are vast areas with very few humans, there are virtually none where we have a description of that landscape from even one hundred years ago.
In other words, we don’t know how much or rapidly landscapes change without humans present, because there is no baseline for measurement.
In many areas such as Europe and Southeast Asia or eastern China, the landscape is so altered you can only determine the major features of mountains and plains. It is the difference between what German geographers called the Landschaft (the natural landscape) and the Kulturschaft (the human landscape).
However, Canada has a unique perspective on these matters, thanks to efforts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. From the moment they landed, HBC employees were describing, measuring, mapping, and drawing, and all this data is stored in the HBC archives in Winnipeg. There are some 16,000 maps alone. Figure 1 shows a detail of the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg:
This archived material provides the best opportunity anywhere in the world to determine the natural landscape of a very large portion of the earth’s surface (that is, at least two-thirds of Canada) prior to human intervention.
There are other opportunities to determine the extent of human-caused change: The HBC archives also house 250,000 photographs, going back to the late 19th century. HBC officers, like British military officers, were trained in basic artistry in order to create pre-photography records of their travels. As a result, they created hundreds of drawings and paintings.
Others, like Paul Kane, traveled from Toronto to the west coast in the 1840s, painting the landscape as he went. His stated objective was to provide a visual record so people in 100 and 200 years time could see the difference. John Palliser (1857) led a scientific expedition that provides invaluable information. William Hind (1862) made a trip similar to Kane's.
Water, rail and air provided access to most of the country and honed our transport and communication skills. The canoe and kayak are good examples of Canada’s ability to develop vehicles suited to the country’s conditions. The Canadian Pacific and Canadian National are among the best railway companies in the world, especially dealing with operating in extreme climates and from mountains to prairies. The Canadian Pacific railway archives in Montreal are another enormous potential source of pre-settlement landscapes.
Likewise, aircraft specifically designed for Canadian conditions have also been developed. Canada builds the best bush planes in the world, and to its credit, the military fly some of them. They need more.
A PARAMILITARY FORCE
We do not need an armed force, in the sense of fighter aircraft, large guns or fighting ships like destroyers. In fact, we do not need a traditional army, navy or air force. Who is going to attack us? A country that might attack will certainly have far greater forces than we can repel.
We need an adequately armed paramilitary force that would include the Coast Guard, as well as a greatly expanded transport command that includes the following aircraft:
We should also add the CL215 -- among the best water bombers in the world, and essential to conserve our forests. It can also be used to haul water in regions of drought:
One of the several problems with the current British North America Act is distribution of powers involving the forests.
They are considered a resource, which puts them under provincial jurisdiction, which in turns makes forest fire fighting a provincial responsibility as well. However, the costs are such that only a couple of provinces can afford to maintain an adequate fleet.
Clearly, forest fire fighting is a function for a paramilitary force, especially since two of our provinces are in fact federally controlled territories; the Yukon and the Northwest Territories cover 1,657,446 km2. This area makes them the equivalent of the 17th largest country in the world. (Nunavut is not included for these purposes because it is beyond the tree line.)
They say an army marches on its belly, and indeed, nothing is more important than the supply lines. Our role in support of our allies must be to provide logistical support and communications, and we need equipment that can provide that in all terrains. (That equipment is described in Part Two of this series.)
We need to develop a drone program appropriate to our tasks. For example, drones can cover vast territory for search and rescue, safely and at reduced cost. We especially need a large drone for water bombing, to eliminate the need for risky manned flight during that particular activity.
One example of a Canadian role at home and overseas is the delivery of fresh water. It doesn’t matter what the disaster is; ironically, even a flood, potable water is always desperately needed. We can store water in large quantities that can then be flown or shipped around the country or the world as required.
We could even dig covered trenches in the permafrost near Churchill and store tons of food frozen without any energy costs, ready for delivery wherever needed. Ben Berck, formerly at the Federal Department of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, did research on this years ago. Churchill is ideal because of its over the pole access to Europe and Asia, and the very long runways that were built there during the Cold War.
We do not need antisubmarine aircraft. Nuclear submarines are virtually undetectable, and there is nothing we can do to stop them moving through our waters, so why bother? What we do need is an expanded Coast Guard that can interdict the smuggling of drugs and people. It should increase its ice breaking capacity, however, because the colder weather conditions expected in the next 40 years will make access in the north even more challenging.
We must fully integrate the aboriginal community into the plan of data collection, research, and conservation. They have the knowledge and awareness of the land necessary for protecting Canada’s heritage. Who would make better conservation officers than the indigenous people of a region?
We should consider conscripting all young Canadians into the paramilitary force at age 18, to serve a year outside of their home province participating in projects such as: tree planting, habitat restoration, data collection, research projects, public education, field trips for schools and the public, assisting public and private research projects, interviewing and recording seniors' history of their region, building historic records of changing land use and ownership of a region, and assisting museums in extending their collections.
Unless there is a severe medical restriction, all young people should serve. We need to get away from the bizarre mentality of a traditional military that you select your fittest and most healthy to go out and die. It is not difficult to create positions and opportunities for all. A year of gaining perspective on themselves and their country would be repaid by better decisions about post-secondary education and career plans.
In short, Canada requires a different defense than most other countries.
It must define "defense" not just in the military sense but also as defending our environment. Canadians developed skills in transport and communications in response to our vast, diverse and sometimes difficult geography.
A paramilitary force with equipment suitable to those demands can allow us to fulfill commitments to military alliances by providing transport and communications. It will also be the basis of a qualified force to measure, understand, and preserve our vast, valuable legacy.
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