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Google goes to end of the Earth in new Street View of Ellesmere Island

It's official. Google Street View has now gone to the ends of the Earth.
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It's official. Google Street View has now gone to the ends of the Earth.

As part of a deal with Parks Canada, the internet giant is now showcasing Street View images of one of the remotest places on the planet — Quttinirpaaq National Park on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

"We want people to care about the places that we protect," said Emma Upton, who manages the park. "Bringing it into people's homes seemed a really good idea.

"It is a difficult place to reach."

That is an understatement. Only a tiny sliver at Greenland's apex reaches further north.

To reach Quttinirpaaq (pronounced kih-TURN-ih-pak), you first fly to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. Your next flight takes you to Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Then you must hire a Twin Otter to fly to the park, where there are no communities, no services, no nothing. 

It takes days and thousands of dollars. Fewer than 25 souls manage it each year.

For those intrepid travellers, however, the rewards are rich.

"It's a place where we can still find true solitude and we can still experience real silence," said Upton. "You can hike for days and you will not see a single jet flying over you. You will hear the wind in your ears and a few birds and the water rushing."

Mountains, glaciers clinging to their sides, soar thousands of metres from icy seas. Rivers carve through rugged valleys past gentle hills.

"I could read the landscape like an open book," said Upton.

Wildlife includes herds of muskox, Arctic fox, wolves and 10-kilogram Arctic hares. Gyrfalcons and owls slice the skies.  

Parks Canada staff were trained in the use of Google trekker cameras and spent July 2016 carrying them around the park as part of their regular work, said Upton.

"The camera itself is a very sturdy piece of equipment. It can be mounted on Ski-Doos, ATVs, on boats. In the case of a lot of our visits to national parks, it was actually a person carrying the Google trekker on their back."

Parks Canada is trying to make Quttinirpaaq a little more accessible. Once a year, the agency charters a Twin Otter from Resolute and sells eight or nine return seats to the public, price available upon request. Or you could volunteer to cook for park staff.

Most people will have to rely on a high-definition monitor for the view and their imagination for the light, the wind, the silence.

"It's quite special to me that we still have places in the world that we can have that," said Upton.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press



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