Weather Stations in the Canadian North and Sovereignty


  • Gordon W. Smith


A network of weather stations was established in the Canadian North during World War II, mainly by the United States, to supplement the thin scattering of Canadian stations that were already there. These weather stations were for the most part set up not specifically as projects in their own right, but rather as supportive elements in connection with the large enterprises in both the Northeast and Northwest which held the spotlight at that time. Thus, in the Northeast the weather stations were established mainly as adjuncts to the air routes designed to facilitate the delivery of planes to the European theatre of war. In the Northwest, they were similarly designed to help in the flying of planes to the U.S.S.R. and they were also considered to be essential supplements to the huge projects which were being carried to completion in that area. During the later stages of the war, and following it, the United States embarked on a massive withdrawal from these northern projects, and almost complete American abandonment of the weather stations took place as part of this general withdrawal. After only a short interval, however, the Cold War was looming on the horizon; and the United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, began to fret once again about the safety and security of their northern regions. Partly because of this growing sense of danger, but also for economic, scientific, and technical reasons not directly related to the Cold War, there was a revival and expansion of activity in the North. As had been the case during the war, the United States was the chief instigator and principal participant in most of this activity. A major feature of it was the further development of the existing system of meteorological services, which involved both the reactivation of abandoned stations and the establishment of new ones, as well as extension to regions not previously covered. By far the most sensitive new region, in relation to both the Cold War and Canadian-American relations, was the remote, most northerly part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Author Biography

Gordon W. Smith

Gordon W. Smith, Ph.D. (1918-2000) dedicated much of his life to researching Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. A historian by training, his 1952 dissertation from Columbia University on “The Historical and Legal Background of Canada’s Arctic Claims” remains a foundational work on the topic, as does his 1966 chapter “Sovereignty in the North: The Canadian Aspect of an International Problem” in R.St.J. Macdonald’s The Arctic Frontier. This article is derived from his unpublished manuscript, A Historical and Legal Study of Sovereignty in the Canadian North and Related Law of the Sea Problems, which was written over three decades and remained incomplete at the time of his death in October 2000. Consisting of 1600 typewritten pages (and approximately 3000 handwritten pages), this document is a treasure trove of meticulous research, rich in subtle analysis and insight. Part A, from which this article is drawn, is concerned with terrestrial sovereignty and contains 50 chapters in eight volumes. Part B deals with the law of the sea and Canadian Arctic sovereignty and contains 15 chapters in three volumes. All of the material is thoroughly and intricately footnoted, making his manuscript an invaluable base for further research into the history of Canadian sovereignty over its Arctic inheritance. I am currently working with Professor Armand de Mestral, Dr. Smith’s literary executors, and the Department of Foreign Affairs to identify which sections (drawn from classified material) of this monumental study must remain closed. Our hope is to make the remainder available to scholars of Canadian and Northern history in the near future. As Arctic sovereignty and security issues return to the forefront of public debate, this invaluable resource will serve as a comprehensive foundation upon which to expand our understanding of how Canada’s claims have evolved since the original transfers of the northern territories in 1870 and 1880.