One student’s northern research adventure

For two weeks in August, York student Andrea Griffiths had a rare and “thrilling” opportunity for study: she travelled with 19 other northern researchers by bus up the Alaska Highway from Prince George, BC, to Dawson City, Yukon, and then up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik in the Northern Territories.

Right: Andrea Griffiths at the headwaters of the Pigeon River in North Carolina before her Arctic trek

Along the way, they stopped at Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Dawson City and other settlements along the route to talk to government officials, aboriginal and community leaders.

Griffiths was one of only two master’s-level students invited to join this annual summer research trip organized by the Circumpolar Arctic Social Science (CASS) PhD Network, part of the University of the Arctic’s field school.

Right: Griffiths’s fellow travellers

This group of scholars meets each year to explore issues of social, economic and cultural change in northern communities, choosing a different theme and a different northern country each year. The York environmental student’s research fit neatly with this summer’s study theme – to examine a variety of modes of industrialization, in the historic context of “boom-and-bust,” by drawing on the experiences of both old and new developments in mining, hydrocarbons and pipelines. Griffiths is interested in gender impacts of current patterns of mining development in the North. She is especially interested in how companies assess gender at the environmental impact assessment stage.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for me personally and academically,” Griffiths said. “It immensely furthered my research, and I was able to present a paper to the CASS group on the theoretical and methodological aspects of my research.”

From Aug. 14 to 28, Griffiths travelled with 15 other, mostly PhD, students – five from Canada, eight from Europe and two from the United States – plus four faculty members. They camped in tents for much of the trip and took turns preparing meals and cleaning up the camp sites.

“Life in a tent along the Alaska Highway is truly something to experience,” Griffiths recalls. “It was thrilling to see caribou, bears, spectacular scenery, and the northern lights.”

Circumpolar research is enjoying a small boom, thanks to increasing attention by governments and scholars to the community of peoples who live around the Arctic Circle.

Left: A spectacular northern sky along the way

As Griffiths was travelling in the north, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson was preparing for her state visit, which began last month, to northern communities in Russia, Finland and Iceland – a tangible expression of Canada’s desire to develop stronger connections with other lands within the Arctic Circle.

To help defray the costs of her research trip, Griffiths received a $1,334 grant from the Northern Scientific Training Program of the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which funds research in the north. Major support for this year’s CASS program was provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa and the University of Northern British Columbia.

As a follow-up to her CASS trip, Andrea will outline her research methodologies and present preliminary results of her research at a Northern Studies Symposium to be held at York University in November.

For more information about the field school, visit, and for photos of the 2003 field trip, visit

Submitted by Maxwell Brem, external relations director, Faculty of Environmental Studies