Polar Knowledge Canada: Interview with Jeannette Menzies

By Karen Everett
The Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). © Government of Canada

In this ‘Polar Matters’ interview, Karen Everett, Fellow at Polar Research and Policy Initiative, speaks to Jeannette Menzies, Director, Knowledge Management and Engagement, at Polar Knowledge Canada about the organisation and its role, plans and priorities, bilateral research programs and the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus. 

For those who are not familiar with Polar Knowledge Canada, or POLAR, can you tell us a little bit about the organisation and your role?

Polar Knowledge Canada, or POLAR, a new federal agency established in 2015, advances knowledge of the Canadian Arctic and strengthens Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. POLAR has a unique role to advance our collective understanding of polar environments by mobilising current knowledge produced by others, in a meaningful and accessible way, to address the gaps and concerns of Northern communities.

POLAR consists of:

  • A pan-northern science and technology program, which conducts and supports science and technology research and monitoring across Canada’s North
  • The world-class Canadian High Arctic Research Station campus in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
  • A knowledge management, engagement, and coordination function to support polar research.

Our headquarters will be in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station campus, where approximately 20 of our personnel are now based.

My own role, as Director of Knowledge Management and Engagement at Polar Knowledge Canada, is to lead a team based in both Cambridge Bay and Ottawa that works to:

  • Strengthen and coordinate partnerships and collaboration between researchers
  • Help ensure that research results inform policies and programs
  • Support the next generation of northern researchers.

What are POLAR’s priority areas for 2015-2020?

POLAR’s S&T priorities for the 2015-2020 period consist of:

  • Alternative and renewable energy for the North;
  • Baseline information to prepare for northern sustainability (involves environmental monitoring)
  • Predicting the impacts of changing ice, permafrost, and snow on shipping, infrastructure and communities;
  • Catalysing improved design, construction, and maintenance of northern built infrastructure.

Priorities for the next 5-year period, beginning in 2020-21, will be established by POLAR’s Board of Directors, with input through an open Call for Input and direct engagement with Northern partners and stakeholders. 

Evidence-based science and technology policy is vitally important to tackling the challenges that Arctic communities face in Canada. Science and technology, in concert with Indigenous and local knowledge, can help address the effects of climate change and other challenges.

The knowledge gained through scientific and technological research and training will support greater sustainable use of the Arctic’s land and natural resources.

The Canadian High Arctic Research Station campus, or CHARS, is set to officially open soon. Can you tell us about the type of research that will take place and how the scientists and researchers will collaborate with local Inuit?

The CHARS campus in Cambridge Bay will be a world-class innovative hub for science and technology in Canada’s North and a major node in the network of national and international research infrastructure across the circumpolar North.

The CHARS campus consists of a Main Research Building, a Field and Maintenance Building and triplex accommodation units that can accommodate up to 48 visiting researchers. The research campus will provide a broad range of services, including a technology development centre, mechanical and electrical workshops, a knowledge-sharing centre, and advanced laboratories. The CHARS campus will have office and laboratory space to host visitors. POLAR staff can provide general logistical support as well as equipment for scientists going into the field and working in the research labs.

The CHARS campus will help Polar Knowledge Canada strengthen the network of research infrastructure and research activity across the North and promote the application of scientific research and results to address multidisciplinary issues. It will be a very rich environment for creating the new knowledge that’s needed in the rapidly changing Arctic- to address the issues that Northerners have identified as important.

Here are some examples of the kind of POLAR-supported research that has been undertaken so far based in Cambridge Bay:

  • Baseline studies and monitoring programs in tundra, lake, stream and marine ecosystems
  • Aerial surveys of snow and sea ice
  • Oceanographic exploration to provide a baseline description of geochemistry, biology and physical oceanography
  • Migration studies of Arctic char, an important food source and part of the local economy, in cooperation with local experts.

POLAR operates the CHARS campus year-round, giving researchers a permanent place to conduct their research and foster ongoing connections to Indigenous partners, communities, and other Arctic partners.

The results of the research affects Northerners directly, and when more Indigenous people are engaged in research, knowledge of the Arctic will benefit. POLAR fosters an environment where more Northerners are involved in research at all levels, asking the questions, developing and doing research projects, collaborating with scientists from around the world — and finding the answers they need.

Canada is participating in research exchange programs with Finland, Sweden, Denmark and now Iceland. What are the goals and expected outcomes of these exchanges?

1) The Canada-Sweden, Canada-Denmark and Canada-Iceland Arctic research station exchange programs are intended to encourage a circumpolar research perspective.

These three programs are designed to strengthen future Canadian-Swedish, Canadian-Danish and Canadian-Icelandic Arctic research links through:

  • sharing of field methods and research knowledge
  • introduction to the other country’s research community and priorities
  • advancing further bilateral research collaboration
  • expanding collaboration network
  • creation of a channel for bilateral exchange of best practices
  • potential exchange of technical personnel and managers at the research stations

2) The Canada-Finland Bioenergy Researcher Exchange Program is designed to enhance science and technology knowledge, and strengthen Canadian-Finnish research links by:

  • sharing of field methods and research knowledge
  • introduction to the other country’s research community and priorities
  • advancing further bilateral bioenergy research collaboration and networks
  • creating a channel for bilateral exchange of best practices

How does Polar Knowledge Canada strive to make research findings accessible to both Northerners and the Canadian population at large?

Good relations are crucial to successful operations in the North: respect, and good two-way communication are fundamentally important. Polar Knowledge Canada, or POLAR, makes its own research findings available through various methods including public meetings, posters, local media, social media, and informal conversations. Listening, finding out what local research priorities are, and getting feedback are all part of this. POLAR is constantly working to refine and expand its communications in this regard

POLAR requires the research projects it funds to share their results with the communities in which they work, and encourages:

  • respectful incorporation of both science and Indigenous Knowledge (IK) in project design and implementation;
  • leadership and involvement of Northerners, including communities and Indigenous peoples; and
  • integration of training and capacity building at the local or community-level.

POLAR communicates relevant news, events, opportunities, and research to the Canadian public and polar research community via its website, social media and the Polar Blog, which is a partnership with Canadian Geographic Magazine.

POLAR’s involvement is not limited to the Arctic alone, it also includes the Antarctic. Can you tell us about POLAR’s Antarctic initiatives?

POLAR serves as Canada’s adhering body to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which initiates, develops and coordinates high quality international scientific research in the Antarctic region. POLAR is the national contact point and an Observer to the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). Polar Knowledge Canada also serves on the Canadian delegation for Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM), in which Canada is a Non-Consultative Party.

POLAR is exploring opportunities to develop a Canadian Antarctic Research Program.

The work of Polar Knowledge Canada and the development of the new Arctic Policy Framework is suggestive of increased and more informed engagements with the Polar Regions. Do you see this continuing in the future, and what are the key issues that need to be addressed to promote greater cohesion between state and society?

Yes, I see increased and more informed engagements. The Polar Regions – the Arctic and the Antarctic – are on research and policy radars around the world because they play a critical role in the global environment, both as barometers of change and drivers of change. A major distinction between the two is, of course, that, unlike Antarctica, people live in the Arctic, and have for millennia. It is a place not only of rapid environmental change, but also of social, economic and geopolitical change. In order to support resilient Northern communities, government institutions need to collaborate with and be receptive to and supportive of solutions proposed by communities, each of which has the best knowledge of the issues it faces and the potential solutions. That is the underlying principle behind POLAR’s engagement with northern communities, and of the Arctic Policy Framework that the Government of Canada is in the process of co-developing with territorial, provincial and Indigenous partners. Our Northern partners have made it clear that they need to be more involved in the research that is happening in the Arctic, a position that Polar Knowledge Canada supports.


Karen Everett is a Fellow at Polar Research and Policy Initiative and is based in Peterborough, Ontario (Canada). She is also a PhD candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University and holds a Master’s degree from Ryerson University. Her research examines security in the Canadian North, including emerging regional border management issues. Additionally, she explores how securitisation theory and the principles of multi-level governance can contribute to the policy making process. Karen has presented her research at national and international conferences.
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