Research Motivation

Below is the preamble I wrote for my PhD thesis. It describes what continues to inspire my interest and passion for the circumpolar north and the research I do.

What led me to my research?

My father, Ken de la Barre, was the Canadian Director of the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) throughout most of my childhood (1965-1975). Because of his position, and because of my mother’s love of entertaining, our supper table was often honoured with the company of northern scholars and modern-day Arctic explorers. These gaggles of lovers of all things “North” would sit for hours, often drinking (too much) wine (or scotch), and telling tales that expressed both their love and respect for northern places.

In concert with these suppertime theatrics, I was witness to my father’s travels in the Arctic. It seemed he was always off on an icebreaker, or being flown into a remote research station, or otherwise departing for some circumpolar destination. Trinkets would be brought back that reflected the nature of life in a northern world: Sámi-made mittens, moose scat and bead necklaces, big (BIG) bugs that were found in glaciers and then set in glass casings. In the 1970s, my father was required to spend summers at the AINA’s Kluane Lake Research Station on the shores of that lake in what is now Kluane National Park. My family would drive to Kluane Lake from Montreal in April, and return in September.

In 1981, I began my career as a “bush cook.” I cooked in remote bush camp settings all over northern Canada, on and off and seasonally for two decades (13 seasons). The work brought me to remote wilderness areas – fly in only or road access – and proved a fruitful trade for me as it paid for much of my early university education. As a result, my love affair with the North is in part built on the experience of sipping coffee at 6:30 am on the steps of a wall-tent kitchen, while looking out onto the vastness of a deeply mythologized landscape; this after having flipped eggs for 15 to 30 gruff looking and hard working men (with few exceptions the use of “men” is accurate!).

Despite my early introduction to Canada’s north, it was not until 1991 – after completing a BA in Human Geography (University of Ottawa) and a Master’s in Environmental Studies (York University) – that I relocated my home-base permanently to the Yukon. Living in a small wood-heated-no-running-water cabin an hour from Whitehorse (for many, the quintessential introduction to living in the Yukon), I published and co-edited an arts and culture travel magazine for women called SHE travels: a magazine dedicated to women and travel, worked with a not-for-profit that provided support services to women, and cooked.

Needing a professional and personal challenge, I left the Yukon and Canada in 1997 and worked overseas for several years in southern Africa region. In Malawi, I coordinated a training institute that focused on the development and use of participatory methodologies for rural and peri-urban community mobilization agents. Following that, I designed, coordinated and co-facilitated World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) 6-week learning travel seminar on international development in Zimbabwe (1999). Twenty Canadian and 16 Zimbabwean students participated in that seminar, and despite my experience travelling and living in “developing” nations, it was a life-changing experience for me as well as for many of the students. Working on the seminar led to my appreciation for special interest travel and my awareness of the benefits it can potentially bring to host destinations, as well as to travellers. Upon my return to Canada, I managed WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP). Based in Ottawa, I travelled regularly to refugee camps and urban refugee-settlements in Benin, Ghana, Kenya and Pakistan.

Place-related considerations figure prominently in much of my personal and professional experience. Tourism and travel, “the North” and its many interpretations, communities, development, place-as-haven, place-as-hell, are all features that I have scrutinized and been inspired by at a personal level. One of my initial motivations for this study was a growing awareness of how the Yukon could be positioned to set an example for best practices where tourism development in remote areas is concerned. It has been one of my greatest privileges to examine these issues through my doctoral research and this dissertation.