Science in Canada’s North


The Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research was first awarded in 2012. This Prize honours an individual who has devoted their career to northern environmental research. Since 2007, the Foundation has committed more than $35 million towards science and research in the north, a region integral to our identity as Canadians.

Dr. Wayne Pollard (2019)

Dr. Wayne Pollard is a Professor in the Department of Geography at McGill University. He has
dedicated more than 40 years to studying permafrost and what flows underground in Canada’s high Arctic. His discoveries, particularly on ground ice and groundwater interaction with permafrost, have led to numerous innovations in Northern research and enriched our understanding of climate change.

One of Dr. Pollard’s greatest achievements is being the first to systematically study the phenomena of perennial springs in high Arctic polar deserts – a breakthrough that revealed not only that liquid water can flow freely in environments with below freezing temperatures but that the process contributes to a series of unique geomorphic processes. The high concentration of salt in these perennial springs keeps the water from freezing as it travels up through permafrost to the surface, creating unusual ice and mineral formations and salt pockets, signaling active water underground. This discovery led to a partnership with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA to aid in the search for water, and potentially life, on other planets with extremely cold climates including Mars, the Earth’s moon and Enceladus – Saturn’s sixth largest moon.

Dr. Pollard’s research also details the implications of melting ground ice in permafrost due to climate change. His application of geomorphology, the study of physical features of the earth’s land surfaces, explains that when ice in permafrost thaws, the land can slip down and collapse impacting northern communities. In fact, earlier this year, Dr. Pollard and colleagues from McGill University published a study of almost 30 years of aerial surveys and ground-mapping of the Eureka Sound Lowlands in Nunavut. Findings revealed that the unstable, changing terrain has created horseshoe-shaped features called retrogressive thaw slumps.

Beyond his groundbreaking research, Dr. Pollard has made significant contributions to the technological advancement of geophysical tools in the field. He has pioneered uses of new and noninvasive technologies to address complex problems relating to permafrost in high Arctic communities.

Dr. Pollard’s commendable work also includes furthering scientific education where his fieldwork is conducted. He has organized numerous science camps in Nunavut to share field learnings with Inuit students, promoting science in high schools. In 2008, Dr. Pollard helped prepare and lead Spaceward Bound, a NASA-CSA education and outreach project that developed curriculum materials on space exploration, astrobiology and planetary analogs with Inuit high school teachers. Guided by his experience in the North, he has also developed and taught a northern specific science course for Inuit teachers through the McGill Office for First Nations and Inuit Education’s Teaching Teachers Program.

He was most recently recognized through the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for his commitment and contributions to northern research.


Dr. Derek Muir (2018)

Dr. Derek Muir
Dr. Derek Muir is an internationally recognized Environmental Chemist who has dedicated more than 30 years to discovering, measuring and assessing chemical contaminants in the Arctic.

His groundbreaking work in the 1980s was a major contribution to our knowledge that pollutants from industrialized areas of the world travel thousands of kilometers north to settle in the Arctic, and his continued research over the decades has greatly broadened our understanding of the factors that fuel this phenomenon. His findings have altered global policy on chemicals, changing the way they are used, exported and eliminated by industries and regulated by governments internationally to reduce contamination.

In Canada, his pioneering northern research has spawned new legislation and regulations to control toxic chemicals under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, helping to eliminate or drastically reduce the production and emissions of certain new industrial chemicals.

This has had a direct impact on the people who live in the Arctic. The Government of Nunavut issued an advisory to women of child bearing age to limit the consumption of ringed seal liver to protect them from elevated mercury exposure. Levels of toxins have decreased significantly in the environment and wildlife over the years because of national policy and international initiatives that were introduced based on evidence from his research.

Internationally, Dr. Muir’s research helped the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe develop protocols to manage long-range trans-boundary air pollutants and contributed to the development of the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty that aims to eliminate or restrict the use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Over the past 25 years he has co-led four assessments on POPs under the international Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program – an Arctic Council Working Group. This initiative provides reliable data and counsel to support Arctic governments in their efforts to promote sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

It’s not only the quality of his research that sets Dr. Muir apart. He is an exemplary role model in the scientific community, regularly collaborating with researchers from various disciplines to better understand the impact of chemicals on the North and actively engaging northern community members. Additionally, his hours of guidance and support of over 25 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers has created a new wave of arctic scientists, ensuring critical research will continue.

Dr. Muir runs a world-class program at Environment and Climate Change Canada and holds adjunct professorships at various Canadian institutions including the University of Guelph, University of Toronto, and University of Toronto Scarborough.

He was most recently recognized through the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for his commitment and contributions to northern research.

Dr. Michel Allard (2017)

Dr. Michel AllardDr. Michel Allard is a Professor in the Department of Geography at Laval University. He has been researching permafrost in Nunavik, northern Quebec’s Arctic region, for almost four decades. His work has brought important new insights into understanding the dynamics of permafrost and the impact of climate change on the Arctic environment.

Dr. Allard’s career shows a lifetime of dedication to northern science and a commitment to applying his research and expertise to urgent environmental concerns of northerners. He first got involved in applied permafrost research through his work at the Nunavik Airport construction program, led by the Government of Québec. The outcomes of this research were integral to community safety and the long term viability of the Airport. He now continues his collaboration with provincial, territorial and federal authorities to help develop adaptation measures and monitoring technologies for the maintenance of transportation infrastructure in Nunavik and Nunavut. His methods have been applied to assist communities across the Arctic due to the unique engineering challenges of the north.

Over his three decades of work, he has forged a trust with Inuit and First Nations, working with them to ensure results are communicated in a form that can be understood and applied. His attentiveness to their concerns has led him to develop practical solutions that contribute to their overall wellbeing and safety.

Dr. Allard has authored and co-authored over 130 papers in scientific journals and has written over 50 reports related to the impact of permafrost on communities and infrastructure. He has mentored over 120 students, inspiring the next generation of northern scientists with his passion for the Arctic and a respect for its people. He is also a member of advisory committees for Canada’s northern transportation and mining industries.

Dr. Allard is most recently recognized through The Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research for his commitment and contributions to northern research. He is a recipient of the Roger Brown Memorial Award from the Canadian Geotechnical Society for his contributions to permafrost science and engineering and in 2006, he received the Northern Science Award of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Canada. Dr. Allard is also among the first recipients of the Polar Medal, awarded to him in 2015 by the Governor General of Canada in recognition of his extraordinary services in Canada’s North.

Dr. John England (2016)

Dr. John EnglandDr. John England is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta. His scientific contributions result from 50 years of fieldwork across Canada’s Arctic Archipelago documenting the nature of environmental change, extending from the Ice Ages to modern day.

Dr. England has conducted research in some of the most remote locations in Canada’s North, where he and his graduate students have used a variety of natural records to reconstruct the nature of climate change long before the establishment of Arctic weather stations (ca. 1950).

These records serve to improve our understanding of the dramatic, modern changes impacting Arctic Canada by placing them in a necessary, long-term perspective and include the history of ancient ice sheets, lake and ocean sediment cores, sea ice and sea level, all gathered by lengthy field surveys. Throughout his career, Dr. England’s research was made possible by logistical support from the Polar Continental Shelf Program (Natural Resources Canada) and by research grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Dr. England is a passionate advocate for the value and importance of northern science and increased public awareness of the precious heritage of the Canadian Arctic. He was instrumental in the creation of Canada’s northernmost National Park, Quttinirpaaq, on northern Ellesmere Island and his understanding of the natural history of Arctic regions contributes to ongoing international scientific studies.

Dr. England has taken more than 100 students to the Arctic, and mentored 30 graduate students, many of whom continue prominent northern research careers. He has single-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed papers and co-authored many more with his extended research community. Dr. England continues to partner with Aurora College in Inuvik to provide training for Gwitch’in and Inuvialuit students.

Dr. England is most recently recognized through the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation for his commitment and contributions to northern research. He was awarded one of Canada’s inaugural Northern Research Chairs (NSERC, 2002-2012) and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2012. In 2013, he was presented with the W. A. Johnston Award, the highest honour of the Canadian Quaternary Association, and was named one of Canada’s 100 greatest explorers by the Canadian Geographic Society (2015).

In addition to his research, he has amassed intriguing stories of Arctic adventures and discoveries that offer an unsung Canadian heritage.

Dr. Ian Stirling (2015)

dr-sterling-ctaDr. Ian Stirling is a Canadian polar marine mammal scientist and a world-renowned authority on polar bears and polar ice-breeding seals whose work has led to a new era of ecological understanding of the Arctic.

He has worked with unfailing resolve for almost five decades, studying polar bears beginning in 1970 with the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada. There, he headed up the Polar Bear Project, one of the world’s finest research programs on the ecology of polar bears. His research on the variation in population of polar bears and ringed seals and their relation to the condition of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea was published in 1999 and has become a benchmark against which current studies are designed, implemented, and compared.

When Dr. Stirling started his research on polar bears in Canada, the conventional wisdom was that long-lived marine mammals, like polar bears, were immune from environmental factors and were only affected by human activities. Over the years, he proved this long-time belief wrong, by showing how human activities and natural causes both impact the survival of marine mammals. He is also known for his collaborative efforts with both native and non-native constituent groups, and for incorporating traditional knowledge in creating sustainable and practical management protocols of polar bears in Canada and throughout the Arctic.

From 1970 to 2007, Dr. Stirling was a Research Scientist with Environment Canada and currently continues his work there as an Emeritus Scientist. Since 1979, he has also served as Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, where he invested time and resources mentoring graduate students, leaving a legacy of professionals who currently contribute to northern science in their own right.

Dr. Stirling is ranked by his colleagues as one of the best researchers in the field of marine mammal ecology. Over the last 50 years, he has authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific articles and published five non-technical books for the general public.

Dr. Charles Krebs (2014)

Charley berry plots 2 FritzDr. Charles Krebs, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, is one of the world’s preeminent field ecologists. Accolades for his work are numerous and include Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Norwegian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Australian Academy of Science and of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. He has also been awarded the President’s Medal from the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution and is an Honorary Professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Zoology.

A collaborator by nature, Dr. Krebs has also worked closely with Canada’s Territorial Governments, including a long-term monitoring program in the Yukon – the Community Ecological Monitoring Program. This is a freely available data source that all Canadians can access to monitor changes happening in this part of the North.

Dr. Krebs’ scientific contributions exemplify the world class nature and global reach of Canada’s northern researchers. He has published 14 books, including the textbook, Ecology: the Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance, which has been used by ecology instructors worldwide since 1972. With 282 publications to his name, 141 originating from his work in the Canadian North, the impact of Dr. Krebs work can be felt in research facilities around the world, including numerous governments, universities and non-government organizations.

Dr. Krebs is well known within academic circles for generosity, compassion and commitment. He is also known for his passion about Canada’s northern regions and as such is a strong advocate for ensuring that his students are able to experience the North first-hand. To date, he has had 22 postgraduate students (7 PhDs and 15 MScs) complete their degrees on northern research projects, nine of whom have employment related to northern work today (government, universities, non-government organizations).

Dr. John Smol (2013)

John-Smol-Hip-WadersJOHN P. SMOL, OC, PhD, FRSC is professor of biology (cross-appointed with the School of Environmental Studies) at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), where he also holds the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. Smol received a BSc from McGill University, an MSc from Brock University, and a PhD from Queen’s University. In addition he has three honorary doctorates: an LLD from St. Francis Xavier University, an honorary PhD from the University of Helsinki, and a DSc from the University of Waterloo. Smol founded and co-directs the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL), a group of over 30 students and other scientists dedicated to the study of long-term global environmental change, and especially as it relates to lake ecosystems. An ISI Highly Cited Researcher, Smol has authored over 450 journal publications and chapters since 1980, as well as completed 19 books. Much of his research deals with the impacts of climatic change, acidification, eutrophication, contaminant transport, and other environmental stressors. He has led research on circumpolar Arctic lakes for about three decades. Smol was the founding Editor of the international Journal of Paleolimnology (1987-2007) and is the current Editor of the journal Environmental Reviews.

Since 1990 he has been awarded over 45 research and teaching awards and fellowships, including the 2004 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal as Canada’s top scientist or engineer, and the Ontario Premier’s Discovery Award for Life Sciences and Medicine, the province’s highest academic award. He has won 10 teaching, mentoring and scientific outreach awards, including being named a 3M National Teaching Fellow, considered by many to be Canada’s highest teaching honour, and in December 2010 was named by Nature magazine, following a nation-wise search, to be Canada’s Top Mid-Career Scientific Mentor. In 2013, the Governor General of Canada named John an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Dr. Louis Fortier (2012)

louis_fortierTrained at Laval and McGill Universities and a NATO postdoctoral fellow, Louis Fortier holds the Canada Research Chair on the Response of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change at Université Laval. A specialist of zooplankton and fish, he has authored and co-authored over 90 scientific papers on subjects varying from carbon fluxes in the Arctic Ocean to policy in a changing Arctic. He headed the Regroupement stratégique Québec-Océan (formerly GIROQ) from 1996 to 2005. An indefatigable promoter of a multidisciplinary and cross-sector approach to the ecosystem-level concerns raised by the warming of the Arctic, Fortier has led the NOW (International North Water Polynya Study) and CASES (Canadian Arctic Shelf Exchange Study) NSERC Research Networks. He is the Project Leader for the CFI-funded Canadian Research Icebreaker Amundsen, and the Scientific Director of ArcticNet, a Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence that brings together specialists from 30 universities for the integrated study of the transformation of the coastal Canadian Arctic. With Warwick Vincent and Marcel Babin, he proposed recently the successful Canada Excellence Research Chair on the remote sensing of Canada’s new arctic frontier.

Dr. Fortier’s work focuses on the impacts of climate change on the Arctic. Collaboration and open dialogue on key arctic issues with numerous stakeholders including international academics, Inuit partners, the private sector, and policy makers. Together they have been able to explore, document, and synthesize the impacts of climate change and modernization on all aspects of the Arctic world, including the human dimension.

Dr. Serge Payette (2011)

serge_payetteDr. Payette found his passion for the north in 1966, after spending time in the arctic as a student. In 1969 he began lecturing at Université Laval, where he still remains as a professor and researcher at the University’s Centre d’Études Nordiques (CEN). His many contributions to Northern research include his work as director of the CEN for twelve years, his research on tree line dynamics and the response of Northern ecosystems to climatic disturbance, the training of multiple student Northern researchers, and numerous scientific publications. He has held one of the six prestigious NSERC Chairs for Northern research since 2003 —a nationwide acknowledgement of his scientific and personal achievements.

Dr. Payette has dedicated over 40 years of his life to Northern research and to teaching and mentoring young scientists. A total of 81 post-graduate students—22 doctorate, 9 post-doc and 50 masters— as well as hundreds of undergraduate students have all had the privilege of learning and experiencing the North in the “Payette School”. Many of these former students are now working as university-level research professors, specialists and professionals in Northern research.

To date, Dr. Payette has published over 170 articles in peer-reviewed journals, 14 book chapters and a number of research reports for a total of some 200 published papers. He established the international Écoscience/Ecoscience journal specializing in ecology now entering its 17th year of publication and held editorial positions on such journals as The Holocene,  Plant Ecology, and Plant Ecology and Diversity, an international journal sponsored by the Botanical Society of Scotland. His next publication will be a four-volume set, Flore du Québec Nordique, in collaboration with several botanist colleagues, which will be released in the next few years. This illustrated botanical and biogeographical treatise will be unique in its coverage of phytogeography and vascular plants north of the 54th parallel in Quebec and Labrador.