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Once upon a time in Labrador

By Michelle Osmond

Writing a children’s book is not something Dr. Derek Wilton had ever imagined he’d do during his career. But that’s exactly what the professor in Memorial University’s Department of Earth Sciences and assistant director (research) for the Labrador Institute is doing.

He, along with Martha MacDonald, program coordinator with the Labrador Institute, and Linda Nuotio-Flynn, manager of the Labrador West Office of the Labrador Institute, received $47,000 from the Communications and Training component of the International Polar Year (IPY) program. They’re working on a book for school-aged children that explores two views on the formation of Labrador.

Formation of Labrador: Two Windows on the Planet tells the story of the creation of the polar regions through the world of geology and traditional aboriginal folklore, with an emphasis on Labrador.

Dr. Wilton says he’s visited high schools in Labrador to talk about science before, but has never been involved in a project like this one. He likes the idea of linking traditional stories with modern science, especially for children who live in the region.

“It's the embodiment of what we should be doing as university personnel—researching and educating, but more precisely, making people think,” he said. “Finally, as much as we cloak our work in jargon, fancy measurements, and obtuse and detailed calculations, we scientists are ultimately just telling stories.”

Desmond Sellars is an intermediate program specialist with the Labrador School Board. He thinks the book is a great idea.

“Anything that can show science for the human endeavour it is and exposes its knowledge and understanding, even alternate viewpoints, can only serve to open minds and create critical thinkers,” said Mr. Sellars. “A win-win scenario.”
He added that literacy is taken very seriously in Labrador.

“I believe that the more you give children messages in story form, the more they take away from the experience.”

The book will bring together the two aspects of Labrador life, traditional knowledge and mining, giving equal value to the perceptions of creation as seen by western science and aboriginal experts. The authors are also hoping the project will ignite interest in geology with northern students and, hopefully, make it a career option for them.

Formation of Labrador: Two Windows on the Planet is expected to be published next year. A team of students is already recording Inuit creation stories for the book, which will be illustrated by an Inuit artist.

The Government of Canada allocated $5.2 million to fund communications and training and outreach projects, as part of its IPY program. A diverse range of applicants from across Canada was chosen to carry out creative and innovative projects that will become part of the program, helping to raise awareness about the Canadian Arctic and its peoples, promote IPY and polar science and research, and foster greater understanding of the importance of the polar regions.