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Expedition is a family affair
Robert Comeau will join parents and grandmother as Students on Ice participant

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Monday, July 27, 2015

It's all in the family for Robert Comeau, who will join his mother, stepfather and grandmother on this summer's Students on Ice (SOI) expedition from July 27 to Aug. 10.

NNSL photo/graphic

Robert Comeau of Iqaluit is one of more than 100 students taking part in this year's Students on Ice Arctic expedition, which will travel from Ottawa via Greenland to Pond Inlet and Resolute starting July 27. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

"Students on Ice has been part of my family for probably eight years now," Comeau said. "My stepdad (Trevor Taylor) has been to Antarctica three or four times, and to the North five times. My grandma (Ann Meekitjuk Hanson) has been, my brothers and stepbrothers have all been, so I figured, hey, 15th anniversary might be my kick at the can, and without Stantec, it wouldn't have been possible."

That's because Stantec awarded Comeau a scholarship to cover the trip's cost, listed on the Students on Ice website as $11,500 from Ottawa. The trip starts at Carleton University, where Comeau intends to enter his third year studying a double major in history and Canadian studies, with a minor in political science.

"They've only recently opened it up to university students," he said, noting his luck in qualifying. "There's going to be people from all over the world, so many different cultures and ethnicities that are coming together for this amazing expedition that happens on a boat in the middle of the Arctic."

More than 100 youth from Canada, U.S., Greenland, Malaysia, Norway, Rwanda, China, New Zealand, Italy, Denmark, Monaco, India, the United Kingdom, Japan, Taiwan, France, Russia and the Netherlands will fly from Ottawa to Greenland, where they will board MS Ocean Endeavour en route to Pond Inlet and hopefully Resolute.

Joining them on the trip will be former Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon, polar adventurers Eric McNair-Landry and Sarah McNair-Landry, and Pangnirtung artist Jolly Atagooyuk.

Comeau's stepfather, a former Newfoundland Fisheries minister, has worked aboard past expeditions as an educator and Zodiac driver.

"He's a fisherman by trade from Newfoundland, so he's been on a boat his whole life, and he looks forward to this trip all year round. It's cool to be able to look forward to it with him. My mom (Udloriak Hanson) just got her leave approved to come with us as well."

Brother Phillip Comeau and stepbrother Nicolas Taylor have also travelled with Students on Ice. Grandmother Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, former Commissioner of Nunavut, travelled as an SOI educator in 2008.

"She really enjoyed it. That was another big indicator, you know, that if my grandma enjoyed it that much, then I'm going to enjoy it as well. I think it's going to be really intellectually stimulating, and I'm going to walk away with some really good friends and some good projects," Comeau said.

A Stantec spokesperson explained why the company is supporting Comeau.

"The Arctic is home to Robert and he is passionate about solidifying his connection to the land," stated Stantec's Chris Reynolds, national discipline lead for Aboriginal Partnerships, in an e-mail. "His passion for history and his desire to learn more about his culture made him a great choice (for the scholarship)."

Comeau will have to start preparing scholarship applications if he is to achieve his next goal, to join SOI on an Antarctic expedition. The next expedition is planned for December 2016.

"Antarctica is something I want to set my sights on. That is a desire and a dream, but I've always been told to take one step at a time. I really got lucky with this scholarship," he said.

After finishing his bachelor's degree, Comeau plans to return to Iqaluit, where he will work and pursue a graduate degree by distance learning, he said.

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