Arctic scientist, Dr. John England, prepares the next generation for mindful exploration.
By Sarah Fox
Photography by Vicky Mittal
Dr. John England puts a pertinent spin on a budding national phrase: “We the North,” which started as a rally cry for Toronto Raptors fans.
In the good doctor’s case—who happens to be a life-long adventurer—the words hold a different meaning, one tied to the protection of the Arctic. When speaking of Canada’s most undiscovered territory, Dr. England is sentimental, describing it as a place to find “spaces of silence and emptiness suffused with solitude.” He elaborates with a thought that sounds as if it may have been lifted straight from one of his many Arctic adventure journals: “The intrinsic value and vital importance of the north, especially the Arctic, to the identity and uniqueness of Canada is important environmentally, culturally and economically… On a planet increasingly crowded, industrialized, urbanized, and lifestyles increasingly fragmented by endless daily distractions, duties and calamities, we must jealously safeguard the most sacred resource that we still have left.”
It’s clear Dr. England is passionate about preserving the country’s northern region—knowledge has made it so. Having led Arctic field studies for over 45 years, his list of accomplishments is long, spanning from an appointment to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as the Northern Research Chair and accolades from the likes of Canadian Geographic, which named him one of the country’s greatest explorers in 2015.
Lined up side-by-side, Dr. England’s successes illustrate the story of a trailblazer, pushing forward with a strong and healthy Canada in mind. One of the many characteristics that qualifies John as this trailblazer/national leader is a ferocious passion for his role as an educator. During his career, efforts to spread awareness and safeguard resources have been a central goal, actionized by inspiring others to do the same—including the next generation of Arctic scientists.
For John, teaching is a mutual transaction. “Education is far less about teaching facts and sharing knowledge as it is about inspiring others to get excited about the remarkableness of life!”
At the core of everything Dr. England does is life; because, although he has a specialized focus, his outlook encompasses a wider world scope. He understands that what affects Canada’s environment will ultimately affect humanity as a whole. He also recognizes the barriers that face individuals striving to make big change alone. As he suggests, “there is no possible fulfillment solely by and for oneself… the human race is one Mystical Body, and if anyone is in pain, we all share—in one way or another—in that same pain.”
A true believer in the power of generosity, Dr. England knows Canada will succeed in unifying citizens in the country and across the world by continuing to give those in need a helping hand. In his eyes, “What could be better than having a caring and compassionate Canada day-in, day-out?” Read on to learn how he would like to see our country do just that.
Why is “we” stronger than “me?”
“Me” is self-oriented and conspicuously inward-looking, enclosed. “We” carries something much more triumphant, acknowledging that we belong to something much larger and richer than ourselves: family, friends, community, and ultimately the entire global population. “Me” is exclusive, “We” is inclusive. The only true freedom belongs to “We” simply because until everyone is free and fulfilled, no one is truly free, nor can they be fulfilled.
What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?
I have been the grateful benefactor of countless generosities and many of the smallest have been as rewarding as what might be considered the largest. These actions have always been personal and spontaneous and often express the warmth, respect, and love that acknowledges something that I have accomplished and is especially meaningful at the core of my life…from family, friends, colleagues and even strangers. Again, what is most “Me” is recognized, affirmed and held in a sacred trust by the “We”. What has touched me most personally is the actual “caring” offered so generously from others— that is what inspires me to do the best in caring for others in the same way.
Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs [blank] in order to build a more caring and compassionate Canada.
Many people have aptly explained Canada as “an experiment” wherein we can have plurality and diversity and successfully show the world that this is possible through our tolerance and respect for one another. There is certainly truth in this view, though there are other countries with similar diversity that simply don’t share the harmony we enjoy because they lack the abundance of resources that bless our harmony. This doesn’t mean we don’t have our own injustices and inequalities. Clearly we do. But we have the incredible opportunity to move this social dynamic much farther, and we will do that through a real dedication to a generosity that acknowledges that Canada is this dynamic “We.” If we fall on harder times, that might even be an opportunity to recognize and share this generosity in a way the rest of the world hasn’t yet succeeded to do. And, what if that generosity raises our collective sense of unity and togetherness to an even loftier level than we have now? We have seen many times in our history, here and elsewhere on the globe, that times of suffering and calamity often bring people together and break down barriers that stood there overlooked and accepted during times of greater comfort and tranquility. Of course that doesn’t mean that we go out and look for difficulties that could be avoided, but we can have a greater sense of respect that the “generous We” can have peace during difficulties. You can’t put that on a flag, but you can instill that sense of generosity in our nation.
Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.
These are many, but amongst them: our connection with a vast expanse of nature that we are still fortunate to have; our tolerance, openness, caring, respect, humility, fairness; as well as the growing desire to be truly reconciled with our First Nations brothers and sisters that holds the promise of creating something very unique on this planet that we have not yet attained, but could offer to the world. This destiny may still be very dimly recognized, but we have the ingredients and I think Canadians can sense it on their best days. There is a beautiful quote that bears on this from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism from the 1960s, and I think it captures much of what I describe above and captures the unique ongoing potential of Canada: “Unity is not uniformity, but the harmonious association of diversity.” That is the mountain Canada has been blessed to climb; call it “Mount We.”
What’s one action you would like people to take in order to build a better country?
To live with ever greater generosity and respect for others, realizing that it is our diversity, and celebration of that diversity, that will make Canada increasingly more rewarding, successful and vibrant on the world stage.