Book documents life at Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert

Alert

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer

Author Glenn Carley, 62, can relate to being isolated in one location for an extended period.

Forty years ago, he spent two summers at Canadian Forces Station Alert, working on an environment cleanup team.

The remote signals and intercept station is located on the northwestern tip of Ellesmere Island. In 1978, the site had accumulated its share of rubbish since its establishment in the 1950s; it was the students’ job to mitigate the impact military presence had on the environment.

Those two summers influenced his development and decades later he felt compelled to write about it.

Last month he released a non-fiction book documenting his experiences working in a place he describes as “an artefact of Canadiana.”

Good Enough From Here, published by Rock Mills press, traces the journey of Carley and his all-male civilian workforce, who travelled from Trenton, Ont. to their temporary home in the high Arctic.

“It’s really a bird’s eye view of military culture during the cold war from a civilian’s perspective,” says Carley. “I wrote it for everyone who has lived and worked there and were nicknamed The Frozen Chosen.”

Isolation only lasted three months for the students, but military members had to endure more than six months of polar climate, complete snow cover for most of the year, polar nights when the evening lasts for more than 24 hours, and midnight sun where the sun is visible at midnight.

Even during the brighter summer months some students – or tourists as they were nicknamed – couldn’t tolerate feeling cut-off from the rest of
the world.

“One student worker couldn’t hack that isolation. He essentially had a homesick heart and was airlifted to his home in the south for his own wellbeing. He wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt that way.”

Carley writes of the human experience living in a small, remote community, of their relationship with the landscape and expansive wilderness, and of young men coming of age.

“It’s about the relationships among companions, father figures, military culture…a quirky environmental tale of the transformation of an irreverent society of youthful Frozen Chosen into a primitive state of young manhood.”

Living in an endless landscape of permafrost and tundra, vacant of colour, had them yearning for natural pigment other than white. Besides the army green parkas and orange Quonset buildings, everything else was in monochrome, says Carley.

“Colour stimulates the mind. We were so starved for it that we went out for hikes, searching the landscape for any kind of colourful wildflower,” he said. “We would occasionally see a scattering of tiny yellow flowers or a patch of purple saxifrage.”

Carley oversaw a two-person team assigned with painting and beautifying Alert. They painted all the steel Quonset (hut) buildings a near-florescent bright orange.

When he asked his sergeant, who oversaw them, if a hut could use another coat of paint, the response given stuck with him.

“‘It looks good enough from here,’ he said to me, and that phrase reminded me of something my father said about tedious tasks required at his work with the military. The idea is to lighten up, that everything you do in life isn’t a Renoir masterpiece.”

That phrase became the title of his book.

It has garnered praise from Major (Retired) Scott Munn. He says it hits home as authentic.

“It resonated with my experience at Alert and while visiting other northern radar sites and construction camps,” said Munn. “I invite military readers, all those who served at Alert, their families, and all those who have heard about Alert or are interested in one young man’s northern adventure to read this book.”

Good Enough From Here is available through major book retailers and wholesalers across Canada and through Amazon.ca