As I write this, the Google Maps team is bundled up and treading the streets of Iqaluit, Nunavut, wearing new backpack-mounted Street View cameras called Trekkers. They’re amassing thousands of seamless images that will allow anyone with a computer and an internet connection to virtually walk through Canada’s most northern capital in winter (and stay warm doing it).
Before the Google crew left Ottawa for Iqaluit’s icebound hills, however, they hiked over to Parliament Hill’s West Block to meet with Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who also took the opportunity to try on the 18-kilogram camera system — in heels, no less. Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister of Health, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and chair of the international Arctic Council, grew up in Nunavut (then still the Northwest Territories), so Google’s efforts in the North hit close to home.
“We lived off the land on Thom Bay (on the Boothia Peninsula),” she said of her early childhood. She also described seeing buildings with electricity for the first time and hearing the unfamiliar drone of generators after moving to the hamlet of Taloyoak in the 1970s.
Yet the roads of Taloyoak or even Iqaluit would feel almost as alien to the vast majority of Canadians, which is why Google has committed to taking Street View into Canada’s northern communities — and to getting every street name, address, landmark and geographical feature right, with lots of help from locals and municipalities. “This is about bringing Canada’s North to the world,” said Jacob Glick, Senior Policy Counsel at Google in Ottawa.
Aglukkaq has seen these mappers in action before. She and Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, last August when the Google team was Street View mapping the hamlet of 1,500 by pedalling gravel roads on a camera-equipped tricycle — the first Nunavut stop of Google’s ambitious Arctic project.
Glick explained to Minister Aglukkaq that the long term plan is to leave a Trekker in the hands of Cambridge Bay resident and mapping expert Chris Kalluk, who was a catalyst for Google’s trip to Cambridge Bay in the first place and has rejoined the team to capture Iqaluit. Kalluk will continue to take the cameras “as far as he can go” across the North, granting viewers interactive, panoramic access to more and more of these isolated communities and Canada's magnificent natural beauty.
“Part of the vision is to make this project scalable, make it repeatable, and make it so that communities can really take ownership of their maps,” Glick said.