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A Frontier and Homeland

For the week of Monday, June 5, 2017

On June 6, 1977, the House of Commons addressed the Canadian energy industry’s reaction to the findings of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry (the Berger Inquiry), chaired by the Hon. Justice Thomas R. Berger.

Following the discovery of natural gas deposits near Inuvik, Northwest Territories (NWT), in the 1970s, Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd. proposed an overland pipeline to carry this resource to Canadian and American markets. The route would have run from the Prudhoe oil fields in Alaska, through the Mackenzie Delta, NWT, to Alberta. A smaller association, Foothills Pipeline Ltd., proposed an alternative, all-Canadian route from the Mackenzie Delta to Alberta and another option that followed the Alaska Highway.

The biggest concern with the Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd. proposal, was a section running through the delicate ecosystem of northern Yukon, including the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd (one of the last great caribou herds in North America)
Fritz Mueller © Parks Canada

Between 1974 and 1977, the Berger Inquiry investigated the possible social and environmental impacts of a pipeline. Hearings in 35 communities in the Mackenzie Delta and 10 other Canadian cities provided a forum for testimony from local residents, industry experts and lawyers, as well as the concerned public. Witnesses were allowed to testify in their language of choice and the CBC broadcast the proceedings nightly, across the North, in six different languages. The result was the most comprehensive and inclusive investigation of its kind.

In its report, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, the Berger Inquiry recommended a 10-year hold on pipeline construction, to allow for further environmental assessment and technological development. It also recommended that this period be used to address Indigenous Peoples’ land claims. Since then, four regional land claims have been settled, and negotiations continue in two other regions. Construction of a pipeline along the Alaska Highway route – which the Berger Inquiry recommended as a safer route – began in 1978. However, it remains unfinished and the industry has begun to explore routes outside of Canada. A crude oil pipeline running from Norman Wells, Northwest Territories to Zama, Alberta was commissioned on the southern portion of the Mackenzie Valley corridor in 1985.

The Alaska Highway is a designated national historic event. To learn more about Canada’s North, read Re-establishing Self-Government, Alaska Highway: A Major Achievement, and Working together for big results: Expanding the Nahanni National Park Reserve in the This Week in History archives. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Berger report.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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