extraterres McGill

What are the Indigenous lands upon which McGill University is situated? 

Kanien’kehá:ka Territory: Downtown and Macdonald Campuses, Island of Montreal

Anishinabeg Territory: Campus Outaouais, Gatineau, Quebec

Abenaki Territory: Gault Nature Reserve on Mount Saint Hillaire, Quebec

Naskapi and Innu Territory: McGill Sub-Arctic Research Station in Schefferville, Quebec

Inuit Territory: McGill Artic Research Station on Grise Fiord Inuit-owned land, Nunavut

Taino (Arawak) and Kalinago (Carib) Territory: McGill Tropical Bellaires Research Station, Barbados

McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) | Institut nordique du Québec


The McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) is located at the head of Expedition Fiord on west side of Axel Heiberg Island. MARS was established in 1960 and it is one of the oldest university operated field stations in the Canadian Arctic. Initially created to conduct research on climate, glaciology, geology, geomorphology and biology, data from MARS has helped establish the scientific baseline for Canada’s polar region. Its current mission is to provide baseline data for the early detection of climate change in the north, to characterize unique polar ecosystems and their susceptibility of environmental change, and to provide opportunities for student training and research. The current research emphasis is in the fields of glaciology, geology, climatology, hydrology, geocryology, microbiology, astrobiology, remote sensing, geophysics and analogue studies.

Services offered

  1. The station consists of 2 outpost camps roughtly 8 km apart: the original MARS research station at Colour Lake, and a Candian Space Agency (CSA) sponsored MARS analogue research station (MARS-CARN). Both camps include a combination of permanent heated all season buldings and unheated weatherhaven structures;
  2. There is a decidated laboratory space but in house equipment is limited. Research projects usually are self-equipped;
  3. Dormitory/Sleeping facilities: 10 main cabin (heated), 4 Weatherhaven (heated), 2 unheated Alaskan Structure;
  4. Dining/Kitchen facilities: 2 Full kitchens (MARS and MARS-CAN), with propane stoves, freezers and refrigerators. Dining capacity 12 persons in MARS and 8 MARS-CARN;
  5. Telephone (Vonage VoIP), Satellite phone, HF & VHF, Internet, Computer, 2 snowmobiles and 4 ATVs. Power for both camps is from a combination of solar/wind and several generators.


The McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS)

Established in 1960, the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) is one of the longest-operating seasonal field research facilities in the High Arctic. The station is located 8km inland at Expedition Fjord, Nunavut, on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian High Arctic, and consists of a small research hut, a cook house and two temporary structures.

Le Nord du Canada détient possiblement des indices sur la présence d’eau (et de vie!) sur Mars

Wayne Pollard, un professeur de géographie à l’Université McGill, est au bord de la source très saline de Lost Hammer Spring, sur l’île Axel Heiberg au Nunavut. (Photo : Dale Andersen)

On convient généralement que si le mercure baisse suffisamment, l’eau gèle. Mais dans le nord du Nunavut, la nature n’observe pas cette convention. Wayne Pollard, professeur de géographie à l’Université McGill (Montréal), étudie les sources d’eau froide de l’Île Axel Heiberg (Nunavut) où l’eau coule dans le sol gelé et s’accumule dans des bassins qui normalement ne renferment que de la glace.

Les sources ne gèlent jamais, car leur grande salinité abaisse considérablement le point de congélation. Selon Pollard, leur minéralogie singulière pourrait nous aider à élucider un mystère martien : y a-t-il de l’eau sur la planète rouge?

Affichant une température annuelle moyenne d’environ -50 C et des températures extrêmes pouvant atteindre -153 C, Mars est une planète froide. Toutefois, certains résultats suggèrent que Mars était jadis plus chaude et plus humide — un peu comme les régions polaires de la Terre aujourd’hui. Dans la dernière année, le rover Curiosity de la NASA a confirmé certaines hypothèses scientifiques, comme la présence de gypse, un vestige minéral de l’assèchement d’un plan d’eau — peut-être un ancien océan.

Basé à la McGill Arctic Research Station (abrégée avec à-propos MARS), Pollard explore l’hiver arctique pendant des jours pour recueillir des données à des températures qui font geler une tente de nylon jusqu’au point de rupture.

Grâce à des données plus spécifiques (comme celles sur le gypse), Pollard peut explorer plus à fond le fonctionnement des sources et examiner de possibles similarités avec les conditions martiennes. Par exemple, les sources hébergent certains microorganismes appelés extrêmophiles et des études complémentaires pourraient fournir des indices sur la présence de vie (passée, en dormance ou actuelle) sur Mars.

Toutefois, comme dans le cas de l’activité souterraine de ces sources nordiques, il demeure encore beaucoup de mystères. Les recherches de Pollard sont là pour lever le voile.

Bellairs Research Institute – McGill University

The Bellairs Research Institute was founded in 1954, following the donation by Commander Carlyon Bellairs of his estate to McGill University. Additional research space was soon needed to support the projects being undertaken at Bellairs. The following address was given by F. Cyril James (Principal of McGill from 1939 to 1962) on the occasion of the opening of the first new building constructed on the site.

Opening of new building of the Bellairs Research Institute

by F. Cyril James
Barbados, January 8th, 1960

Your Excellency, Mr. Prime Minister, Ladies & Gentlemen

It had been our hope that Sir Grantley Adams, who has been deeply interested in the work of this Institute since its creation, would have been here this morning to perform the task that I am undertaking. His illness has made that impossible, and I am sure that all of you will share my hope that his recovery from that illness may be both rapid and complete.

Since Sir Grantley cannot be here I am happy, particularly on this occasion, to be his deputy. Half a dozen years have passed since I received, in Montreal, a curiously interesting letter from a man I had never met and did not know. The signature was Carlyon Bellairs; the address Sandacres.

Commander Bellairs, in the letter, said that he was anxious to develop closer relations with Canada and eager that his estate, after his death, should be used in a way that would promote such relations for the benefit of the island of Barbados. It was all rather vague but the letter concluded by suggesting that, since his health made it impossible for him to come to Montreal, he would like me to come to Barbados to discuss the matter.

A few weeks later I was able to accept that invitation and spent several interesting days at Sandacres, discussing with the Commander his dreams. He was convinced that scientific research would strengthen the economy of Barbados and enhance the welfare of its people. He wanted McGill University to undertake the task of carrying out such research, and he would like to leave his estate to McGill as trustee for the discharge of that responsibility. He was anxious, moreover, that the work should start while he was still alive, and asked whether McGill could at once send a young scientist to Barbados.

The proposal was placed before the Board of Governors on my return to Montreal, and it was unanimously decided that McGill should accept the challenge. Dr. John Lewis, an outstanding young biologist, and his charming wife came to Barbados in September, 1954, and took up residence with Commander Bellairs at Sandacres, where a small laboratory and aquarium were installed. The studies of the life history of the sea-urchin, which is an important food in Barbados were begun immediately and were destined to lay the foundation for rational planning of the sea-egg fishery. The studies of flying fish soon followed and the dream of Carlyon Bellairs began to take on the shape of reality. I like to think that the closing years of his life were made happier by the presence of the Lewis’s and by his interest in the research programme.

In 1955, when Commander Bellairs died, he left his estate to McGill University, as trustee for the implementation of the projects that we had discussed, and directed that the Bellairs Research Institute should be created as a memorial to the charming wife who had pre-deceased him.

In the implementation of the terms of that will, three man rendered invaluable assistance and I should like to take advantage of this occasion to express the official thanks of McGill University, as well as my own personal appreciation. Sir Grantley Adams, who was then Premier of Barbados, expressed in several conversations his enthusiasm for the ideas of Commander Bellairs, and assured us that his Government would do all that it could to facilitate the creation, and subsequent research activities, of the Bellairs Research Institute. Mr. E.M. Shilstone, with whose distinguished services to Barbados you are all familiar, undertook without cost to the Institute, all of the legal work connected with the settlement of the estate and the incorporation of the Institute. He was unanimously elected its first President; as a humble Vice President I am happy that he still holds that office today. He has indeed been, at all times, a “very present help in time of troubles” and I am happy that he is here today to preside over these ceremonies. The third man is Mr. Herbert Ince, a Barbadian who was at that time Manager of the Royal Bank of Canada in Bridgetown. His time and his financial knowledge, as well as the facilities of the Bank, were generously placed at our disposal and, although he resigned his Vice Presidency of the Bellairs Research Institute when he moved to Jamaica, I am sure that he is with us in spirit on this happy occasion which he did so much to make possible.

Events have moved rapidly during the past two years. As soon as the legal formalities were completed, Dr. John Lewis was appointed the first Director of the Institute and its scientific development since that time has been largely the result of his own inspiration and initiative. The laboratory facilities in Sandacres were expanded for the further development of the flying fish project, and the other work in marine biology, but it soon become apparent that these were inadequate. Two years ago it was decided to construct a new and fully-equipped laboratory building. Today we are met to celebrate the completion of that project and I am happy to announce that the National Research Council of Canada has made a special grant of $6,000 Canadian for the purchase of additional equipment that we need.

Meanwhile, in pursuance of an idea suggested by Sir Grantley Adams, McGill University appointed Dr. Ivan Smith to undertake a series of studies in agricultural climatology and the Government of Barbados make available five acres of land at Waterford, as well as other facilities in Codrington House, to permit the setting up of a Tropical Research Laboratory. For that help I should particularly like to thank the Premier, the Minister of Agriculture and Mr. Skeete. The project is well launched, and last Saturday Dr. Smith explained to us, during a very pleasant visit to his laboratory, the significances of his instrumentation and the various ways in which the results of his work will benefit Barbadian agriculture.

Ivan Smith’s work in the field of agriculture marches parallel to that of John Lewis in fisheries and marine biology. They supplement one another and, in order to permit the greatest interchange of ideas, equipment and facilities, it has been decided that both shall be carried on under the auspices of the Bellairs Research Institute. Dr. Lewis, of course, remains as Director of the Institute, while Dr. Smith has been appointed Deputy Director in charge of the McGill Tropical Research Laboratories. He will maintain and, I confidently expect, expand his field station at Waterford, but the headquarters of his operations will be in this building.

Within the past eighteen months, the scope of the Institute’s work has doubled. It now embraces both agriculture and fisheries. During 1960, I am happy to announce that we expect to re-double its activities.

Under the terms of the Will of an outstanding Canadian engineer, Major Charles Brace, McGill University has undertaken a series of studies designed to find economical ways in which saline or brackish water can be purified so that, through irrigation, it can be used to increase agricultural production in the arid lands of the world. One of these studies is concerned with the development of a compact fool-proof power package, powered by either solar energy or wind energy, to pump up brackish water from below the surface and purify it. (I need scarcely point out that, if  such a power-package is developed, it will have many other significant uses).

Preliminary surveys have indicated that Barbados offers ideal conditions for this study, in terms of both wind-energy and solar-energy. The Council of the Bellairs Research Institute has expressed its willingness to undertake such a research project and McGill University has, in its turn, agreed to put up the money for the construction during 1960 of a second laboratory building, similar to this, as well as annual grants to pay the salaries of the team of scientists and technologists who will be appointed to work on its project. We expect to spend something more than $100,000 B.W.I. on the new building this year, and to provide approximately $50,000 Canadian each year for the salaries and other costs of the research investigation which may go on for as long as twenty years and will certainly continue for more than ten.

I have talked too long, but I wanted to tell you of these developments so that you may share the personal feeling of happiness with which I, as the deputy of Sir Grantley Adams, now declare this building – the first unit of the Bellairs Research Institute, in memory of Mrs. Bellairs – officially open.