He was the man behind the Franklin expedition that you probably haven’t heard of but that arguably did as much, if not more, to help open Canada’s Arctic.
Yves Oscar Fortier, who died in Ottawa on Aug. 19, 2014, at the age of 100, was the leader of Operation Franklin, a 28-person Geological Survey of Canada expedition that mapped about 260,000 square kilometres of the Queen Elizabeth Islands during the summer of 1955. “Data from these surveys,” the Globe and Mail obituary for Fortier noted, “showed a thick layer of sedimentary rocks and structures similar to those found in oil fields.”
“It was a complex operation, but the results were stunning,” says Denis St-Onge, an honorary vice-president of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, who knew and worked with Fortier. “It defined the major geological units of a vast area of Canada that, at the time, practically nothing was known about, and revealed the oil potential of the Arctic islands.”
Fortier would go on to become the director of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1964 — the same year he was awarded The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Massey Medal for his work in the Arctic — a position he held until 1973. He retired in 1976, but not before the International Mineral Association added yofortierite to its list of recognized minerals.
“He was a warm, forthright person who called it the way he saw it,” says St-Onge. “He was very convinced of the importance of scientific knowledge to the Canadian economy, and dedicated to fostering the career of young scientists.”