France Rivet, B.Sc.
A new life mission
In spring 2007, when France Rivet said goodbye to her 23-year career as an IT consultant, some of her colleagues thought she had fallen on her head. Leaving behind a well-paid contract to spend the summer washing dishes on an uninhabited island of Canada’s High Arctic just didn’t make sense to them. But France knew time had come to let her love of adventure and discovery, as well as her growing fascination for the Polar Regions, take control.
France had longed to see the Arctic for many years, but it wasn’t until 2005 that she set foot above the Arctic Circle for the first time. Somerset Island (Nunavut) is where she was introduced to the circumpolar world. The midnight sun, sea kayaking with belugas or through brash ice, the vastness of the landscape and being stranded in the Arctic for a week (sending a note to her colleagues informing them that she couldn’t come in to work was such a great pleasure!), all played a role in making this trip a life-changing experience. France didn’t know it yet but she had just been bitten by the “Arctic Bug.” So much so that she returned to the Arctic the following year, travelling to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago where she found herself in the middle of sea ice above the 82nd parallel, a mere two days of navigation from the North Pole.
These first two trips above the Arctic circle made her realize how little information, resources and services are available to French-speaking travellers wishing to visit or simply better know the polar regions. Then in November 2006, she is struck by a quote from French ethnologist Paul-Émile Victor:
Adventure is a state of mind.
It lives in a man’s heart.
Adventure is to be able to refuse our destiny,
To be ready to leave at any moment,
To conceive new projects again and always,
To not sit down,
In one word, it is to live one’s life and to build it.
It is at this precise instant that France made the decision to end her IT career and to dedicate her time and skills to make the Arctic better know. In May 2007, Polar Horizons was founded.
Polar Horizons' Beginnings
For the first few years, France concentrated her efforts on sharing the images and stories she had brought back from the Arctic. She learned the ropes of creating photo exhibits: Somerset Island: White Ghosts Country, Far North Scenery and Arctic Wildlife Encounters, some of which had over 15 different venues in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario. She visited primary schools and returned home with regained energy from the children’s excitement and endless questions. She spent countless hours making art cards with her photographs and those of colleagues highlighting the beauties of the North and of nature.
Reconnecting with her passion for historical research
Then, in 2009, during a cruise along the Labrador Coast, France was introduced by master photographer Hans-Ludwig Blohm to the story of Abraham Ulrikab, one of eight Labrador Inuit who headed to Europe in 1880 to be exhibited in zoos. At that time, France had no idea that, soon, she would take it upon herself to go to the bottom of Abraham’s story, a story in which all eight Inuit died. She suspected even less that the National Museum of Natural History in Paris would unveil to her that the skeletons of five of the Inuit were being preserved in its reserves. Following this announcement, her research, which was supposed to be only a part-time activity, became a full-time job and allowed France to reconnect with her long-standing interest in genealogical and historical research.
Polar Horizons becomes a publisher
Four years and three research trips to Europe later, this research project has resulted in France authoring her first book, and in Polar Horizons publishing its first two titles:
- Voyage With the Labrador Eskimos, 1880–1881, the English translation of Johan Adrian Jacobsen’s diary (the person who recruited the Inuit), and In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab, the book in which she consolidated all documents found, which unveils the truth about the fate of the Inuit’s remains and acts as the catalyst for the process which will eventually turn Abraham’s expressed wish to come home to Labrador into a reality.
A documentary film “Trapped in a Human Zoo”
France’s research and Abraham’s story are being featured in the 2016 documentary film Trapped in a Human Zoo: Based on Abraham’s Diary, a PIX3 Films production, which aired in Canada on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. The French version aired on TV5 (Canada) and on the Histoire channel (in Europe).
At the Canadian Screen Awards 2017, the documentary is nominated for Best Science or Nature Documentary Program or Series while France is a finalist for the Barbara Sears Awards for Best Editorial Research (TV).
The junction of her past experiences and her passions
In retrospect, France realized that all her past experiences had prepared her for what she is living today. As long as she can remember, France has always shown an interest in the communications field. Newsletters published by her schools, her employers or the various social organizations she belonged to have all benefited from her writing and photography skills.
France’s passion for history and genealogy led her to volunteer for more than 15 years for the Société de généalogie de l’Outaouais. In recognition of her precious volunteer contribution, she was awarded the Renaud-Brochu medal by the Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie in 2009 for her exceptional commitment to genealogy in the province.
France has always shown a strong interest in being involved in her community. She was an active member of the Club de photographie Polarisé de l’Outaouais for several years. France sat on the board of directors for the Fédération québécoise de la marche (Quebec’s Hiking Federation), for the Association Québec-France (Outaouais chapter) and The Arctic Circle association in Ottawa. She was a volunteer for the Canadian Museum of Nature’s school programs as well as for its botany department where she helped mount plant specimens for the National Herbarium of Canada.
In November 2014, France was elected to the Royal Canadian Geographic Society’s College of Fellows.
Polar Horizon's New Mission
For the next few years, Polar Horizons intends to concentrate its efforts on historical research, enabling the Inuit community to rediscover a part of its history that is hidden in the archives and thus contributing to the processes of reconciliation and healing.
“Canadians have a right, a duty and a responsibility to know about what happened to us. This is not only Inuit history. It is a Canadian history. That’s why I always place an emphasis on why all Canadians have a right to know what happened to us. We’re moving healing and reconciliation together, as a team. We’ll work for the betterment of our people as a team”.
Piita Irniq, 2017-03-02, Ottawa
For more information:
- For the list of interviews, press coverage, see the media kit.
- List of photography exhibitions in which France Rivet has participated