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Newfoundland explorer gains world recognition


Dr. Latonia Hartery made a fellow of New York City’s Explorers Club that includes the world’s most famous explorers

The explorer in Latonia Hartery emerged at an early age while growing up in Bay d’Espoir on the province’s south coast.

It developed among the scenic forested hills, the calm inner bay waters and once-rich salmon runs that attracted indigenous people long ago — and her fascination with the story of the Beothuk, a people that had themselves lived in and explored the same area.

The urge to learn about the world around her was aided by her parents, particularly her father who was a helicopter pilot hired to do everything from following the migration of caribou herds to aiding in search and rescue missions along the south coast.

On many occasions, Hartery was allowed to go along with her father, flying over things of fascination such as giant sea turtles in the ocean and abandoned towns. If she missed school, her parents would supply a sick note.

“Some of my best childhood memories are from in the air,” she said. “I always had this birds-eye view of the world. When you are so young it expands your mind to know that there are so many dimensions to the world.”

“The concept of an explorer, often you think male and our impression tends to be this Victorian era-style for king and country and go explore the unknown. But there are a lot of incredible female explorers out there and scientists and field researchers who make big strides every day in terms of helping us as human beings understand the world we live in but who do not always get the same acknowledgement for it that men do.”

One such venture with her father would change her life.

“This one day my father was to take some people from National Geographic to Francois,” Hartery said. “I asked if I could go. I had a test the next day and they said ‘No’, but I went to bed sad and the next morning they said, ‘OK’.”

Hartery, who was just eight or nine years old at the time, said she was amazed to see these people from the United States so interested in investigating the life and culture of the residents of Francois, and the unique location of the town.

“I learned that day that you can be paid to explore and understand culture, that it can be a profession,” she said. “I also wondered what those people are doing in my backyard? What is so interesting here? I came to understand that Newfoundland and Labrador is this very beautiful place with a unique culture. You can be educated in a classroom, but when you get outside you learn a lot about the world.

“That was the big moment when I thought to myself, whatever that is that those people have or are doing, I hope that can be me. And my parents never said anything otherwise.”

Hartery went on to complete a PhD in Newfoundland and Labrador and Arctic archeology, and her exploration of that topic has taken her to the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Scandinavia.

And just recently she received world-renowned recognition for her work by being made a Fellow of New York City’s Explorers Club.

The induction is an honour reserved for some of the world’s most famous explorers and visionaries such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson, and pioneering biologist Sylvia Earle.

“I am fairly private but I felt like this particular honour was an important story to tell, not to bring any awareness to myself, but to make it known that women can be explorers and we can be out in the world and making contributions,” she said.

“The concept of an explorer, often you think male and our impression tends to be this Victorian era-style for king and country and go explore the unknown. But there are a lot of incredible female explorers out there and scientists and field researchers who make big strides every day in terms of helping us as human beings understand the world we live in but who do not always get the same acknowledgement for it that men do.”

According to its website, the Explorers Club is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. Since its inception in 1904, the club has served as a meeting point and unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide.

The club notes that its members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: first to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon.

In 1927, Capt. Bob Bartlett won the Explorer’s Club Medal for his Arctic expeditions and mapping of the North.

Hartery fills with as much pride thinking about Bartlett’s accomplishment as she does for her own.

“It’s just very meaningful for me. I was born a 100 years after Bob Bartlett, but I share his love of the North, and push myself to contribute to understanding it and Newfoundland’s place as a northern society, through research and exploration,” she said. “I feel honoured to be in the same company as someone like Bob Bartlett and all those other great explorers.

“I don’t think we do things for awards, but something like this teaches me that I’m on the right track.”

Related story:

New book sheds new light on N.L. explorer Bob Bartlett

A news release notes that over the past 15 years, Hartery has sailed through the Northwest Passage nine times, circumnavigated Newfoundland 12 times, as well as taken part in other voyages throughout the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, and in the North Atlantic from the Faroe Islands to Iceland.

Since 1998 she has also worked as an archeologist on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula in Bird Cove-Plum Point region, and has contributed to reconstructing the 5,000-year history of the island, and placing that history in a world context.

She is also known for her pioneering research for analysing plant residues on stone tools, at archaeological sites in the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

“Let’s say an indigenous hunter-gatherer 2,000 years ago picked a plant and then cut that plant with a knife, some of those cells from that plant will be on this knife,” Hartery said. “I can go and isolate that residue on that knife, look at these stone plant cells and determine what that knife was used to cut. And plant species have their own signatures in a way … but of course you have to process all the plants locally to have something to compare it to, so that’s what I’ve been working on for a long time.

“One of the things I’m really interested in looking at is how a lot of Arctic people, like the Dorset, who really lived in the high arctic when they came to Newfoundland and Labrador, how their lifestyle changed. I was the first person to try that technique on a Dorset knife. On the Northern Peninsula I assessed some of the pots and knife blades and I was able to discover they used 24 different species of plants.”

Hartery said that no matter how famous the name of an explorer has become they all start from the same place — a massive curiosity about the world from a young age.

She said it took her awhile to process the fact she had been made a fellow of the Explorers Club.

“It’s surreal and I suppose it’s both that and excitement because I knew what it meant in the sense that it’s just not acknowledgement, but the whole purpose of the Explorers Club is for like minds, people who enjoy exploration and science and field research to have a global network in a way of being able to communicate with each other,” she said.

“And everyone comes together once a year in New York City. And it’s at that meeting that I might meet someone like Buzz Aldrin.

“It will be nice to meet some new people and make connections, and to get the culture and history of Newfoundland and Labrador on more people’s radar as well.”

In addition to her exploration and archeology work, Hartery is an award-winning filmmaker with her own company LJH Films. She also works for Adventure Canada going on expeditions to the Arctic.

In 2010, she won JCI Canada’s Outstanding Young Person Award, and in 2016 Hospitality NL’s Cruise Vision Award for her part in policy management of the Cruise Ship Industry’s impacts on archaeological sites in Newfoundland, Labrador and the Arctic.

glen.whiffen@thetelegram.com

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