Dr. Louis Fortier wasn’t one to let an opportunity slip through his fingers – especially not at the eleventh hour.

In 2001, after decades of underfunded Arctic research, Dr. Fortier, an oceanographer at Laval University, was on the verge of putting Canada back on the map. His ambitious multiyear proposal to send dozens of scientists to the Beaufort Sea to study the impacts of melting sea ice on the Arctic marine ecosystem had been shortlisted for a national competition funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Coast Guard had agreed to loan him an icebreaker.

But the day before he was to present to the expert review committee in Ottawa, he got a call. There was a problem: The ship was no longer available. Dr. Fortier went to the meeting anyway.

“Louis said, let us present the project to you as if we had the ship and if you like it, we’ll get the damn ship,” said Dr. Martin Fortier (no relation), who did his master’s and doctoral degrees with Dr. Fortier. “And that’s what happened.”

It was the sort of hurdle that might have stopped many researchers, but one that Dr. Louis Fortier sailed over many times during his scientific career. “Whenever he saw a barrier in front of him, it didn’t lead him to quit, but to work harder,” said Dr. David Barber, a sea ice physicist at the University of Manitoba.

“He was always a spark and a vision, and a boldness, whatever the size of the project,” said Dr. Martin Fortier. “We would try to reel him back in, and luckily we didn’t succeed all the time.”

The committee approved the project, and Dr. Louis Fortier arranged to meet with the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The organization, it turned out, was about to launch a competition to fund large, national-scale infrastructure. An icebreaker was the perfect ask.

Hull 2000-02, the decommissioned CCGS Sir John Franklin, name and flag erased, was sitting in a boat yard in St. John’s, Nlfd., rusting and ready to be sold for scrap. Dr. Louis Fortier, with the help of the Coast Guard, hauled the hull to Quebec City, and refurbished it into a modern research icebreaker with $27.7-million from CFI and $3-million from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In August, 2003, it was renamed CCGS Amundsen and set sail for the Beaufort Sea, where it stayed anchored in the icepack over the winter with geologists, microbiologists, ecologists and dozens of other specialists aboard. A decade later, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the Amundsen on the new $50 bill. Dr. Fortier died on Oct. 4 from complications related to leukemia. He was 66.

.::. Read more at the Globe and Mail.

Written by Hannah

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