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Mosquito Warfare: Insect Science and Environmental Degradation in Cold War Canada

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 10


Between 1947 and 1951, scientists operating under the patronage of Canada’s Department of National Defence and the United States Army, carried out a range of entomological experiments designed to eradicate insects from isolated locations in northern Manitoba. The eradication of biting flies had a dual-purpose: Theoretically, military officials thought, soldiers could train more effectively and efficiently in a bug-free environment. Moreover, controlling an isolated environment could provide a military advantage to both Canada and the United States should the Soviet Union ever attempt a land invasion in the North. The experiments occurred at Fort Churchill, a military base then located on the western shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba’s northeast corner. Scientists used military vehicles and aircraft to spray DDT over large sections of open muskeg, treed subarctic terrain, and watered areas near the Churchill River. The results led to further studies of inspect population control in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where scientists used radioactive materials to infect and then study biting flies rearing near the Saskatchewan River.

Using previously classified records of the Northern Affairs Branch and the Department of National Defence housed at Library and Archives Canada, this paper examines the environmental and human consequences of the entomological research studies described here. It argues that exploitation of Canada’s northern climate—both figuratively and literally—was imperative to postwar defence planning in Ottawa and Washington. Furthermore, the Canadian government failed to protect military and civilian personnel in the formation and development of science policies for the North. In so doing, this paper situates northern military science in the context of broader federal policies and shifting Cold War attitudes towards Canada’s northern climate during a period when the guise of national interest trumped the risk of environment degradation.